How to Create a Study Guide for the SATs

The SAT exam is a crucial component of the college admissions process used by colleges and universities across the United States to evaluate a student's readiness for college-level coursework.

hand writing paper with pen


The exam assesses a student's understanding and grasp of reading, writing, core math concepts, and their ability to apply critical thinking and problem-solving skills. SAT prep is essential for students who want to maximize their chances of gaining admission to their dream schools. High SAT scores can open doors to top-tier colleges and universities, leading to greater academic and career success opportunities.

The impact of the SAT on a student's future underscores the importance of taking the exam seriously and investing time and effort into preparing for it. In the following sections, we will discuss strategies for creating a comprehensive study plan for the SAT, focusing on one-month, three-month, six-month, and twelve-month intervals before the exam. By following these strategies, students can increase their chances of achieving their desired scores and gaining admission to the college or university of their choice.



2022 Format and Structure of the SAT Exam:

The SAT exam is divided into four main sections: Reading, Writing and Language, Math (with a calculator), and Math (without a calculator). Each section is designed to test specific skills and knowledge, and each section is scored separately. The exam also includes an optional essay section, which is not included in the total score but may be required by some colleges.

  • Reading Section

The Reading section of the SAT exam consists of 52 multiple-choice questions lasting 65 minutes. The section measures students' ability to understand, analyze, and interpret passages of varying lengths and genres.

  • Writing Section

The Writing and Language section of the SAT exam also consists of 44 multiple-choice questions lasting 35 minutes. This section measures a student's ability to improve the clarity and effectiveness of written communication.

  • Math Section

The Math section of the SAT exam consists of 58 multiple-choice questions and lasts 80 minutes. The section is divided into two parts, one that allows the use of a calculator and one that does not. The section measures students' ability to reason mathematically, solve problems, and use mathematical models to solve real-world problems.

  • Optional Essay Section

The Optional Essay section of the SAT exam consists of one essay prompt lasting 50 minutes. This section measures a student's ability to analyze and explain how an author builds an argument to persuade an audience.

Time Constraints and Scoring System:

The SAT exam is timed, and students have 3 hours (3 hours and 50 minutes with the optional essay) to complete the exam. Each section has a set time limit, and students must manage their time effectively to complete each section on time.

Scoring & Grading

The SAT exam is scored on a scale of 400 to 1600, with separate scores for the Reading, Writing, Language, and Math sections and the essay being scored separately on a scale of 2 to 8. The scores from each section are combined to create a total score, which colleges and universities use as part of the admissions process. The higher the score, the better a student's chances are of being admitted to the college or university of their choice.


2023 & Beyond - The New Digital SAT

The SAT has changed how it works every few years, but having spent the last 30 years studying the test, I can tell you with a high degree of confidence that this year will be the most significant change yet. Here's what's different about the new SAT and what else you need to know about the new digital format of the SAT, being rolled out to international students first in 2023 and US-based students in 2024.

  • SAT is now Digital

Given how pervasive technology is in almost every aspect of our lives, it's a point to wonder what took so long for the SAT to switch to an all-digital format. Nevertheless, filling in your answers on an old-fashion answer sheet is now a thing of the past, with the Digital SAT favoring convenience and security by allowing students to answer the test on their laptop or tablet or one issued by the school. This is one of the best updates to the exam, although US-based students will need to wait till 2024 to benefit from it fully, while international students will have access to the new format from March 2023 onward.

  • Shorter Exam Format

The new SAT Test will last two hours rather than three and will consist of only two sections—a reading and writing section and a math section—instead of four. Other significant changes include the shorter paragraphs section; students must answer one question per the SAT reading passage, fewer paragraph-style math questions, and additional time to answer the questions.

  • Calculator Use

While the old format had distinct sections in maths for calculator use, the new design will allow students to use one for the entire maths section. While many argue that this seems counter-intuitive, a similar argument can be made that it levels the playing field by allowing every student to compete purely on their understanding of a concept and not be limited by their competency in mental maths or lose marks as a result of a calculation error.

How to Create a Study Guide for the Exam

When it comes to SAT preparation, creating a study plan is crucial to achieving success on the exam. A study plan allows you to set goals, establish a schedule, and prioritize your study time. This helps you stay organized, cover all the necessary content, and improve your performance in each exam section. A comprehensive study plan for the SAT exam should include the following components:

  • Assessment of Strengths and Weaknesses

Before creating a study plan, assess your strengths and weaknesses, as this will help you identify areas where you must focus your study efforts to improve. Gauging where you stand currently is relatively straightforward, and you can do this by taking a practice test, reviewing the results, and analyzing the areas where you struggled the most.

  • Goal-Setting

Once you have identified your strengths and weaknesses, set realistic goals for yourself. These goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. For example, you may aim to improve your math score by 100 points within three months.

  • Study Schedule

A study schedule is essential to ensure you cover all the content in the SAT exam. Create a program that fits your lifestyle and gives you enough time to study for each exam section. Include breaks and rewards to help you stay motivated and avoid burnout.

  • Study Materials

Ensure you have the necessary study materials for each exam section, which includes textbooks, practice tests, flashcards, and online resources. Use various study materials to keep your study sessions exciting and engaging.

  • Practice Tests

Taking practice tests is one of the most effective forms of SAT Prep. It helps you become familiar with the format, structure, and question types. Take multiple practice tests throughout your study period and analyze the results to identify areas where you need improvement. Tailoring your study plan to your strengths and weaknesses is essential, especially if you're stronger in one section over another; math than reading, for example, allocate more study time to the reading section. Similarly, if you're a visual learner, use study materials that include visual aids, such as graphs and diagrams.

Master the the SATs and ACTs with the best examination prep experience anywhere. One-on-One sessions with Brian Leaf. The best-selling author of 10 SAT/ACT prep books.


Top 50 Skills

Subscribe to my newsletter