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FREE SAT PREP GUIDE (UPDATED FOR 2022)

Welcome to the mother of all free SAT prep resources. This page contains video tutorials, tips and more to raise your score in a meaningful way, making you a more competitive college applicant. We're going to give you free tips, videos and even links to free SAT practice tests. Dig in!


SAT PREP INTRODUCTION



READING

Tests reading comprehension, reasoning and information finding ability.
52 Questions
65 Minutes
400 Points

WRITING

Tests grammar skills and your ability to identify effective writing.
44 Questions
35 Minutes
400 Points

MATH

Tests your basic math, algebra and geometry ability as well as your math reasoning skills. Two sections, and only one allows a calculator.
20 Questions, 25 Minutes (Section 3)
38 Questions, 55 Minutes (Seciton 4)
800 Combined Points



HOW TO RAISE YOUR SAT SCORE

Raising your SAT score isn't like finding a four-sided triangle or picking a lottery number. It's more like a puzzle. If you approach it in a methodical way and give a consistent effort, you'll be successful.



Get Better at the Underlying Content

You hear a lot of people talk about little tricks that can massively raise your score. Don't buy into it. The big gains come from getting better on the actual grammar, algebra, etc. that is tested.

Do a Lot of Practice with Official Tests

There is no substitute for putting in the time, and you should spend this time on official practice tests. The good news is that there are a lot of free official practice tests



Put Together a Plan to Address Your Weaknesses

Based on your practice test results, you should know where you are weak and where you are strong. Make a list of your biggest weaknesses and move through the relevant content in a methodical way. Rinse and repeat.

Track Your Progress Toward Your Goal

A good plan is one that leads you up to a specific test date and also features weekly goals for the amount of time you should spend on prep. Use your practice tests to track your progress toward your goal and determine where this time should be spent.


FREE SAT READING PREP

The SAT reading section is the first section you will see on the test. At 65 minutes, it is the longest section on either the SAT or ACT. You'll see five passages and 52 questions, and those questions will test your ability to find information, reason with that information, apply arguments and ideas from the passage and recognize the best evidence for your answers.






FOUR SAT READING NINJA TIPS


READ EFFICIENTLY

A lot of your improvement will come from analyzing questions and answers better, but in order to have time to do that, you need to read efficiently. That means reading closely enough to get the main ideas and know where to find things, but that's it.

ANALYZE INTELLIGENTLY

Analyzing questions and answer choices better is the key tobig improvements. The SAT is asking exactly what it means to ask, so having a precise understanding of the question and each answer choice is one of your most important tasks on this section.

PRACTICE MAKES BETTER

Doing practice passages out of official practice tests is probably more important on the reading section than any other section. This is about skills, not just knowledge. Like any other skill, you get better the more you do it. Be sure to dig into every question you miss!

KNOW YOUR TIMING

Most students can read the passages and then answer the questions and still finish on time. If that's you, there's your strategy. If not, try reading the first sentence of each paragraph and skimming the rest before going to the questions. Figure this out before test day!




STRATEGY #1: READING PASSAGES BETTER

Why do we bother reading SAT passages at all? That sounds like a question with an obvious answer, but think about it for a second. There really are only two things we need to accomplish when reading an SAT passage. First, we need to pick up on the main ideas. You really look back at a passage to quickly see what the main idea of the entire passage or even the main purpose of the third paragraph was, so we need to know those things before moving on to the questions. Second, we need to know where to find all of the other stuff. That's it! We don't need to do an incredibly close reading of these passages. The key is to read well enough to be able to answer big picture questions and find everything else quickly.






STRATEGY #2: ANALYZING ANSWER CHOICES BETTER

For most students, a lot of improvements come from analyzing answer choices better. The SAT has all sorts of tricks it likes to use, but the good news is that these tricks are often predictable. Let's take a look:



FREE SAT WRITING PREP

We believe the SAT Writing section is the easiest section to get better at. Why? It is so straightforward! The recipe for success is pretty simple, and it all stems from how the test is designed. The majority of questions in this section are grammar questions. Fortunately, these grammar questions can be broken down into thirteen different question types, or grammar rules. If you get better at these thirteen grammar rules, your score will go up. We are going to look at the three most important rules here.



GRAMMAR RULE #1: SUBJECTS & VERBS






GRAMMAR RULE #2: RUN-ONS & FRAGMENTS






GRAMMAR RULE #3: COMMAS





WHAT NOW?

Imagine you are a baseball player and your coach has just given you new tips for your swing. What is the next thing you need to do? You need to practice! Unless English is your second language, you've probably been speaking English for fifteen years. Old habits die hard. Watching one video isn't going to rid yourself of habits that you've had for years, so practice these skills on some official SAT practice tests.


SAT WRITING FAQ

Below are some common questions about the SAT Writing section and the best methods of prepping for it.

No, there isn't. The name is confusing, though. There is a separate, optional essay that students can elect to do if their target colleges require it, but that essay is not part of the SAT Writing Test. Your writing score is solely based on your performance on the 44 questions found in section two. These are all multiple choice questions, and most of them deal with English grammar and related concepts.
Yes! A lot of people think this is the easiest section to improve on. It's very straightforward, which is great for students who are willing to put in the time needed to prepare. If you get better at the thirteen grammar rules, your score will go up.
Yes. The vast majority of sentences have underlined portions in this section, so you wouldn't really be saving much time anyway. Further, there are some questions that deal with the passage as a whole, so you'll need to have at least a basic understanding of the passage. Skipping sentences makes that more difficult.
No, grammar is not subjective. There are different standards, but the SAT is pretty upfront about what their expectations are. Every single question on the SAT Writing Test can be explained by a hard-and-fast rule. This is not a matter of opinion.
Learn the thirteen grammar rules. Practice the thirteen grammar rules. Do official practice tests and review every question you miss. Repeat and win!
We call those "Be an Author" questions, and they make up about 25% of this section. They are about writing effectively, not just correctly. Put yourself in the reader's shoes -- which option make's the author's point clear and concise?

FREE SAT MATH PREP

The SAT Math section is a broad, vast section that can test you on anything from basic math you learned in sixth grade to graphing quadratics. To make matters worse, it likes to add an extra bit of math reasoning into questions, so these problems often don't look or feel like high school math problems. We can break the questions down into three main categories:



HEART OF ALGEBRA

This section covers a lot of algebra without exponents, so you'll see linear equations, systems of equations and graphing.

PROBLEM SOLVING & DATA

This is the SAT Math section that mirrors high school math the least. It involves modeling, data sets and statistical surveys.

PASSPORT TO ADVANCED MATH

In addition to having a silly name, this section is known for algebra with exponents, so you'll see trinomials, graphing parabolas and functions.



HOW TO RAISE YOUR SAT MATH SCORE

To score better, you need to get better at two things: math content and math reasoning. Unlike high school math, SAT math doesn't lend itself well to memorizing steps. The problems simply vary too much. In addition, you are going to be presented with novel scenarios that force you to be creative with the information you are given in an effort to get where you need to go. The difference between easy SAT math problems and hard SAT math problems is often a matter of reasoning, not actual math content.

That doesn't mean that actual math skills aren't important -- they are. In fact, for most students, the best way to get a higher SAT math score is to get better at math content. Just make sure that you're also doing plenty of practice out of official SAT practice tests.



SAT MATH TOPIC #1: LINEAR EQUATIONS

Linear equations are equations that don't feature any exponents (at least no exponents other than "1"). This means they make straight lines on graphs. This is the single most important skill for SAT Heart of Algebra questions, and it might just be the most important skill on the entire SAT Math section. Let's take a look:







SAT MATH TOPIC #2: TRINOMIALS

Trinomials are a special form of polynomial that is frequently tested and will form parabolas on a graph. We typically factor them in order to solve them, and you should be very comfortable with them in both equation and graph form. Let's take a look:







SAT MATH TOPIC #3: EQUIVALENCIES

Equivalencies are frequently tested, and they can range from very easy problems to very hard problems. Fortunately, there is a shortcut method that works every single time for these problems, and we recommend that you use it. Let's take a look:







SAT MATH FAQ

Below are some common questions about the SAT Math section and the best methods of prepping for it.

You can use a calculator on section three but not section four. Section three of the SAT Math Test is shorter than section four (20 questions vs. 38), but it is very useful to know some cancelling and simplifying techniques since you won't be able to use a calulator.
Most math concepts covered between sixth grade and Algebra 2 are fair game. That includes basic number theory, linear equations, polynomials, modeling, data analysis, 3D objects and volume. But you need to know more than just math concepts to do well. You need to be able to reason with the information you've been given and figure out how you can get to the answer. This may involve several steps, and this process doesn't lend itself to memorizing those steps.
Maybe, maybe not. Being good at high school math is probably the best background you can bring to the table. But a lot of students who are good at high school math struggle in this section because high school math often encourages students to simply memorize the steps that are needed to do each problem. The SAT doesn't really work that way, so it's possible to be great at high school math but struggle on the SAT Math Test.
Practice tests are certainly important, but a better approach is to use those tests to help you identify your weak areas. Then, spend some time reviewing those areas and improving your underlying content skills before doing the next practice test.
It's true that Passport to Advanced Math is typically harder than Heart of Algebra, but that doesn't mean it is going to be harder for you. If you are an advanced math student, you likely took pre-Algebra years and years ago. That means you're rusty on things like linear equations, and you very possibly missed some questions simply because it's been a while since you did the easy stuff.

FREE SAT ESSAY PREP

The SAT essay is a separate section that is scored outside of your normall 1600 score. It is optional, and you should only take it if you are considering colleges that require it or recommend it. If you are not considering any such colleges, there's no reason to take the essay.



SAT ESSAY SCORING







SAT ESSAY: THE MAGIC FORMULA

You don't need to write a Pulitzer-worthy essay to get a perfect score. In fact, College Board (the makers of the SAT) have done a pretty good job of telling you exactly what you need to do in order to get the best score possible. They've given sample essays that have been scored, and we can learn a lot by looking at the perfect-scoring example essay. And guess what? There's good news! You can follow a simple formula and still get a perfect score. In fact, we highly recommend following this formula. Let's take a look.






MORE FREE SAT PREP ADVICE

Can I realistically raise my SAT score by 150 or more points?

For most students, yes. This goal is more realistic if you aren't starting with a 1300+, of course. However, raising your SAT score significantly requires time, hard work and a good plan. If you are willing to do those things, you can raise your score.

Is it better to improve my weaknesses or my strengths?

Unless your strengths are so strong that there isn't much room left for improvement (i.e., you are scoring a 750+ on math), you should spend some time on both. However, for a lot of students, the biggest gains in the shortest time often come from getting better at their weaknesses.

How much time should I spend on SAT prep?

This of course various, but a lot of students could get real improvement by spending four hours per week for eight weeks on SAT prep. That time should be split between reviewing content and doing practice tests.

No matter how much time you spend on SAT prep, remember that quality time is more important than anything else. Treat every practice question like it's a test question, and have a plan that guides how you will spend your time.

How many times should I take the SAT?

If you get the score you need, once is enough. Okay, that's a cop-out. There isn't an inherent advantage in taking the test a lot of times unless you underperformed on it, and you should know whether you underperformed because you should have already taken some official practice tests. If you've been scoring an 1150 on practice tests and you score about an 1150 on test day, you shouldn't expect to do better just by taking it again. Instead, you'll need to do some prep and actually get better at the SAT in order for your score to go up. If, however, you have been getting an 1150 on practice tests but scored just a 1040 on the real thing, take it again whether you do additional prep or not.

How important is the SAT for college admissions?

Very! Different colleges weight test scores differently, but it's hard to overstate the importance of the SAT for college admissions. Your GPA/class rank and test scores are, by far, the two most important factors that will determine the colleges you get into.

Aren't there just some quick little tricks I can learn that will raise my score in a big way?

For the most part, no. There are some little tricks, but they aren't going to give you 50+ points on the test. There is no substitute for doing actual work to get better at the algebra, grammar, etc. that is tested. Good SAT tutoring revolves around resolving content weaknesses first.

Should I take the SAT or ACT?

For most students, it doesn't really matter. The vast majority of students do about the same on both exams, and there is no difference in how the exams are viewed by colleges. Your goal is to get the highest percentile score possible, regardless of which test it happens on. In general, the ACT is more a of a time crunch and gives less weight to math, but it is also a bit more straightforward. It also includes a science section, but this section has little correlation with ability in high school science class.

What is the single most important content area on the entire SAT?

Probably linear equations. Math makes up half of your score, so the most important math content area is probably the most important area overall. Knowing how to solve and graph linear equations as well as work with the slope formula are fundamental skills on this test. Outside of math, subjects and verbs are extremely important.

FREE SAT PRACTICE TESTS