11 May 2011

Just study a little bit at a time

I’m the first person to admit that studying for the SAT is exhausting. After even an hour-and-a-half of tutoring, I often find that I need to take a long walk to clear my head. Sometimes spending 90 minutes explaining why choice (A) wrong because it contains a single incorrect word while choice (C) is actually right because it restates the main idea of lines 25-42, only in more abstract terms, is just so intense that it really does take me a while to recover. Given that, I find it amazing anyone could study for a standardized test for a long stretches of time.

My advice is, quite simply, don’t. Studying for the SAT or the ACT can be exhausting. If you treat them like a sort of mind game or logic puzzle, these tests can also be fun, but let’s face it, a lot of the time, they’re not. Especially if you’re sitting down to the Official Guide after doing two hours of AP Calc homework and trying to write that essay on Ulysses.

The most important thing for SAT/ACT prep is that you study consistently, not that you study a lot at a time. If you try to swallow the whole thing at once, you’ll get burned out and frustrated, and the test will start to seem totally overwhelming. Instead, spend maybe 15 minutes a day prepping, and only focus on the things you don’t know how to do. You won’t forget the other stuff.

Studies have shown that the people at the top of their fields spend most of the practice time strengthening their weakest skills rather than simply rushing through everything they’re already good at. The same applies to the SAT and the ACT. Quantity of studying does not equal quality of studying. You will need to spend some time figuring out which kinds of questions give you the most trouble, but once you’ve determined that, make a list of the rules/concepts you don’t know, and work through them one at a time. Fifteen minutes a day every day is better than doing nothing for two months and then trying to cram in two or three hours a day. You’ll be be calmer, retain more information, and your score will most likely improve more than it would have otherwise.

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