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Preparing for SAT: The Definitive Guide

For scores of students in the USA and abroad, SAT preparation is a nerve wracking experience. These students must cover an overwhelming amount of syllabus, attain a high degree of skill level, and explore a mind-boggling number of SAT prep resources (SAT class, group SAT tutoring, online SAT prep resources, 1 on 1 SAT tutoring, etc.). All of this must be done within a short span of time. It can get very daunting even for the brightest amongst us. So, we at ViTutors have put together this definitive guide to preparing for SAT.

This article will help you eliminate the confusion around this test. It will give you actionable tips on how to go about preparing for SAT with confidence. All we want you to be doing is to maintain a steady prep course and stay focused on the most important thing, which is getting a high score in your SAT test.

First of all, get to know SAT intimately

The SAT, conducted by the College Board, is a standardized test to measure high-schoolers’ readiness for college. It provides colleges and universities with a single data point to compare all applicants. The higher your SAT score the more college options will be available to you.

The SAT has two mandatory multiple-choice sections. They are Evidence based Reading and Writing (96 questions, 100 minutes) and Math (58 questions, 80 minutes). The total test time for the mandatory part is 3 hours. An optional Essay section follows for 50 mins. If you choose to take the SAT Essay, your total test time will be 3 hours 50 mins.

Each section of the SAT is scored on a scale of 200 to 800 points. Your total SAT score is the sum of your section scores. The highest possible SAT score is 1600. The Essay is scored separately on a scale of 2 to 8 and it doesn’t impact the main score.

Each section tests different abilities and demands a different approach to be able to crack it. The first step that any good SAT coaching or SAT tutoring center will take is to help you get to know each of these sections very intimately. This is indeed the most crucial step in preparation. It is familiarizing yourself with the SAT test. It’s a bit like if Voldemort was SAT, then Dumbledore is the SAT prep tutor who tells Harry how to conquer SAT by getting to know it intimately. Makes sense?

Set a goal for your SAT score 

Many of you may be asking yourselves what a good SAT score is. Honestly, there is no single answer. Any score is a good score if that’s what you’d aimed for when you started your prep. What you should be asking yourself is, what is the SAT score you must aim for in order to successfully get into colleges or universities of your choice. Several SAT class centers and SAT coaching platforms provide a session or two to educate students about the admission process in different colleges and SAT scores needed to get admission.

Here are a few data points to give a sense of things. If you have your goal set on the topmost schools like MIT, Caltech and University of Chicago, you need a minimum score of 1500. If you’re eyeing the other highly selective schools, including the Ivy League schools, you must aim for a score north of 1460. The next rung of top schools such as Michigan, Carnegie Mellon, Boston, etc., require a high SAT score well above 1400. At least 100 good schools become accessible with a score above 1200. And finally, with a score above 1080 consider yourself an above average student, which in itself is something to be proud of.

Make sure you discuss scores and colleges at your best SAT tutoring or SAT coaching centers and with friends and family. In our experience, students who work towards a high goal find the whole process of preparing for SAT more engaging and exciting.

Essay or no-essay?

Well, the general opinion is divided on whether or not to opt for the Essay section. The decision depends on which colleges or scholarships you wish to apply for. What we can tell you is that none of the most selective schools in the US (including the Ivies) require or recommend it. However, several US and international schools and scholarships do, and you can get info around them on the College Board website.

SAT Coaching

SAT Coaching

Choosing a SAT preparation method

There are a plethora of options you can use to get ready for the SAT. You have online SAT prep courses designed for self-prep, SAT coaching for small groups, SAT classes for larger groups, SAT prep private tutoring, and even online 1 on 1 SAT tutoring. One thing you must bear in mind is that SAT is a competitive exam. It compares your test taking skills and scoring abilities with that of your peers. What will set you apart in this test is cutting edge test strategies. Whatever method you choose, make sure you get to learn them.

In our opinion, if you have a lot hinged on getting a high SAT score, it isn’t worth dilly dallying with self-prep. Take help. In this article, we’ve outlined some of the methods to preparing for SAT available to you.

SAT classes:

Most students enroll for a SAT class in the neighborhood because it’s a cost-effective way of getting access to SAT tutoring. Unlike 1 on 1 SAT tutoring, it is conducted in groups. The biggest shortcoming of classroom prep is that lessons aren’t customized. You’re either a grammar whiz wasting time and money on lessons you don’t need or you’re too far behind the class and feel awkward about interrupting the SAT reading tutor with questions. There is however one important benefit to attending a SAT class. You get to meet fellow preppers and share notes on progress. In competitive test prep like this, it’s good to be in the groove of things and be aware of peer activities. In the post-COVID situation, physical SAT classes aren’t feasible anymore, so online prep options should be explored in full.

SAT prep private tutoring:

If you have set ambitious goals and don’t want to burn out trying to achieve them, do yourself a favor. Enroll into SAT coaching of some sort. Students often worry about the cost of SAT tutoring and end up opting for self-study or SAT classes. Competitive academics is all about knowing scoring strategies that only experience can give you. The best SAT tutoring programs deliver that experience to you. It’s your best chance to get access to the top schools.

To put this in perspective, John may be a genius in Math but isn’t quite there when it comes to SAT math. The gap here isn’t one of knowledge, because John definitely has that. What he lacks is test skills where each problem has to be solved in a minute. All he needs is a SAT prep tutor and he’ll be acing math scores in no time.

Online SAT prep tutor:

If you’re amongst those who believes that the cost of SAT tutoring is very high, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. There are platforms that offer some of the best SAT prep private tutoring options both in terms of affordability and quality. You can easily find experts for different sections. They include SAT math tutors, SAT reading tutors, SAT writing tutors, etc. Many online SAT coaching sites provide you with assessment tools as well as free online tutoring chats. Among other things, these will help you gauge the SAT prep tutor assigned to you before paying up. The whole process is student-friendly. Online tutoring sites have changed the scene for 1 on 1 SAT tutoring. It’s turning into the most practical solution for managing SAT coaching while social distancing is still the norm.

As a summary note on study methods, self-study is a great way to learn, understand, assimilate and reflect upon new information. You must definitely supplement your SAT tutoring with it. After deciding on a budget, we’d advise you to adopt a combination of the above methods for your prep. This will put you on a steady course preparing for SAT to attain a higher score.

SAT Practice Test

SAT Practice Test

Go through all the official test prep resources

The SAT was reengineered in 2016 made more standardized, more predictable and more relevant to the future academic needs of students. That said, no one can predict what’s coming in the test. But if the maker of the test, the College Board, provides practice tests, you’ve got to take it seriously. Without a doubt, these resources will be as close to the real deal as it can get. Whether you go to a SAT class or you have a SAT prep tutor, make sure you lay your hands on these practice tests.

You’ll find 8 practice tests on the College Board website. You can take them online or in the paper-and-pencil way by printing them and using the answer sheet provided to mark your choices. Answer keys are provided as well.

If you prefer to read the test questions on screen, they have that covered with their MS word practice tests. You also have the option of taking the practice tests online on Khan Academy with built-in time-tracking and automatic scoring at the end of each test.

The College Board also offers section-wise test-taking strategies on its website which you must go through and discuss with your tutor while preparing for SAT.

Scan free resources for SAT Class and Coaching

We are mindful that the cost of SAT tutoring is a point of concern for many of you. While online SAT tutoring addresses budget concerns to a great extent without compromising on quality, we want to ensure that you make the best of all the free practice resources made available online by various SAT prep institutes.

Free SAT practice resources

  1. Test Prep Review provides section-wise tests and 35 topic-wise tests to evaluate where you stand with respect to specific skills like Algebra, Ratios, Reading Comprehension, Grammar etc.
  2. The Princeton Review provides a full length SAT Practice Test Online which you can enroll for at zero cost.
  3. McGraw Hill provides 5 full-length PSAT practice tests. If you’ve taken PSAT in the past, you’ll know that it is a good predictor for SAT and also a great practice opportunity.
  4. Kaplan provides a free full length SAT practice test for which you’re required to sign up for free.
  5. Test Prep Practice has several section-wise practice tests and tutorials which you can access without signing up.
  6. Varsity Tutors has 16 to 17 section-wise diagnostic tests and several section-wise practice tests that you take online without signing up.
  7. PowerScore provides section-wise practice questions and also gives access to the official SAT Practice Tests in a systematic way.

These resources will help you get a gauge of what those weak areas are. However, arming you with specific learning strategies is the job of your SAT prep tutor. The best SAT tutoring for you is one that customizes a study plan that systematically addresses your weak areas and sharpens your strength areas, to help you aim for a high score in the SAT.

The pros and cons of SAT tutoring

SAT tutoring has several clear advantages if you’re aiming for a high score. It’s the most energy efficient solution to preparing for SAT. Because, the best SAT tutoring starts exactly at your individual skill level and builds on that. Your SAT prep tutor will plan every session carefully to take you closer to your goal. This is unlike a SAT class where tutors follow a common lesson plan for all. In several SAT tutoring platforms, you can hire specialists like a SAT reading tutor, a SAT math tutor, or even a super specialist like a SAT algebra tutor. You learn to develop good study habits and stay on track with your prep. Most importantly you develop competencies in test strategies that only experienced SAT prep tutors can equip you with. However, the most commonly cited concern is the cost of SAT tutoring.

SAT class

SAT class

What is the cost of SAT tutoring?

It is widely assumed that 1 on 1 SAT tutoring isn’t cheap. There was a time when an elite SAT prep tutor with a great reputation charged up to $300/hour. Students used to have to physically attend SAT prep private tutoring which entailed travel expenses as well. Choices were limited. Online tutoring has dramatically changed the private tutoring landscape. Now, you can choose from thousands of tutors from anywhere in the world with all different skills and backgrounds keeping your budget in mind. You can hire highly qualified and experienced tutors for as low as $40/hour. With SAT prep private tutoring going online, you can breathe easy about costs.

Next steps

Through this article we aim to clear the air around SAT preparation and get you started with the process. What we have observed over the years is that anyone can ace the SAT. We have seen dramatic turnaround and underdog stories in the past. The key to scoring high is simple: start your prep early and do it steadily and consistently.

We hope this article, Preparing for SAT: The Definitive Guide, has given you pointers to succeed on SAT test. If you’re looking for a highly qualified “perfect scorer” SAT prep tutors, be sure to check, where you can easily find highly experienced tutors for all skill levels and budgets.

Related Articles to Preparing for SAT

How SAT Tutoring Can Boost Your Scores

Best ACT Prep Strategies to Score High

20 Top ACT Prep Hacks for a Great Score

Additional References

SAT Information from College Board

Official SAT Practice Tests – Khan Academy

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