What is the best SAT prep plan for my student?

It’s a question that parents of high school juniors (and, in some cases, parents of sophomores) should be asking right now. The answer to the question, like the SAT itself, isn’t straight forward, and, in my opinion, depends entirely on the abilities, educational background, and goals of each student.

The conventional wisdom is to take the SAT the spring of one’s junior year. This advice, in fact, appears on the PSAT score report your student likely received in the last few days. The issue is that the SAT is offered in January, March, May, and June, and the College Board doesn’t specify which month is best, even in the section of the website entitled, “When to take the test?”

In this post, I’ll endeavor to fill the gaps by providing recommendations for a typical student who scored around 156 (A 52 on each subsection). Please keep in mind that the following recommendations do not take extra time accommodations or scores with gross disparities among subsections into consideration.

A score of 156 on the PSAT is equivalent to a 1560 on the SAT. This score indicates that your student is not just uncomfortable with the way SAT questions are phrased and structured; there are also concepts that your student has forgotten or never completely solidified in school. For the math section, I tend to see students struggle most with Pre-Algebra questions. Because the way the question is put together—not the underlying concept itself—dictates the difficulty of SAT math questions, hard Pre-Algebra questions can be the peskiest. Fixing this issue involves making somewhat unfamiliar concepts second nature so that your student can see through the indirect nature of the problems to the underlying concepts being tested.

The same logic applies to the writing section (or grammar section), which, like the math section, is also concept-based. If your student is using his or her ear to “hear” whether a question has a grammatical or usage error, your student (discounting dumb luck) will be scoring in this range. He or she will need a comprehensive review of the exact concepts on the test and guidance about where to look for certain errors to avoid common pitfalls. Like math questions, grammar questions and answer choices are created in very logical ways that encourage reliable statistical outcomes. Understanding the concepts themselves is the first step to mastering the test.

A score of 52 on the reading section, on the other hand, leaves room for interpretation. Some students who have weak reading comprehension skills can get stuck at this score because strategies simply fall flat without a baseline reading ability. Others, who simply need to brush up on vocabulary and grow comfortable with the way critical reading questions work, can see significant improvement. Still others, who tend to be speed demons on tests but struggle with vocabulary, may want to consider the ACT instead.

All of these factors mean that ensuring significant improvement takes time and individual attention. SAT classes can certainly be a good start—and possibly all you need—if the class happens to cover the exact material your student struggles with. However, ambitious students (and especially students who are starting at higher scores) benefit most from a customized plan that systematically weeds out problem areas and fixes them. So in very concrete terms, if your student starts working with a tutor today, he or she should be preparing for the March test.

For more information about how to navigate the college tract, contact director of Streamline Tutors, Ian Siegel who specializes in college counseling, test prep, and academic coaching. You can visit his website, or contact him directly at


Office: 410-200-1896


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Ian Siegel

For more information about how to navigate the college tract, contact director of Streamline Tutors, Ian Siegel who specializes in college counseling, test prep, and academic coaching. You can visit his...