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Time Management Tips To Make the Most of Your Test Prep Time
Throughout your high school career, you may feel as if you are being barraged by exams. Whether it be the PSAT, PLAN, SAT, ACT, AP exams, IB exams, or even a subject-specific exam for one of your classes, there will rarely be a time, from your sophomore year onward, when there isn’t an impending test that could affect your college admissions prospects.
With each exam you take, especially on the ones designed to trick you like the SAT and ACT, you need to study thoroughly, effectively, and efficiently in order to maximize your score. The amount of time you spend on test prep will depend on the exam, with a basic unit exam usually needing a week or two of studying and the SAT needing several months of rigorous review.
No matter how much time you set aside to study for each of your exams, you need to use that time in such a way that you absorb and retain as much material as you can in as little time as possible. This means that, while you’re studying, you need to stay focused and eliminate all other distractions. However, we at CollegeVine understand that, given the age of information and data that we are living in, it can be difficult to disconnect from the world at any given point in time.
In order to make room for test prep, you should manage your time smartly so that you achieve everything you need to in an efficient manner. Here are some of our best time management tips to get you through your test prep time.
Get an Early Start
Science has proven that the more spread out your studying is, the more information you are likely to retain. This article by the American Psychological Association outlines how spaced out studying improves your long-term memory.
How early should you start? Ultimately, aim to start studying a little bit before you think you have to start studying. For example, if you think you’ll need three months to study adequately for an exam, plan to start three and a half months before the exam date. If you think you’ll need two weeks, plan to start about 16 or 17 days before the exam. That way, you have some margin of error where you can get distracted or let other commitments grab your attention and still have enough time to prepare for the test.
Plan Your Test Prep
Having a detailed study plan can help you outline what concepts and subjects you need to study and also put your mind at ease by making sure that you that you will be able to cover all the material that you need to before test day.
When you’re making your test prep plan, map out how much time you are going to dedicate each day/week to prepare for your test. Keep in mind things like how long you think you can stay focused on one subject, what other commitments you have that also need your time, and when the best time of day to study would be.
Also, be sure to plan out what material you are going to study on which day or week. This will help keep your studying organized and make sure that you are covering all of the topics that you need to for the exam. You should also try and add in some test prep time periodically to work through practice problems and take practice exams so that you know where you stand in terms of scoring.
Use your test prep plan to keep yourself accountable for your studying and to keep you on track. That way, you will be able to enter the test day confident that you are fully prepared.
Study the Most Important Concepts First
When you first begin your test prep, you’ll be full of energy and motivation. Thus, you’ll probably learn and absorb the material you learn first far better than the concepts you study further down the line. After all, as your studying continues, you may start to get tired of studying and the concepts may start to blur together. Thus, you should plan to study the most important or most challenging concepts first and then move to the things that you think you know well or don’t need to put as much effort into.
Especially with exams that require months of study time, you run the risk of forgetting the material you cover first before test day. Thus, when you’re making your study plan, carve out some time to review these tough concepts from the beginning of your study time as the test day gets closer. Hopefully, you will have studied the concepts adequately the first time, so this final review shouldn’t be too arduous or take that much time.
Sleep at Least 7-8 Hours
You, as a human, are always going to function much more efficiently when you have had plenty of rest. Especially as a high school student with tons of responsibilities such as schoolwork, jobs, extracurriculars, and test prep, you need your brain to be functioning optimally just to get through your average day.
In terms of test prep, sleep is especially important. Without enough sleep, you are unlikely to absorb and understand the material that you review because instead of focusing on the concept, you’ll be focusing on the next time you can take a nap.
Thus, you should plan to get at least 7 hours of sleep every night. This will help you be more efficient with your time and ensure that you are studying successfully.
Say No to Unimportant Tasks
As an overachieving and successful high school student, you may be tempted to take on extra projects in your clubs, organizations, and classes in order to show your dedication and go above and beyond. While these are valuable pursuits, they may not be the most efficient use of your time while you need to study for exams.
In order to carve out extra time to study, you’ll need to give up the unnecessary tasks like extra projects with your extracurriculars and extra credit assignments in your classes. Your teachers and club sponsors will definitely understand that you need to reallocate your time for your important exams. You can always go back to being an overachiever when your exams are over!
While you’re studying for your exams, your studying needs to be the only thing on your mind. That means that everything that could distract you like your phone or your laptop needs to be out of reach while you’re reviewing material. You’ll find that you will be able to get your studying and tasks done a lot quicker if you don’t have anything distracting.
Use Time-Saving Study Strategies
If you’re preparing for a final exam, do you go back and read the entire textbook? Usually not. You just review your notes, which are a summary of what you need to know.
Use that same time-saving strategy when you are studying for standardized tests. Don’t start from the very beginning of a test prep book and try to read it cover to cover. Figure out what concepts you need to focus on and target your studying towards those.
For those things you don’t need to study hard, skim and briefly go over the concepts. Avoid wasting time on the details. This will keep you from wasting your energy on studying things that aren’t as beneficial for your overall score.
You can also use quick review strategies like flashcards and online test prep apps. If you need some ideas for apps that’ll be helpful, see The Best Apps to Organize Your College Planning.
A stressed mind is not a healthy mind, and it’s definitely not a mind that is poised to absorb the material. No matter how important the exam is and no matter when you start studying, it’s important to stay calm and focused. Don’t let the pressure or the stress get to you.
A good way to do this is to mentally block out the exam itself and simply focus on the material in front of you. For example, if you’re studying for the writing section of the SAT by learning vocab, don’t be thinking about the writing section and the time limit or anything like that. Simply focus on the words in front of you, what they mean, and how you can apply them. The time to focus on the exam itself will come when you do practice exams.
For More Information
For some more study strategies and tips on how to handle your test prep, see these previous blog posts:
Lastly, if you’re looking for more personalized guidance through high school, consider the benefits of CollegeVine’s Mentorship Program, which pairs each student 1:1 with a mentor from a top college who can help you develop the skills you’ll need for becoming a successful college student.