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Tips for effective, efficient studying

We’re going to guess that most of you can name a few things you’d rather be doing than cracking into SAT prep. Studying for the SAT - or for any subject - can be both frustrating and difficult, not to mention boring. Thankfully, there are some things you can do to make your study time more efficient (waste less time!) and effective (do the right things!).
We asked high school students how they prepare for tests and demanding assignments. Here are some of their recommendations, which we hope you’ll find useful and inspiring as you embark on your own SAT practice plan.

HOW TO… understand the material

Teach and learn:
  • Use online resources.“Looking up videos on websites such as YouTube and Bozeman Science helps me to study and understand concepts more profoundly so that I am completely comfortable with the material.” – Eillen
  • Use your own words. “I find that the best way to study content is to read about it while taking notes, and then explaining the notes and information to myself as if I were teaching it, in order to understand it in my own words.” – Fariha
  • Try teaching the concepts to someone else. "If you can't find someone to teach it to, teach it to a blank wall or stuffed animal – anything works. You can also film yourself teaching these concepts (film yourself discussing what happened during a certain war, film yourself on a whiteboard solving a math problem and explaining why you're doing everything you're doing, etc) and then to go back and watch it and see where you're hesitant (hesitating means you're not as confident on that part) or if you've left out any information.” – Elyse
  • Make learning interactive.“To make studying enjoyable, it's important to make learning interactive. For instance, I use screen recording apps to create my own lectures, and post them on a private website so that I can watch them later to review. Also, the process of recording these videos helps reinforce concepts in a way that suits my learning style. This allows me to participate in your learning process, which makes studying more fun in general.” – Gaeun
  • Talk it out. “If you happen to be studying at school, use your friends as resources. Talk out the steps to solving a math problem, explain a scientific concept, or discuss the structure of your essay. Verbalizing concepts and ideas can help solidify them and make them easier to complete and understand later on. Studying with a friend may even be beneficial for both of you!” – Emily
Put everything on paper:
  • Be prepared. “Always have a paper and pencil with you to note down anything that comes to your mind.” – Rushi
  • Take notes. “I find it crucial to take good notes. I always make my own personalized textbook for every subject, which includes important ideas I'm learning, personal comments about them (especially in subjects such as literature or history), and the mistakes I've made in the past on tests or on essays. It's also helpful if you write down mnemonic devices in the margins, such as a memorable quote made by someone in class, to memorize dates or formulas. – Gaeun
  • Use technology. "I like to digitalize the content of my notes by saving them in iCloud, Google Docs, or Evernote. This enables you to access your notes on other devices or in other locations. A few weeks before big tests, good, organized notes turn out to be very useful.” – Gaeun
Get creative:
  • Have fun. “I have learned to have fun with my notes. I personalize them so that they help me. Sometimes, instead of scribbling everything my teacher says during a lecture I will draw pictures that I associate with the topic (probably the only time doodling in class is considered acceptable). For example, we were recently reviewing a cardiovascular unit in Anatomy. Instead of writing out the steps of blood flow through the heart, I drew a basic diagram of the heart and labeled arrows directing the path of blood flow. Instead of having some abstract concept in my head of the path of blood, I could more deeply understand the concept with the visual aid.” – Eillen
  • Use color. “I'm the type of person who learns by writing things out, but writing things over and over again can be a bit dull. I am able to make it through these study sessions by using different colored thick markers; it makes studying seem more like an arts and crafts project plus writing in markers is much easier than writing in pencil. I spend time making diagrams and coming up with fun mnemonic devices for things that need to be memorized.” – Tiffany
  • Try recording yourself. “Read your notes into a voice recording app, and replay them as you do something else. The combination of reading something and hearing it again is more effective than reading alone.” – Erin
  • Challenge yourself. “For people who are competitive like me, challenging myself and making studying a competition is what keeps me engaged. I like to use Quizlet flashcard sets because they have an option where the cards are shuffled and turned into a matching game. In my opinion, making studying a competition or game is the best way to keep me engaged.” – Kennedy

HOW TO… stay focused

Remove temptation:
  • Turn off your phone. “How do we avoid falling into the trap of social media and internet distractions? I'll tell you one way to do it. Take that phone, turn it off, put it in another room, and detach yourself for a few hours - it won't kill you.” – Eillen
  • Commit to study time. “To stay focused, I turn off all my devices, and just allocate some time to just study. I tell myself that I can't stop until the time is up, regardless of if I know the material or not.” – Neil
  • Take breaks when you need them.“During the weekends, I know that I won't get any work done during the day, because I won't have the motivation to finish my work until it becomes urgent. Therefore, I forget about my homework and allow myself to have fun and relax. This prepares me for the time when I finally have to get to work and finish my homework and study.” – Alexis
Keep things fun:
  • Get in the zone with music. “Music without vocals helps me focus while I study. I explore other genres that I don't get much exposure to - flamenco music, Indian classical, erhu solos, minimalist, etc. It's a good opportunity to expand your cultural horizon while providing a non-distracting drone of sound.” – Eric
  • Treat yourself.“To make studying fun, I take breaks every 20 minutes. I'll get up and stretch, treat myself to a snack and a YouTube video, or clean up my room (because organization is everything!). I'll continually re-evaluate my progress, just so I know that I'm going somewhere with all the time and energy that I've invested.” – Heeju
  • Mix it up.“Taking lots of breaks while studying to do something completely different - going out for a jog, playing some piano, listening to some music - helps make learning more efficient by allowing for a memory refresh and refocus.” – Jody

HOW TO… study for the SAT in particular

Understand what you know and what you don’t know:
  • Review your mistakes thoroughly.“The most important thing you can possibly do when preparing for the SAT is to review your mistakes. It doesn't matter if the mistake you made was silly or if it happened because you were genuinely confused. All mistakes should be recorded and reviewed. For the math and reading sections, write down or cut and paste the questions you missed, and make sure to solve the problems once more after initially writing down the correct solution. A strategy that helped me was to create my own reading sections out of a set of hard passages and questions.” – Gaeun
  • Create a routine. “The most helpful thing I did for the SAT was to practice a single section a day and go into each problem I missed in detail - then I did full length practice tests every other week in the last two months before the actual exam.” – Aneesh
  • Practice at the edge of your ability.“Try to find the hardest problems, and solve those. If you can't do them, take some steps back.” – Rushi
  • Skip the hard ones.“If you don't know a question, skip it. Sometimes, things don't "click", and that's alright. Just keep going and go back to the question later. Most of the time you'll realize that it was actually super easy!” – Clayton
  • Memorize the formulas. “Know your math formulas! There are some that are super helpful and key which are easy to find online and easy to memorize. Those can be super helpful.” – Alexis
Keep on practicing!
  • Practice! The SAT is something you can study for and see marked improvement. Anyone can improve with practice in anything, and that's certainly true of the SAT.” – Aneesh
  • Practice! “The best way to study for the SAT is to practice. Practice, practice, practice. Oh yeah, and did I mention to practice? Practice taking parts of the exam in a testing environment. Time yourself. Check your answers once you're finished. If you got a question wrong, understand why you got it wrong. The practice won't do you any good if you don't understand what you did incorrectly. Find out what you're good at and not so good at. Work on your trouble areas. I guarantee that with practice, your score will improve.” – Eillen
  • Take full practice tests! “Full practice tests are also invaluable. Taking at least one or two before the actual test helps you gain some sense of what it's like to sit for 4 hours taking the SAT. It is essential to time yourself strictly and accurately when taking these tests.” – Gaeun
Take advantage of all resources:
  • Take ownership - ask questions. “The SAT is a big deal, but you are the one who ultimately decides how much you want to freak out about it. Talk to people you know who have experience with taking the SAT, and make sure that you are well acquainted with how the process works. Speak with teachers or counselors at school who have knowledge about the process if you have questions.” – Emily
  • Take initiative - go for it!“Practice tests and questions are available online, in bookstores, and at school. If you put in effort, there really is no need to pay for an expensive SAT preparation class. The materials you need to do well on the test are all available to you, you just need to have the initiative to take advantage of them.” – Eillen
Do it your way:
  • Take control. “You have to study at your pace. Don't be scared if a peer knows or understands more than you. You might just have to learn that thing another way. Think about how you like to learn and that's how you should study.” – Ryann  
  • Know what works for you and stick to it. "If you learn best in groups, hold a group study session and exchange solutions with friends. If you learn best by writing things down, write down the math formulas in fun colors. Begin studying by doing what is best for you and then work your way up to taking official tests in the environment that you are expected to take the test in. That way, you can learn what your favorite strategy for taking the SAT is and perfect it.” – Tiffany
  • Take the SAT when it best fits your schedule. "Many students take it in October of their junior years, but that time may be too hectic for you, or you might not feel prepared enough. Any time from sophomore year to early senior year is okay; just make sure your scores will be ready by the time college apps come around.” – Shruthi


  • Quizlet: flashcards and memorization games
  • StudyBlue: custom flashcards and open-source flashcard library
  • EverNote: note-taking and note management program
  • Google Calendar: online calendar and task management system
  • Kahoot: online quiz and learning game program
  • Grammar Girl: podcasts and articles on general grammar skills and topics
  • YouTube: videos on every topic under the sun

Want to join the conversation?

  • female robot grace style avatar for user marebear061801
    how can i stop second guessing myself because that seems to be my problem because after i guess again the previous i had was correct
    (34 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • spunky sam blue style avatar for user A Der
      Usually, your first instincts about the answer is correct so after you answer the problem move on to the next without questioning if you should change it again. Most the time this works but it is less likely to work if you just guess out of thin air.
      (29 votes)
  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Vishaal
    When should I start studying and practicing for the SAT?
    (11 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user Mariam Rose
    Hey! My PSAT score was really bad. I'm a 9th grader and I got 730 combined. 430 on Reading and Writing and 310 on math. I genuinely want to improve but I'm really bad at math and can rarely focus when reading (I zone out a lot and lose focus). I have good grades (Mostly A's) but I tend to do horribly on these kinds of tests. Any ways/websites/tips/things to do to improve?
    (10 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user MAria Stidham
    Hello everyone,

    I am entering 8th grade in a few months. I have all of the motivation to practice and study (mainly math). But, I have only one problem... I am struggling to find what to study. Does anyone have any tips for people in my age (who are entering 8th grade)?
    (8 votes)
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    • duskpin tree style avatar for user Mikaiah Oxford
      While you're in 8th grade you shouldn't have to worry too much about studying for the SAT. You'll learn the concepts tested on the SAT through high school. My main tip for you is just to strive to do well in your middle school and high school courses! Of course, if you'd like, you can take a practice test from KA just to get a framework for what's on the test. But that's the purpose of the PSAT (usually taken by 10th-11th graders). Hope this helps!
      (7 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user lpiernas17
    hi I just moved from France and I am 2 months away frm the new SAT. I went to a french school and I just moved in America in october. I would be glad to have a few tips. Do you think that it is too late to start preparing for the SAT? Most students start way ahead of time...
    (8 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Jess Link
    I just got my score back on my PSAT and now I want to try and improve on that score for the SAT. What is the best way to do that? Should I focus on what I know and try to get as good at that as possible? Or, should I try to improve as much as possible on what I had trouble on. My PSAT score was really good, but I still want to make sure that I do my best on the SAT.
    (5 votes)
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    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user kendra
      Congratulations on getting a good score on your PSAT! That's great! I would definitely recommend working on the areas that you had a problem with. I would also recommend reading/doing the Princeton Review SAT practice books, as well as the Up Your Score SAT book by Veritas Prep. They are both really helpful, as well as just practicing on Khan Academy. Hope this helps you! Congratulations again!
      (5 votes)
  • mr pink green style avatar for user WellLE5925
    I feel like even no matter how much i study i feel as of i dont understand what i am taking the test on. How can i fix this?
    (7 votes)
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  • starky seedling style avatar for user Mihir Kalvakaalva
    How much should you study for the SAT if it is close to 6 years away?
    (0 votes)
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    • leaf grey style avatar for user Iman Manzoor
      Very little, for two reasons:
      1. The topics that take up the majority of the test are those that you have not learned yet.
      2. the SAT may change from now until when you take it.
      What you should do now is just do well in your studies. Have a good foundation that you can build upon in the coming years, especially in math - if you don't have a good background in math now, the more advanced math will be very difficult!
      Good luck! :)
      (6 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Anupamaambawat
    sir i want to know that what to do in three months so as to have perfect score
    (3 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user anandarjun48
    I am weak in graph problems and some slope word problems and I cannot do any better, please someone help me with this.Moreover, I am facing problem in the reading section despite the fact that I have read novels such as 1984,Crime and Punishement,Beloved,Wuthering Heights,and done tons of assignments.Can someone give their opinion on this and please help me out.
    (3 votes)
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    • stelly blue style avatar for user Bella H.
      Hey there! For the slope and graph problems(This is the hardest thing in math for me to understand) do not think too hard on it. Try to focus more on what the question is asking you because 99.9% of the time they would want for example, a specific coordinate. I've noticed they don't tend to throw trick questions when it comes to graphing problems.The same advice goes along with the reading portion. Do not think too hard, read the question before reading the passage or solving the math problem. This will not only help with a better understanding of the question, but will help with speed.
      (3 votes)