Ultimate SAT Prep Guide 2018 – SAT Dates, Best Books, Free Resources
If you’ve been wondering about the SAT, you need wonder no more- we’ve got you covered with our top guide featuring the best ways to SAT Prep, online SAT prep, SAT prep classes, SAT prep books, and more. So, let’s get started!
SAT Prep at a glance:
What it is: College admissions test
Price: $45 (or $57 including optional essay)
Time to complete: Three hours (3h 50 minutes with optional essay)
|Test Date||Normal Deadline||Late Registration*||Online Score Release|
|March 10, 2018**||February 9, 2018||February 28, 2018||March 23-29, 2018|
|May 5, 2018||April 6, 2018||April 25, 2018||May 18-24, 2018|
|June 2, 2018||May 3, 2018||May 23, 2018||July 11, 2018|
SAT Dates (International):
|Test Date||Registration Deadline||Online Score Release|
|March 10, 2018**||February 9, 2018||March 23-29, 2018|
|May 5, 2018||April 6, 2018||May 18-24, 2018|
|June 2, 2018*||May 3, 2018||July 11, 2018|
Why does my score matter?
Many colleges use the SAT in combination with students’ GPAs to reach admission and scholarship decisions.
The higher your SAT score, the more likely you are to get into your desired college and/or get a good scholarship. According to Fred Zhang, a top SAT tutor, your SAT score impacts 30 to 50% of your dream college’s admission’s decision.
From experience, I can tell you this is true. In high school, I was in the bottom half of my class- my grades weren’t fantastic. However, I scored a 2160 on my SAT in 2013, which today would equate to a 1500- I was in the top 1% of all test takers. When I applied to colleges, I was admitted into some selective technical schools and offered scholarships equaling half my tuition every year. Not bad, right?
Also, the United States military offers scholarships with their ROTC program, which can depend partially on SAT scores. ROTC is a good way to pay for college at the cost of a several year service commitment to the branch of the military you trained with.
Air Force ROTC
So, to put it plainly, it is in YOUR best interest to score as highly as you can on the SAT. The rest of this guide will teach you the best ways to SAT prep.
Mindset of Success
To score highly on the SAT test, you’re going to need internal motivation. Being internally motivated means that you want to achieve something for the purpose of achieving it or the long-term benefit, not immediate gratification or to avoid negative consequences only.
So how do you get motivated?
- Visualize the result.
Picture in your head what achieving that desired SAT score would look like.
You log into your account online, and waiting for you is that juicy, high score. Bam! You know that your hours of studying have paid off and that you’ve got a good grasp of the material. You know that you’re that much closer to getting an admission or scholarship from that dream college or from the military. Regardless of how you did compared to other people, you know you did the best you could given the time you spent studying and your prior knowledge of the exam topics.
- Break it into small, SMART goals.
SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, and Relevant. Humans, especially those with mental health issues (which affect 1/4 of people), have a hard time achieving goals when they think of them as a huge task that has to be accomplished all at once. The best way to do it is to divide the task into goals that you can check off daily or weekly. For example: You want to make a 1500 on the SAT. You take the SAT the first time and score a 1300. You see that your weakest area was math. So you decide to study math. Instead of of just saying “I’m going to master math by the time I take the SAT again”, which leaves you with no direction, you might say, “I’m going to study one subsection of math every week for three months. Every day I’ll study 30 minutes or complete 15 practice problems, whichever comes first.” 30 minutes a day and one section a week is much better than an ambiguous time spent studying all of math and gives you a good focus.
- Reward yourself intelligently upon achieving goals. By rewarding yourself every time you complete a small goal, you’re wiring your brain to associate good feelings with your SAT prep. This reinforces your desire and motivation to study and will help you put in more hours without feeling bored. However, and this is important, you must reward yourself AFTER the goal is complete. This is especially true with addictive rewards- sugary foods, video games, drinking, even TV. Sugar and alcohol (and some drugs) have a negative effect on cognition speed and memory, so you don’t want to decrease your productivity with them. You also want to avoid settling into your favorite game or TV show after only 10 minutes of studying and realize hours later that you didn’t finish all your homework, and you’ve still got more practice problems to do to meet your daily goal. Save the fun for afterward- you’ll feel better and you’ll be building better SAT prep habits.
Another part of the mindset for achieving high SAT scores is to keep in mind that the SAT is competitive, but don’t get down on yourself, no matter what.
The SAT is designed so that the results follow a Normal Distribution. This means that the scores fit a bell-shaped pattern, with 68% of students scoring between 400 and 600 per section.
You can see the score distribution for 2016 here.
Most of your SAT score comes from the preparation you received from your teachers, who did not teach specifically SAT prep classes but instead taught the component elements of the SAT test through your subjects in school. So, if your instruction was subpar, or you didn’t do so well in a particular class, you won’t have learned that part of the SAT very well as a result. Also, the SAT test may ask questions that use concepts in a new way that you may not have seen before. For example, one SAT question asks you to find the area of a shaded region inside a square with a circle inside (see picture). Many geometry classes don’t teach that. Also the SAT will use high-level vocabulary words in the reading section that students won’t normally encounter, so they won’t know the definitions.
For SAT success, you need to not be too critical on yourself if you score low the first time you take the test or during practice tests and use that as fodder for improvement. Also, the mindset of success means that you are willing to train like a mental athlete for many dozens of hours to increase your score by up to 200+ points by studying every SAT topic you’re weak in. How many hours? Here is an estimate:
0-30 Point Improvement: 10 hours
30-70 Point Improvement: 20 hours
70-130 Point Improvement: 40 hours
130-200 Point Improvement: 80 hours
200-330 Point Improvement: 150 hours+
Studying for the SAT
How do I break up my studying, day by day, week by week? you may ask. You can use study schedules to help. For our handy SAT study schedules, click here.
Q: What’s the minimum time I can study per day?
There is no minimum. It all depends on how much time you want to spend a week. However, it’s important that you practice as close to everyday as possible for maximum skill-building, as Daniel Coyle writes in his book The Talent Code. The science behind it is the more frequent you spend doing something, the more myelin wraps around the neurons in your brains, making the synaptic connections faster and more connections for those activities. The critical part is this: It’s better to spend 5 hours spread out over 5 days a week instead of 5 hours in 2 days. Higher frequency is better than longer sets.
Q: How do I know what to study?
You’ll want to take practice tests to find out exactly what areas of the SAT you are weak in. But it’s not enough to know what the right answer is once you’ve completed the test, you also have to know why. For this, the official SAT practice tests are the best resource. Link to SAT practice tests
You can also use Khan Academy to take a practice test that features unused questions written by the writers of the new SAT. Additionally, there are several study websites like PrepScholar that have SAT questions outside of a test, categorized by subject.
After you’ve taken the practice test and viewed your results, go back through the test and fill out the PowerScore Skills Assessment. It may seem like a lot of work, but trust us, this will actually boost your SAT score many times by identifying what your weakest areas are. Once you have identified your weaknesses, you can use any resource to help improve in those areas. The next few sections of this guide will focus on resources, courses and books for SAT prep.
Free SAT Prep Resources
If you don’t have a dime to your name, don’t worry- there are several resources you can use for free.
1. Khan Academy.
Students who first took the PSAT, then studied on Khan Academy for 20 hours and took the SAT scored 115 points higher on the SAT on average. Khan Academy offers practice tests, thousands of practice questions, and videos, all for free. It also can import your PSAT and tell you immediately what areas you should practice on. Overall, Khan Academy is your best free go-to resource for the breadth and quality of what it covers.
Union Test Prep offers practice tests, flashcards and study guides for the SAT. The flashcards are really just practice questions chosen at random for different subjects. The study guides are great, because they summarize an entire broad topic of math, reading or writing into a single guide.
This playlist of YouTube videos for the new SAT is a collection of tips and tricks that will make a big difference in your test-taking skills. Of course, to be most effective, you will need to also invest hours in studying the material, but these tricks will help you move faster and more efficiently through the test.
Paid SAT Prep Resources
If you’re looking for more than free content and have the money, then paid options are a good idea. Here are some of the best.
An established giant in the field of SAT prep, Kaplan offers the complete package. Practice tests, videos, one-on-one help, 18 hours of live instruction, and two SAT prep books.
Price: $299 or $1099
For $299 you get the self-paced version, perfect for those with busy schedules. It features 140+ videos, 14 practice tests, customized lesson plans, online drills to practice skills, and 3 hours of on-demand help from an instructor.
For $1099 you get the classroom experience, with in-person instruction and lots of Q&A, along with everything in the lower price tier.
Price: $400-600 depending on location
PrepScholar offers thousands of test practice questions written by people who scored in the top 1% of all test takers and even by some who got perfect scores on the SAT, along with graduates from top universities. It personalizes your learning by showing you exactly where to focus to best improve your score.
Price: $650 for five hours of online tutoring (more options available)
CurveBreakers is more of a dedicated tutoring service than an all-around prep course. You can get online tutoring worldwide or in-person tutoring if you live in New York. Nick LaPoma, owner and main tutor of CurveBreakers, is a veteran in the field of test prep. Also, CurveBreakers has success stories of students increasing their SAT score on the old SAT by 310 points.
SAT Prep Books
If you want a hard-copy version of the 8 SAT practice tests offered for free online, you can go with The Official SAT Study Guide, 2018 Edition. You’ll need a separate app to score your tests in the book, though.
An alternative is SAT Prep Plus 2018: 5 Practice Tests + Proven Strategies + Online (Kaplan Test Prep). The Online Resources are more practice questions to help practice your SAT skills.
To get more of a strategic view on the SAT, pick up a copy of the SAT Prep Black Book 2nd Edition. It explains in detail how the SAT is designed to trick students and yet has only one correct answer per question.
A great SAT Reading book is The Critical Reader 3rd Edition. It has a breakdown of the reading section categorized by skill, so you can selectively train your weakest skills.
Steve Warner writes a series of SAT Math books that are tailored to your ability level- he writes separate books for beginners, intermediate and advanced SAT math test takers. It’s important in math to have a strong foundation and his books will help you to build one or enlarge it if you’re already strong in math, but want to get even better. Here’s his advanced book.
For SAT Writing, we recommend Erica Meltzer’s grammar books. Grammar is what will make the difference between success and failure on the SAT Writing portion, so use these books to master it. The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar covers the rules, and SAT Grammar Workbook provides practice questions.
SAT Tips and Tricks
For low to medium scorers, tips and tricks can make improvements on the SAT. For those who already have high scores, the only way to improve is by mastering the material. That being said, here are some fundamental tips and tricks.
1. Process of Elimination
Since the SAT is a multiple choice test, there can only be one right answer. There will always be reasons why three answers are incorrect and only one is correct.
2. SAT Reading- Focus on Connotation and Context
Keep an eye out for words indicating positive or negative connotations in the part of the passage that the question refers to. This can help to eliminate some choices, even if you don’t know which remaining choice is correct. Strong adjectives can help to pin down the connotation of the word or phrase. Also, look for contrast words like “however”, “rather than” or still”.
3. SAT Math- Memorize Formulas
Even though the SAT math section gives you formulas, memorizing them lets you access them quicker and gives you a greater understanding of how they work in context. By memorizing formulas, you’ll be able to identify when and where to apply them.
4. SAT Writing- Pick the More Concise Answer that is Grammatically Correct
If two answer choices both fit the rules of proper grammar, pick the one that says its message in fewer words.
What to Avoid During SAT Prep
Now that you’ve seen resources and how to study for the SAT, here’s what you don’t want to do.
1.Cramming and Not Enough Sleep
Studying like mad in a few days leading up to the test is certainly better than not studying at all. But the science shows that the better way to master the material is slow but steady. A UCLA study found that the lack of sleep associated with cramming erased the benefits of studying material right before the test. With the SAT, like most other long-term goals, consistency is key.
2. Excessive Caffeine
You get a coffee and drink it down within minutes and begin studying. But you crave that caffeine rush and want another cup. One more won’t hurt, right? Caffeine can help you stay awake and boost your speed on certain tasks as a stimulant. 400 mg, or about four cups of coffee, is safe for adults, but too much can cause unwanted side effects. The worst of it is anxiety– excessive caffeine use can cause physiological symptoms like jitters and nervousness, which can manifest mentally as anxiety about upcoming events like the SAT! Caffeine can also become addictive and hard to quit. So think hard about your use.
3. Poor Nutrition
Another UCLA study found that excessive sugar sabotages learning and memory. Sugar may give you a high in the short term, making you feel happier or more engaged in what you’re studying, but it damages the brain and can exacerbate Alzheimer’s in the long term. Replace sugar and carbohydrate-rich foods with protein and healthy fat-rich foods such as nuts and fish. Protein helps the regulation of dopamine and serotonin, which are as important for learning as they are for your feelings and mental health.
The Night Before and Day Of the SAT
The night before the SAT, arrange your schedule so that you get as close to nine hours of sleep as you can. The morning of the exam, be careful to eat a good breakfast.
Here’s an example of a good breakfast:
3 scrambled eggs with hot sauce
Whole-grain oatmeal (no sugar)
Sugar-free Greek Yogurt
and a glass of milk. Maybe one cup of coffee. 🙂
Here’s an example of a bad breakfast:
Sugary cereal and orange juice
Avoid juices- they do have some vitamins, but they lose the fiber that makes them healthy and retain the sugar.
On the exam day, before you take the exam, exercise. Even just walking for 20 minutes can boost your scores. You’ll also feel better and more optimistic about the test.
If you have time, meditate. Of course, meditation confers more benefits to those who practice it over time, but even just a little bit can help to clear your mind before the high-stakes SAT.
After the SAT
You just took the SAT. Now what?
One option is to take it again, but only if you have time to study before the next exam. If you have no time left before your college applications are due, then it’s time to say goodbye to SAT prep and hello to college applications.
If you didn’t quite meet your goal score on the SAT, don’t worry. College applications take into account not only your SAT score, ACT score and GPA, but also your volunteering experience, your extra-curricular activities and achievements, and your application essay. So there are plenty of ways to get competitive for colleges besides just the SAT.
Overall, learn to accept your result and don’t be self-critical. Self-criticism can sometimes motivate us to improve, but overdone it hinders us by making us want to avoid activities that generate self-criticism. Instead, opt for self-compassion and self-care, where you accept that you are a good person inside no matter what mistakes you have made. You don’t need to be a Buddhist monk to appreciate that simple philosophy.
Note: This guide also applies for the PSAT, which is almost the same as the SAT with a few small differences. Mainly, the PSAT is a little shorter and a tad bit easier than the SAT and is taken in the fall of 10th/ 11th grade. Also, good scores on the PSAT qualify students for National Merit Scholarships. Your PSAT score should be a good predictor of your SAT score.