When to Study for the SAT?

What Timeline is Right for You?

With the Redesigned SAT’s push towards becoming more of a Common-Core content-driven test, preparing for the SAT starts far before buying the prep books and signing up to get the SAT question-of-the-day. It begins with a solid foundation of critical reading and math skills developed in the classroom over a student’s entire academic career. With that said, there is a good time to begin preparing explicitly for the SAT, and your child will have to decide when that is based on the following criteria.

At Least Three Months

That’s how long a student should plan on preparing for the SAT before taking it for the first time. It takes time to familiarize yourself with the test and to master your approach. Thinking you can meet with a tutor 3 weeks before your exam and just learn a couple quick tips to do well is a mistake many families make. There may be the rare SAT prodigy that succeeds this way, but the majority of us slower-learning humans need time to process and consolidate information.

Academic Track

A key consideration when deciding when to begin SAT preparation is a student’s class schedule. The SAT tests math up through Trigonometry, which is typically tagged onto Algebra II curriculum, covered in either Sophomore or Junior year for most students. Students who have taken Algebra II prior to Junior year have significantly more flexibility in when they take the SAT, as they do not have to teach themselves nearly as many math topics. Those who take Algebra II as juniors, however, will have to do a bit more work before taking the test. With this in mind, those in the higher math track may want to opt for a test earlier in their Junior year, while those who take Algebra II later will want to start with the March test or later.

SAT Subject Tests

SAT Subject tests are more specialize SATs that are recommended or required for applying to some schools. If you know that you need to take some of these, then it is important that you coordinate your preparation around them, as they are only offered on the same dates as the regular SATs.

Your Life Outside of School

Do you play a sport? Are you in Marching Band? Do you have a job? Or do you just have a whole bunch of hobbies that you care about? Your commitments outside of school should all be considered when deciding when you will prepare for the SAT. If you play a spring sport, for example, then you probably want to take the SAT by March. If you are in marching band, then you probably want to avoid preparing in the fall when you are practicing 6 days a week.

Pick a time-frame for preparation in which you can dedicate the maximum amount of attention to your SAT studies. If the time doesn’t seem to exist, then you have to make it. For a busy junior in high school it feels like you already have no time, but I promise that you will never have as much free time again as you do when you are in high school. Use it wisely!

Make the Time Matter

No matter when you decide to prepare for the SAT, do so wholeheartedly. Three months of studying for four hours over the weekend is far better than four years’ worth of answering the “Question-of-the-day” the College Board will email you. If you structure your time well, you can make huge strides in a relatively short period of time.

An Example

Steve is a pretty good student. He is currently finishing up his sophomore year, during which time he took Algebra II. Foreseeing his spring being busy due to Lacrosse, he decides he wants to take the SAT as early as possible. He wants to take the first one available in October 2016. With that goal in mind, he will begin his preparation in July, after a brief summer respite, so that he can capitalize on the free time he has in the summer that he won’t have during other parts of the year.


Every student’s timeline is going to look a little bit different based on how they spend their time. What is the same for every student, though, is that preparing for the SAT is not something to be done half-heartedly. A good SAT score can provide more opportunity for less overall time spent than many other high school activities. Make yours count by putting a plan in place and allotting yourself enough time to truly prepare.

Mike Constanza is the Director of Learning and Technology for Silver Oak Learning K-12. His expertise is primarily in reading, writing, SAT and ACT prep.