6 Tips To Avoid Falling Behind on SAT Prep
You already know that it’s important to take time to prepare for standardized tests like the SAT. It’s well-established that SAT prep increases scores, and familiarizing yourself with the test’s content and format in advance can only help your confidence.
The best approach to SAT prep is to start early and make a plan that spreads your studying out over weeks or months. Sticking to that plan, however, is sometimes easier said than done. Here’s how to ensure that your SAT prep plan doesn’t run out of gas before you’ve reaped its full benefits.
Assess Your Priorities First
No one has unlimited time to study for the SAT, so it’s important to manage what time you do have effectively. This means figuring out your strengths and weaknesses before you plan your prep strategy. That way, you can focus your preparation on the areas where you need help most. Practice tests and other diagnostics can help you figure out where your weaknesses lie.
Of course, you should still spend some time reviewing even your stronger areas and taking full practice tests. However, when you have a limited amount of prep time to work with, prioritizing the areas you’re most concerned about—and not spending an excessive amount of time on areas where you’re already strong—will help you stay on track and avoid becoming overwhelmed.
Break It Down
Writing “prep for the SAT” on your to-do list isn’t a particularly helpful way to do things. Instead of looking at SAT prep as one large and nebulous task, break it down into smaller tasks that you can check off individually. It’s much easier to work on a lengthy project like this when you can identify and achieve smaller goals on a daily or weekly scale.
What can you include on this to-do list of smaller tasks? Start with goals that are easy to define, like spending a certain amount of time each day working on SAT prep.
For instance, tasks for the Math portion of the SAT can be broken down into manageable actions such as:
- Complete 10 practice math problems per week.
- Spend 15 minutes each day covering one of the math section subtopics; alternate between using a calculator and not using a calculator.
For SAT Writing and Language, try breaking down your to-do list by:
- Taking 15 minutes each day to read newspaper articles. (This will enhance your grasp of the English language and improve writing skills).
- Use the online flashcard program Quizlet 10 minutes each day to improve your vocabulary and study words while you are on the go.
You can also set goals having to do with your improvement over time, such as trying to raise your practice test scores each week.
Dividing your SAT prep into smaller tasks and activities will also help you to spread your work over whatever amount of time you have to work with, ensuring that you don’t leave all your studying to be done the week before the test. The first step toward making sure you don’t get off-track is being able to tell whether you’re falling behind before it gets out of hand.
Of course, you’ll need to build in some flexibility in case of unexpected events and the occasional off day. Allowing for breaks and flexibility ahead of time lessens the chance that your prep plan will be significantly derailed by illness, competing responsibilities, or just plain human forgetfulness.
Guard Against Burnout
With any major project, it’s easy to take on too much in the beginning, burn out early, and get discouraged, which can disrupt your prep plan. This is another reason why creating a plan beforehand is a good idea; if you know that you’ll get to all your prep tasks eventually, you won’t feel so pressured to pile them all on at once. It can help to start slow to build up the habit of studying; over time, you can add longer or more frequent study sessions to your schedule.
You should definitely build breaks into your schedule, even if you don’t think you’ll need them. You’re only human, and everyone needs some time off now and then. It’s better to plan for this eventuality than to have an unexpected but much-needed break disrupt your schedule.
Similarly, make sure that you’re taking care of other areas of your life, like sleeping and eating well and spending time with friends and family; if you neglect these necessities, you’ll eventually feel it, and this can lead to even more intense burnout.
Technology can be a distraction, but handled wisely, it’s a tool that can help you stay on track with your SAT prep plans. Your phone is a powerful computer that’s with you all day—use that power for good!
Alarms, reminders, and calendars can help you schedule and remember your test prep commitments. Checklist apps and other task-management tools can help you keep track of what you’ve accomplished and what’s left to be done. There are even apps that specifically exist to help you prep for the SAT! (We’ve covered some useful apps in our post The Best Apps to Organize Your College Planning.)
The portability of your phone means that you can fit SAT prep into your schedule at more times and in more places. Doing a few vocabulary flashcards on the bus or working through a math practice program while you’re waiting for an appointment may seem like a small accomplishment, but these moments add up. Best of all, they help keep your mind on SAT prep throughout the day.
Enlist Those Around You
Your family and friends can help a great deal, both directly and indirectly, in creating an environment where you can successfully pursue your SAT prep goals. Reach out to those around you for assistance in staying on track.
Studying with others is a big help for some students; if you don’t understand a question or topic, having someone else around who can explain it from a perspective similar to your own is often invaluable. You can text each other practice questions, set up group practice tests with one person acting as a proctor, and share tips and suggestions.
Even family and friends who aren’t also studying for the SAT can help. Their encouragement and support can keep you motivated and remind you about the goals that you intend to reach. They can remind you when it’s time to study, ask you regularly how your prep is going, and help ensure that you have the physical space, time, and quiet you need to focus on prep tasks.
Remember, The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good
No one is perfect. Inevitably, you’re going to mess up your SAT prep plan. Maybe something will come up or you’ll get sick; maybe you’ll have a bad day, forget, or just feel like slacking off. One way or another, you’ll break your streak. What’s most important is that when—not if—you mess up, you don’t get discouraged and diverge even farther from your prep plan.
It can be frustrating to mess up a run of good days. I know this from personal experience; when I recently missed a day of my Spanish studies on Duolingo, I was so discouraged that it took me weeks to open up the app again. However, messing up now and then is totally normal and human; what really matters is how you handle your mistake.
Every prep session and practice question counts, no matter how small. Every amount of prep you do is better than nothing, and dropping your SAT prep plan entirely because you feel discouraged is much worse than missing a day or two. You can’t change the past; move on and do better tomorrow.
Searching for more of CollegeVine’s expert advice on planning out your SAT prep strategy? Take a look at these additional posts from the CollegeVine blog.
- Conquering the SAT: Why It’s Key to Prepare Early
- How To Balance SAT Test Prep With School Schedule
- How To Find Time to Study for Your SAT Every Single Day
- Parents: How to Help Your Kids Reach Their SAT Goals
Preparing for the SAT? Download our free guide with our top 8 tips for mastering the SAT.
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