The SAT can seem daunting. That is probably why you are here, reading about it. It is a behemoth of an exam that lasts over three hours and can greatly affect your college applications. But don’t worry! With some hard work and the right preparation, an excellent score is always attainable.

While working with a tutor, teacher, or study group is absolutely the best way to prepare, there are still plenty of ways you study on your own for the SAT. Here is a quick study guide for all areas of the exam.


The English portion of the SAT is broken into three sections: Reading, Writing, and the Essay.


This section is all about reading comprehension. You have 65 minutes to answer 52 multiple choice questions. You will read passages of four main types: Contemporary Literature, History, Social Science, and Science. Keep in mind that you don’t need much understanding of these topics; you simply need to be able to understand and interpret the passages. In order to do well in this section you must be able to determine the main ideas within the passages, identify supporting evidence for those main ideas, and understand the contextual meanings of the words used. The easiest and best way to study for the Reading section is to read! Read a wide variety of literature. Read fiction and non-fiction, classic novels and today’s news articles, science journals and modern short stories. Read anything and everything! As you are reading, ask yourself what idea(s) the author is trying to convey and look for specific sentences that support those ideas. If you find that you are confused or don’t know certain words, don’t skip past it! Dig deeper into the words to find the meaning, ask someone to help you, and look up unfamiliar words in a dictionary. An excellent way to test your comprehension is to explain what you’ve read to someone else. This will force you to internalize and summarize the main ideas. If that person asks questions, find quotes from the reading to bolster your explanation.


When you first read a passage in the Reading section of the SAT, go over it quickly so that you can jump into the questions as soon as possible. Don’t waste time breaking down every single sentence. There is a good chance that there won’t even be a question about that sentence! If a question singles out a paragraph or sentence, that is your chance to delve deeper into it.

Watch out for paired questions! A common question type is really two questions together. First, you will be asked a main idea question. For example, “What does the author believe about the role of women in society?” This is often immediately followed up by a question like, “Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?” You will be given four choices, identifying specific lines (ie. “Lines 10-12”). Work on these questions together. You can look at the four line choices in the second question first and identify which of them best answers the first question. (Which line choice best shows us what the author believes about the role of women in society, to use my prior example.) Then match that line choice with the best answer in the first question.


In this section, you are given 35 minutes to answer 44 multiple choice questions. Each question corresponds to an underlined line, word, or sentence in a passage next to the question.

At first glance, the Writing section may seem like a grammar test. While there are many questions about grammar, you will also find questions about vocabulary, main ideas, paragraph structure, and more. It really is about choosing the best writing style for the passage.

Again, one of the best ways to study for the Writing section is to read as much as you can. Reading good writing helps us better identify bad writing when we see it. You should also familiarize yourself with some of the common concepts that pop up in the Writing section. Such concepts are: parentheticals, noun/verb agreement, redundancy, comma splices, and parallel structure.


Be aware of the context! As with the Reading section, it will likely serve you best to read the passage quickly and only focus on the parts identified in the question. However, many questions rely on context in order to find the correct answer, especially the main idea and paragraph structure questions.

Watch out for wordiness. It may seem strange, but “wordiness” is considered a grammatical error on the SAT. If you find that two answers are equally correct (there are no glaring grammar problems in them), your best bet is to pick the simpler, shorter answer. An answer that can be stated with fewer words is better than one with extra, needless words.


The essay is an optional, 50-minute writing assignment completed after the other sections of the SAT. It is very specific, so you need to make sure you understand what exactly is required of you in the SAT essay.

Each essay is written in response to a given persuasive article. You will be asked to identify the strategies and methods employed by the author to get their point across. You are NOT to take a side on the topic discussed in the article. Your essay should not express whether or not you agree with the author. Rather, you must look for the persuasive techniques utilized by the author and explain their effectiveness.

Obviously, practicing your writing, especially under a 50-minute time constraint, is important. However, as with the Reading and Writing sections, reading is also vital to your success. Seek out persuasive essays and articles by a variety of authors and do your best to identify how those authors try to persuade their audience.

There is a multitude of persuasive techniques that an author may use. Familiarize yourself with as many as possible. Here are some examples: emotional language, logic, compare and contrast, humor, allegory, anecdote, authority, statistics and data, and rhetorical questions.


Outline your essay! You don’t have a lot of time to edit and rewrite. Therefore, spending 5-10 minutes to plan ahead prior to writing can save you a lot of trouble! This will help keep you on track as you writing and will allow you to form a more cohesive structure than you would be able to if you choose to fly by the seat of your pants.

Think about how the reader is affected by the author’s writing. The best SAT essays don’t simply point out what the writer is doing; they also explain the effect it has on the reader. For example, an author may use a humor anecdote to endear themselves to the reader. Thus, the reader will be more inclined to accept a difficult-to-swallow argument that follows the anecdote.


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