If you’re like most students with an eye on an elite college or university, chances are that you’re studying for the SAT while holding down a full-time job (let’s face it — that’s basically what high school is… and then some). Between homework and extracurricular activities, most students are over-scheduled these days. Which means you have to get strategic about how you optimize your time for SAT prep.
On that note, here are 5 tips that will help you balance studying for SAT and living in the real world:
1. Start small so you don't burn yourself out.
Make your SAT study plan ambitious but reasonable. If you’re getting home at 7pm (assuming you’re not in the middle of a global pandemic), studying until midnight, and then getting up again at 7am the next day, chances are you might be able to keep that schedule for a week or two until something - your willpower, your attention span, or your health - gives.
Shorter, consistent SAT study sessions are generally more effective and more sustainable than 3 to 4 hour marathon sessions that fizzle out after a month.
Set a study schedule that’s reasonable and (relatively) flexible. Instead of cramming 2+ hours a day for a few weeks before your exam, do what most successful students do and start earlier, but shorten the length of each study session. Ideally, start studying for the SAT many months before your exam, but only devote about 30 minutes to each session. Try to schedule your studies at least three nights during the week (and ideally one weekend day, as well).
That way you’ll have the flexibility to go out and live your life, but you’ll also have a plan for how and when you’ll study later in the week. Set a minimum time that you’ll study each session. Once you get going, you’ll probably find that you’re motivated to study for more than the minimum time you set. (Everydae was designed specifically for students with busy schedules, and is why we intentionally designed the curriculum around 10-minute challenges).
The one thing to remember: At the end of the day, consistency beats intensity.
2. Set "process goals."
Have you ever been in a group project where a team meeting goes on forever but also seems to accomplish nothing? Without concrete goals for what you want to accomplish, there’s a good chance that your SAT prep could end up in the same boat.
If you’re this far along in planning your SAT studies, you probably have a goal score in mind. Having that goal is important, but a goal score is an outcome oriented goal. It tells you where you want to go, but it doesn’t help you get there.
To balance that out, it helps to create “process goals”, goals for what you will accomplish or focus on in each week of your preparation.
So instead of sitting down and just studying for an hour, create a process for your SAT study plan. For example, schedule time to take a full-length practice exam every four weeks, make your weekend study session all about reviewing your weaker areas, etc.
A goal score is an outcome oriented goal. It tells you where you want to go, but it doesn’t help you get there.
Having a plan doesn’t just structure your SAT prep. It helps to keep you motivated as well. If you know exactly what you should be doing at any given time, that TikTok break is going to feel a whole lot less compelling than it would be if you were aimlessly drilling problems.
The one thing to remember: Don't mistake activity for achievement.
3. Give yourself some wiggle room in case schoolwork gets crazy (because it will).
High school inevitably has its ups and downs. There are going to be weeks when you might have to pull an all-nighter because you have overlapping tests or projects due. If you’ve planned every minute of your prep and haven’t left yourself any wiggle room, every time one of these things comes up it’s going to feel like the end of the world.
Plan for those weeks and give yourself a few weeks of “wiggle room” in your SAT prep. Worst case scenario, you’ll need to take advantage of that extra space in your prep for those unexpected projects at school. Best case scenario, you may just end up with some “found time” at the end of your preparation to take one or two more practice tests or to spend a bit of extra time really dialing in those concepts that keep tripping you up.
The one thing to remember: Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.
4. Take advantage of “dead” time.
In an interview, a well-known polyglot was asked how he had time to learn so many languages. His answer? Dead time. He studied whenever he was waiting for someone or something as long as it was socially acceptable (as well as sometimes when it wasn’t): on the subway, waiting in a restaurant line, or walking the dog.
This doesn’t mean that you should tote a tablet, computer, or book with you everywhere that you go. What it does mean is that you can do little things as you move about your day that will help you improve. (Again, this is one of the reasons why we designed Everydae around 10-minute challenges that are mobile-friendly).
Effectively using dead time can help you become a much more efficient test taker. This applies to your SAT prep, but your schoolwork too.
The one thing to remember: You have more time to study than you think. It just might not always be where you think.
5. Remember that even champions need breaks.
Some days, no matter what you’re trying to do, nothing seems to “stick.” New concepts seem to slide out of your brain as soon as you cram them in and your attention seems to wander. If you’re having an off day and just don’t feel like studying, try sitting quietly for 10 minutes and see what happens (a short guided meditation using an app like Headspace would be ideal).
Often, once you’re through the first 10 minutes of studying and your brain has had a chance to “warm up”, the rest of your study schedule for the day may not feel quite so daunting. Other times, you may never “settle in.”
If you’re feeling your attention wander or you’re feeling like you aren’t retaining new information, it might be time for a break.
That might not mean taking the day off, but it might mean taking a few minutes to stand up and do something that isn’t SAT prep. Fold a load of laundry, go for a walk, or work on perfecting your newest dance moves. Give yourself 10 minutes for a mindless break and then give studying another shot. You might be surprised at how much a short break re-energizes your studies.
These SAT study tips are applicable for any student, but especially valuable for those with crazy busy schedules. If that's you or your child, and you're looking for an effective and fun way to study for the SAT in small-bites (and on the go), give Everydae a try. We think you'll like it here.