If you’ve begun to craft your study plan for your SAT preparation process, you’re probably wondering how much time you should spend per week studying. And while, yes, you should have a set number of hours per week devoted to SAT prep, it’s hard to know what that number should be without a little more information.
Imagine someone asking you “How many hours per week should I spend practicing the piano?”
Well . . . uh . . . it depends.
To answer that question, first you’d have to figure out what their piano goals are. Do they have a recital, or is this for an audition? How many songs do they need to learn?
Next, you’d need to know what their background knowledge is with the piano. Do they know how to play all the scales and cadences, or do they struggle to find Middle C? Have they played advanced pieces before?
You’d also need to know if there are time parameters, what other commitments they have, whether they can read sheet music, if they’ll be working on their own or with a piano teacher . . . I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.
There’s not one answer to the question of how much time you should spend per week on SAT prep because the answer will vary from student to student. There are myriad factors to consider to determine the number of hours that will be most beneficial for you.
Ours is a problem of hours . . .
When deciding how many hours per week to study, the first thing you should do is take stock of how much time you have to work with.
How much time do you have before your test?
The further out you are from your SAT, the less time per week you’ll need to devote to studying. If your test date is in a month or two, it will require more of a time commitment on your part. On the other hand, if you have six months or more to work with, you can spread out your studying more evenly.
What are your other time commitments?
Take a look at what else you have going on – homework, sports, band practice, art lessons, volunteer hours, maybe a part-time job. How much time can you realistically devote to studying? Do you find yourself with chunks of free time in your week? Great! You’ll have plenty of time to study. That is great . . . right?
But maybe you just don’t have that kind of space in your schedule.
Yes, there are ways to work smarter, not harder: using your time more wisely, studying on the weekends and making study groups with your friends so you still have a social life. But remember that your SAT score is only one piece of your application puzzle, so don’t push yourself beyond what you can handle. If spending more hours per week on SAT prep will strain your mental health or hinder your ability to complete schoolwork, it’s time to scale back.
Are you working alone, or will you have a tutor?
Having a tutor is not a requirement, but it can be a great way to speed up your preparation timeline. Great tutors can clarify confusing concepts, assign homework based on the content you need to focus on most and help you create a comprehensive testing strategy that is tailored specifically to you. It eliminates the guesswork, which makes the preparation process much more efficient.
Now that we’ve settled some logistical questions, it’s time to factor in your goals, abilities and experience level.
What score do you want, and what score are you starting with?
Jumping from 1000 to 1200 is easier than jumping from 1200 to 1400. As a general rule, the closer you get to 1600, the more work is required to continue increasing your SAT score. If you’re looking to make a top score, it will likely take you longer to get there.
How quickly can you learn new skills?
Some people only need to review a concept once or twice, while others may need to practice a concept many times to feel comfortable with it. If you need more time to fully grasp new material, plan to spend more time in each study session (or plan more sessions per week) so you have time to cover everything.
What is your prior experience with SAT prep?
Someone who has taken the SAT (or even PSAT) before might require less prep time per week than someone who has no familiarity with the test. If you’re familiar with the test format, you may only need to work on content understanding or increasing your speed. Plus, with your SAT results packet, you’ll already know the exact concepts you need to improve on to see a score increase.
However, if you’re starting from ground zero, plan time for not only reviewing the content, but also trying out various testing strategies, getting comfortable with the time constraints and learning how to handle mental fatigue.
On the other hand, you could be too familiar with the SAT. If you’ve spent a substantial amount of time studying for the SAT in the past and still didn’t see much improvement, you might need even more time each week… and probably to revamp your studying approach. If you’ve thrown hours at the problem, maybe it’s time to switch up your approach rather than simply doubling down on time.
To help you keep track of all these variables, here is a handy chart.
|Less time required per week
|More time required per week
|More than 3 months until test day
|Less than 2 months until test day
|Having a great tutor
|Not needing a big jump in points or a top score
|Needing a big jump in points or a top score
|Some – but limited – prior experience with test prep
|First-time test taker OR have extensive prep experience with little improvement
|Learning new material quickly
|Learning new material slowly
The number of hours per week you should spend on SAT prep is determined, in large part, by the amount of time you have before your test date. (Not sure when to take the SAT? We can help you decide.)
If you’re starting to prepare six months or more before your test, for instance, you won’t need to spend three hours per week studying. On the other hand, with two months or less, an hour a week probably won’t be enough.
But before we jump into timelines, let’s talk about the stages of test prep you’ll want to follow to best prepare yourself. How many weeks you spend in each phase will be determined by how far in advance you’ve started your study process.
Don’t forget: you’ll want to make time for full practice tests. You may decide to take one in between each phase, or you may decide to take several over the course of the same phase.
Phase 1: Familiarization
- Consists of content review, learning the parameters of the SAT, doing some practice problems and getting comfortable with your calculator and wristwatch.
- You should spend the least time here, as content review is ongoing through the whole process. If you’ve taken the SAT before and already feel familiar with the test, you can skip this phase entirely.
Phase 2: Training
- Applying content knowledge to practice tests, doing homework and drills, continuing content review and measuring progress and adjusting as needed.
- Over the course of Phase 2, you should work toward mastering progressively challenging concepts and learning how these concepts appear on the test. You’ll want to spend the bulk of your time here and in Phase 3.
Phase 3: Optimizing
- Testing out different strategies, focusing on problem areas in Math and Writing, measuring progress and adjusting as needed.
- Once you’ve gotten most of the content down, it’s time to nail down your testing strategies, particularly surrounding time. This is also the time to try to master the toughest Math and Writing questions (and learn how to get to the answers faster).
Phase 4: Consistency
- Working toward consistency, final review of concepts
- You want to go into the test knowing approximately what score to expect. Take a couple of full practice tests (or several individual sections) in this phase. Consider a final content review to keep it at the forefront of your mind before test day.
Now let’s talk about timelines!
Keep in mind: the real goal isn’t to study for a set number of hours per week – it’s to get the score you want. If you had a book to read for school, you wouldn’t say “I’ll read for 15 minutes a night
and Sparknotes whatever I don’t get to” – you’d read until the book was finished. If 15 minutes a night wasn’t enough, you’d start reading for maybe 30 or 45 minutes to finish on time.
Similarly, the number of hours you should spend on SAT prep each week is the number of hours that ultimately gets you your target score.
For this reason, you should be flexible when planning your number of hours of SAT prep each week. At first, you might plan to spend an hour a week on studying, but be sure to measure your progress consistently. If you’re not making the progress you want, try dedicating more time each week to studying (or revising your studying approach).
The examples below are just guidelines. Be sure to adjust however you need to based on the time factors in the handy chart above!
6 months or more
If you’re starting your SAT prep process six months or more in advance of your test date, you have time to spread out your studies. While you’ll likely want to ramp up studying as your test date approaches, for now, you can afford to be spending as little as one hour per week in study sessions.
Your prep might consist of two, 30-minute sessions devoted to vocabulary acquisition, grammar rules or general math concept review. By doing the majority of your content review earlier in the process, your later preparation can be focused primarily on test strategies.
Suggested approach: Until your test date gets closer, it’s safe to hang out in Phase 1, with a primary focus on content review. Because you’ve started so far in advance, you may only need an hour a week for the duration of your study plan (with a few extra hours on the weeks you do a full practice test).
Total hours per week: 1; 4-5 on weeks with full practice tests.
If you’ve got 4-6 months until your SAT, you still have plenty of time. You could shoot for an hour and 15 minutes or an hour and a half each week, depending on your needs. Starting this far in advance might enable you to keep a more leisurely study schedule, even as your test date approaches.
Suggested approach: Start in Phase 1 until you get closer to the four-month mark. Around that time, you could switch into Phase 2, spending about an hour and a half a week doing practice sections and checking your answers. With any leftover time, you can plan to do more content review.
Total hours per week: 1.5; 4.5-5.5 on weeks with full practice tests.
If you’re starting your prep process three months out, now is the time to really kick things into high gear. Many students fall into this timeline for their studying, so let’s split this group into two subcategories: students who have prior preparation experience and first-time test takers.
If you have studied for and taken the SAT or PSAT before, it’s quite possible you may only need two hours per week to study. One week you could study Writing and Math with Calculator for an hour each, and the next week you could prioritize Reading and Math No Calculator. Maybe you’d choose to do full practice sections and check your answers, or you might opt to run drills. If you need it, you could also start with content review.
Suggested approach: Skip Phase 1, as you’ve already taken the SAT. Start with Phase 2, letting your practice tests determine what content you need to review most. Plan to move into Phase 3 with at least a month and a half to go before test day, and try to leave at least two weeks for Phase 4.
Total hours per week: 2; 5-6 on weeks with full practice tests.
If you’re a first-time test taker, with only three months before test day, you’ll likely need more time each week. Plan to spend at least an hour on general content review and then at least two hours on practice sessions and homework.
Suggested approach: Move through Phase 1 as quickly as possible (in a week or less). Give yourself 4-5 weeks each for Phases 2 and 3, leaving at least two weeks for Phase 4.
Total hours per week: 3; 6-7 on weeks with full practice tests.
2 months or less
If you have less than two months until the test as a first-time test taker, you will have to really commit in order to get the score you want. Plan to spend at least 2.5 hours during the week doing general concept review of grammar or math, then take larger chunks of time over the weekend to do practice sections and check your answers. Don’t forget to do some full practice tests as well!
Suggested approach: Get through Phase 1 as quickly as possible (three days or less). Give yourself three weeks each for Phases 2 and 3, leaving at least 1.5 weeks for Phase 4.
Total hours per week: 4 to 5; 8 to 9 on weeks that include a full practice test.
An alternate option if you have less than two months is to hire a private SAT tutor. Time is of the essence, and having a private tutor can help you condense your study timeline.
Fitting prep hours in your schedule
One of the biggest benefits to choosing a certain number of hours per week to spend on SAT prep actually has nothing to do with how much you accomplish in your sessions or how much material you need to get through.
The big advantage to choosing a set amount of study time is your ability to put it in your schedule. Have you ever heard the expression, “If it’s not on the schedule, it doesn’t exist”?
Well, studies have been done about it, and apparently, it’s true. When students committed to using a planner every day, they stayed organized, improved their time management, stressed less, and got better grades.
Scheduling even one hour of SAT prep – then actually doing it – will get you better results than saying you’ll do “a lot of studying this week” and then only managing 15 minutes one night before bed. Put it in your planner, block it off in your Google calendar and tell your friends and family you’ll be busy during that time.
But what if scheduling even one or two hours of prep is already pushing it? Many of you probably just realized you have three months or less until your test and are wondering how you’ll ever find three to nine extra hours in your week. If you need ideas on how to fit more studying time into your day, here are some tips:
- Wake up earlier and do prep before you go to school. Even 15 minutes every weekday would give you over an hour of extra study time each week!
- Utilize free periods at school. If you’re #blessed with a study hall period, you can use it to get ahead.
- Do vocabulary flashcards at lunch, either on your phone (if your school allows it) or on notecards.
- Do you drive yourself to school? Make audio recordings of yourself reciting frequently used math formulas, vocabulary words, test tips or grammar rules, and play them on the way to school every day.
- Plan your prep – and your day as a whole – around your natural energy cycles. Morning birds, capitalize on your mornings (yes, even on weekends) for extra productivity in your sessions. Night owls, stay up later on a Friday or Saturday night to study.
- Set time limits for your social media apps. High schoolers spend, on average, nine hours a day consuming media. Cutting back on your screen time can free up space in your day for studying.
- Be smart about your study environment. If you go straight home from school and immediately nap for hours… don’t go straight home after school (if possible). Instead, try going to a library or coffee shop and work for a couple of hours before heading home.
- Utilize your weekends! Maybe formal prep time is difficult to fit into your week – that’s okay. Try waking up around the time you normally do for school on a Saturday, and do some prep then.
- In extreme situations, if you’ve tried all the above tips and you are still too busy to fit in enough test prep, it may be time to think about temporarily stepping back from other obligations. Once you get past test day, you can pick them right back up!
Whether you have six months or six weeks until your test, you still have time to improve your score. If you make a plan and stick to it, you’ll see results.