For many college-bound students, the SAT is one of the most important tests that they’ll take in high school. Not only is it used by colleges and universities to evaluate applicants, but a better score could mean getting into the school of your dreams, and all it takes is a little bit of practice to up your chances. After all, those who study for the SAT tend to do much better than those that don’t, and a little bit of study now can have an outsized impact on your life if it helps you get into a better school.

But merely going through the motions isn’t enough. You’ll need real SAT studying tips to make the most of your SAT study time, and you’ll also have to cover a lot of material since the SAT is composed of five different sections: reading, writing and language, math without a calculator, math with a calculator and an optional essay section. Depending on your high school and preferred college, you may be required to complete the essay, so you’ll want to check before you skip that section if a school you’re applying to requires it.

If you’re wondering how to study for the SAT, here are some SAT studying tips to help you prepare for this most important of tests.

General SAT Studying Tips

While there are various sections of the SAT, some of the most important SAT studying tips have to do with strategy and preparing to take the test itself. Sure, you can show up and start making your way through the SAT without any prep, but it’s better if you prepare ahead of time so that you can maximize your time come test day.

Instead of reviewing the directions for each section during your test, it’s better to read and review the directions for each section prior to the test. When you already know what the directions say, you can confidently move on to the test itself, maximizing the time available to you.

As you’re working your way though the test, an important SAT studying tip is to answer the questions that you know first. If you don’t know the answer, make a note and return to it later. Even if you don’t know a particular answer, you may know what the answer isn’t, and deduction can help save you a lot of time when you take another look.

While some test-takers attempt to be overly neat in their taking of the test, you’re free to mark up your test booklet with notes, scratch work and other bits. Note that a machine will grade you, so your answer sheet should be flawless — all your writing should go in the test booklet.

Another useful SAT studying tip is to know that your first answer is typically the right one. Too many students actually change their answers to the wrong one by second-guessing, which is something that you should only do if you’re really sure. Even if you think that there could be two answers to the question, there aren’t — select the best answer and move on.

If there’s a question that is giving you trouble and you’re unsure of the answer: guess. In the past, guesses could work against you, but that isn’t the case any longer. You might get lucky that your guess is correct, but you should still try to eliminate obvious wrong-answers before you pencil in your final answer.

As for the answers themselves, pay close attention to the number space and section on your answer sheet. Sometimes the most inadvertent mistake can spell disaster, and paying attention at every step of the way is one of the most important SAT studying tips because all the study in the world won’t rescue yourself from a blunder like this. 

Additionally, because the test is timed, you’ll also have to budget your time effectively. Don’t spend more than a minute or two on even the harder questions, and most answers should only take you a few seconds. Before answering any question, however, you’ll want to ensure that you understand the question completely. Rushing or half-reading the question can lead to bad answers that feel good, or you may be drawing on a practice question you’ve seen before instead of the one in front of you. When in doubt, read it out.

With all that you have to do to prepare for the SAT, it’s easy to forget the basics such as a watch or timer. The clock in the room may not be highly visible from your test-taking position, and you won’t be able to have your phone on you.

As for what to expect, the SAT is segmented into timed sections. The reading section has 52 questions and you’ll have 65 minutes to complete it. The writing and language section has 44 questions and must be completed in 35 minutes. As for math, there are 58 questions and 80 minutes, and then there’s 50 minutes for the optional essay portion.

For more essential SAT studying tips and tricks, check out our SAT strategy course and get a free sample lesson.