8-Week SAT or ACT Study Plan

Eight weeks until the SAT or ACT and you haven’t started studying?

 

Well, you’re in luck. I’m going to share with you an 8-week study plan that, if you follow it methodically and are disciplined about your studying, will get you through a respectable amount of practice and content review tailored to your strengths and weaknesses. This plan is specifically designed by us for a relatively motivated self-studier to be completed over two months.

 

The basic idea behind this 2-month SAT or ACT study plan is to help you diagnose your own testing needs and chart a systematic way to master the topics that trip you up. The plan incorporates strategies for reading comprehension (and science if you’re an ACT student), as well as review and practice for math and grammar. These topics need to be worked through in a systematic and sustained way.

 

The plan also schedules in practice sections and full practice tests so that you will gain familiarity with problem types and build endurance. This plan does NOT include strategies or practice for the optional essay parts of each test. If you need help here, just shoot us an email; we’re happy to share some tips.

 

Keep in mind that eight weeks is a little short for full SAT or ACT preparation. We usually recommend 12–20 weeks of study and practice, but we understand that sometimes it’s just not possible. So, if you’ve got only 8 weeks before your test, get cracking on the plan below!

 

Week 1

  • If you haven’t already done so, figure out which test you need to focus on. See our post on choosing between the SAT and ACT to learn how to do so. (NOTE: You’re on a tight timeline, so you’ll need to do the practice tests closer together. Both the SAT and the ACT offer official practice tests online.)
  • Once you’ve determined which test to focus on, thoroughly review your results on that test, noting down what topics you need to study. You can identify these topics by reviewing the questions you skipped, those you got wrong, and those on which you struggled. When you find one of these questions, identify what topic (or topics) are involved. Write it down, and be specific! This review will take you a while, so be realistic. Don’t feel like you’re not studying—knowing what you need to study is half the battle!
  • Make a master list of topics to study for each test section by combining your list from your practice test review with the topics covered in a test prep book like the College Board’s Official SAT Study Guide or ACT’s The Official ACT Prep Guide.

 

Week 2

  • Look for similarities among the questions you missed in the reading and science sections of your practice test. These similarities will be in question type rather than the specific topic of the question. You may also need a strategy for parsing the text more than for answering the questions. Talk to a tutor or send us an email for help with this! Remember that correct answers will always correlate to explicit evidence in the passage. Practice using the materials in the official study guide.
  • Start to tackle your “need-to-study” list of math topics by reading the relevant pages in the study guide for one of the topics each day. Take clear notes and always include one or two practice problems, fully worked out, in your notes. Turn to Khan Academy, textbooks, your math teacher, friends, or even a tutor for help if you can’t figure something out. Make flashcards for formulas, counting tricks, definitions, etc. if necessary.
  • Do one test section a day from your prep book. Don’t forget to score and thoroughly review each section, too. Keep your “need-to-study” list on hand in case you need to add anything.

 

Week 3

  • Do one test section a day. Score and review carefully.
  • Continue working through your “need-to-study” math topics. Review 2–3 topics a day, every other day this week.
  • Begin working through your “need-to-study” list for grammar, one topic a day. The prep books have great review sections, and you can also find grammar guides online. Take good notes on grammatical rules, and keep an eye out for tricks the SAT and ACT always uses in these grammar questions. As with math, review 2–3 topics a day, every other day (ie, on the days you are not working on math).
  • On Saturday morning, take a full, timed practice test out of the prep book under realistic conditions.

 

Week 4

  • Take your most recent practice test and review it carefully, updating your “need-to-study” lists as you go.
  • Continue tackling your “need-to-study” lists for grammar and math. Review 2–3 topics a day, and alternate between subjects each day.
  • Do one test section a day. Score and review carefully, updating your “need-to-study” lists as you go.
  • Go back and do more reading (and science if you are an ACT student) practices from your prep book.
  • Create master study guides for math and grammar. To do so, write out formulas, facts, tips, and rules for those topics that consistently give you trouble, even after you’ve studied them closely. These master study guides should be reviewed before you do any practice work and during any free time you have during the day.

 

Weeks 5 and 6

  • Continue tackling your “need-to-study” lists for grammar and math. Review 2–3 topics a day, and alternate between subjects each day.
  • Do one test section a day. Score and review carefully, updating your master study guides if necessary.

 

Week 7

  • Continue tackling your “need-to-study” lists for grammar and math.
  • On Saturday morning, take a full, timed practice test out of your prep book under realistic conditions. Before the test, review your master study guides.
  • Take your most recent practice test and review it carefully, updating your master study guides if necessary.

 

Week 8

  • Do one test section a night, timed, but not on the night before the test.
  • Review all of your notes for math and grammar.
  • Review your master study guides.
  • Maintain perspective, stay positive, and get a good night’s rest every night this week.
  • Plan something fun for after the test!

 

How to Organize Your Study Plan for the SAT and ACT Exams

Organize your SAT and ACT study plans so that your toughest subjects and skills get the most attention. You certainly want to study for all portions of the SAT, but it’s reasonable to spend less time on the areas where you’re already strong.

 

Also take the time to differentiate between subjects and skills. You may be generally excellent at math but struggle with plane geometry—a topic that comprises 20-25% of the ACT. Likewise, you may be a terrific writer but need to brush up on a few grammar rules. By focusing on strengthening individual skills, you’ll also enhance your overall subject acumen.

 

What to Study When Preparing for the SAT

Your SAT study plan should account for each of the exam’s three primary sections and one optional section. On test day, you’ll have 180 minutes to answer 154 questions and an additional 50 minutes to complete the optional essay.

SAT Reading

 

The SAT Reading section includes topical passages from literature, historical documents, social sciences, and natural sciences. You will read the passages then answer a series of multiple-choice questions that test your:

 

  • Command of evidence
  • Words in context
  • Analysis in history/social science and science

 

SAT Writing and Language

The SAT Writing and Language section includes passages on themes of career, social studies, humanities, and science. You will reference the passages to answer a series of multiple-choice questions that test your:

  • Expression of ideas
  • Standard English conventions (grammar, vocabulary in context, and editing)

 

SAT Math

Divided into two subsections, the SAT Math portion permits you to use a calculator in the second subsection only. Both subsections include a combination of multiple-choice and grid-in questions that cover algebra I and II, geometry, and trigonometry. 

 

Your SAT Math study plan should cover:

  • Problem solving 
  • Data analysis
  • Passport to advanced math
  • Additional topics in math
  • Heart of algebra

 

SAT Essay

The only optional portion of this exam, the SAT Essay provides you with a passage from a position paper. You will write your own complementary essay, demonstrating:

 

  • Your ability to analyze an argument
  • Your understanding of how evidence and rhetorical devices support an argument

 

SAT Essay tip: In this optional SAT section, points do not get deducted for minor spelling and grammar errors. Therefore, given the time allotted, you will want to focus on content and clarity over technical perfection.

 

What to Study When Preparing for the ACT

Your ACT study plan should account for each of the exam’s four primary sections and one optional section. On test day, you’ll have 175 minutes to answer 215 questions and an additional 30 minutes to complete the optional essay.

 

ACT English

The ACT English section includes a series of passages which you will use to answer multiple-choice questions across these two subsections:

  • Usage and mechanics skills: punctuation, grammar and usage, sentence structure
  • Rhetorical skills: organization, strategy, style

 

ACT Math

The ACT Math section distributes questions across six topics:

 

  1. Pre-algebra: number problems, multiples/factors/primes, divisibility, percentages, fractions, square roots, ratios, mean/median/mode, probability, place values, absolute values, exponents, series, simple descriptive statistics
  2. Elementary algebra: substitution, simplifying expressions, solving linear equations, inequalities, multiplying binomials, solving quadratic equations
  3. Intermediate algebra: solving systems of equations, functions, matrices, logarithms, inequalities, sequences and patterns, complex numbers
  4. Coordinate geometry: number lines, graphing inequalities, distance and midpoints, slope calculation, parallel/perpendicular lines, line equation, conic sections
  5. Plane geometry: lines and angles, triangles, polygons, circles, 3-D geometry, volume, properties of circles, triangles, and parallelograms
  6. Trigonometry: solving triangles, trigonometric identities and graphs, graphing trigonometric functions, solving trigonometric equations

 

ACT Reading

The ACT Reading section provides 1 passage each for social science, humanities, natural science, and literary fiction. This section’s multiple choice questions are divided among three categories of rhetorical skills:

 

  • Integration of knowledge and ideas
  • Craft and structure
  • Key ideas and details

 

As part of ACT Reading, you’ll be expected to:

 

  • Recognize main ideas
  • Locate and interpret details within a passage
  • Discern the sequence of events and flow of ideas
  • Decipher cause-and-effect relationships
  • Identify synonyms, phrases, and statements contextually
  • Infer generalizations
  • Make judgments
  • Evaluate a passage’s tone and purpose

 

ACT Science

The ACT Science section presents passages, tables, charts, and graphs to inform multiple-choice questions covering physics, chemistry, biology, and Earth sciences. You’ll be tested in three areas:

 

  • Data representation
  • Research summaries
  • Conflicting viewpoints

 

ACT Science tip: Beyond your general knowledge of science topics, the ACT Science section measures your ability to interpret, analize, evaluate, reason, and problem-solve.

 

ACT Writing

The only optional portion of the ACT exam, the ACT Writing section requires you to write a well-organized first draft that compares and contrasts three opposing ideas from a short passage.

 

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