This is the time to introduce a caveat. Under no circumstances should a student use tests that are not published by The College Board. You may have noticed that I did not list the Official Guide among the source books. It is, however, the must-have book since it contains all the tests you'll need to prepare for the SAT. I will comment on the online tools of The College Board in a later paragraph.
Are you now ready to get your X-ACTO knife out and rip that Official Guide in small sections? Better stock up on manila folders ... you'll need them.
How long does self-preparing take and how does it work?
As you may expect, there is no universal answer to this question. For some, very little time will be required. For others, the process will require a lengthy revision of concepts and the development of an adequate strategy.
Normally, students who prepare for the SAT should have covered the concepts that will be tested during their high school career. While the former SAT covered material up to 9th grade, the new test has introduced a few concepts from 10th or 11th grade. However, despite the changes, the need to study in ANTICIPATION of the test should still be MINIMAL. In most cases, all that will be needed is to dust off concepts that may not have been used for a couple of years, and become familiar with the format and the rather arcane language of the SAT.
It is for this reason that I recommend to “re-discover” the material in the more interactive process of “learning or re-learning while practicing.” It is also important to repeat that it is not necessary to STUDY any of the source books I recommend at the end of this post. One of the reasons is that the “knowledge” that is needed to do well on the SAT is neither extensive nor complicated. What separates most students from a great score is rarely a lack of “school” knowledge, but a lack of familiarity with the test and a lack of time management concepts. On this issue, I believe, with great conviction, that the best way to improve one’s “test knowledge” and learn how to manage time is through dedicated practices. The number of practices that will be needed is, however, entirely dependent on the background of the student.
Let’s look at how this works! To begin, everyone should have the Official Study Guide. The College Board publishes The Official SAT Study Guide: For the New SAT. It has eight new-SAT style practice tests. Yes, that is the fat Blue Book published by the College Board. The book contains sections filled with generic and mostly vapid advice. While reading the first 376 pages of the book can be instructive, it is NOT necessary to read them before getting to the real value of the book: the eight exams. In this regard, the blue book is a bit different from its predecessors, since the tests are a mix of old and newly developed questions. In fact, it requires a small leap of faith to believe that the tests published will be as foretelling as in the past. This said, there are no known substitutes to the material released by the College Board.