How Long To Study for the SAT

The SAT is just one of the many things that high school juniors and seniors have on their plates. Along with completing schoolwork and being involved in extracurriculars, students have to set aside time to prepare for the SAT. As SAT experts, the question Kaplan hears the most from our students is, “How long should I study for the SAT?” While the answer isn’t the same for everyone, there are some general guidelines you can follow to create a study plan that will get you ready by test day.

The SAT is a three hour-long exam consisting of four different sections: reading, writing, math without a calculator, and math with a calculator. The essay portion of the SAT is optional, but most students choose to complete it, lengthening the total exam time to almost four hours. The SAT doesn’t require you to know anything outside of what you’re already learning in school, but learning exactly how to take a standardized exam can be tough.

One of the trickiest aspects of the exam is the pressure that students feel while taking it. Many students have said that if they had all the time in the world to complete the exam, they could ace it. However, there are only one or two minutes to answer each question in any given section. The pressure and timing make getting a good SAT score more difficult than it already is, which is why it’s so important to prepare for the SAT.

Generally, students put in 10 to 20 hours a week while preparing for the SAT, but that amount could be larger or smaller depending on your score goals. There are a couple of factors you should take into consideration when determining how many hours you’ll need to put into your prep.

  • 1. What are you involved in outside of your regular school schedule?

    There are a lot of pieces involved in the college admissions process, including your involvement in extracurriculars. If you are involved in activities like sports, band, or student government, you’ll need to carefully consider where you want to schedule your study time. If you know you don’t study well at night after practice, you might want to consider scheduling most of your study time on the weekends. However, if you’re a night owl who appreciates your  down time on the weekends, you may want to spread out your studying during the school week.

  • 2. What schools are you applying to?

    You can locate the SAT scores of accepted students at the colleges and universities you’re planning on applying to by searching their admissions websites. The “median” score is often listed, and it represents the general score of accepted students. That median score means that fifty percent of their admitted students had a lower score and fifty percent of their admitted students had a higher score. While the median score provides a baseline, your odds of acceptance will increase the higher you can push your score. More competitive schools will have higher median scores than local or state universities, so it’s best to plan accordingly.

  • 3. Are you planning on applying for scholarships?

    As you (and your parents) know, college is a big financial undertaking. Many students are searching for ways to make college more affordable, and scholarships are one of the main ways that students can save money while going to school. A lot of students across the country are hunting for good scholarships, and some scholarships will require you to have a certain SAT score. A higher SAT score can open up more scholarship opportunities for you, such as fully covered tuition or tuition with room and board. If you’re looking at applying for big, nationwide scholarships, a higher SAT score could make you more competitive. The same goes for scholarships or aid given directly from the college or university you will be attending.

  • 4. What is your starting score, and what is your score goal?

    One of the best things you can do early on in your studies is take a practice test to see where your starting point is. If you have a strong baseline score, you may not need to put in as many hours towards preparation as you might have expected. However, if you want to make a big score jump, you may have to spend more time working on practice exams and reviewing some of the content that’s tested on the SAT. While you can compress study time by studying for multiple hours a day, it’s always better to pace yourself. Understanding your score goal can help you plan out how many hours you’ll need to devote to studying for the exam.

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