Last week, we told you that the best way to avoid test-day anxiety was to be prepared for the test (which should make sense, right?) and suggested a few tips on how to stop procrastinating and start studying today. Those who perused the posting carefully may recall that our second tip was to make a study plan. We’re sure you’ve been trembling with anticipation about just how to approach such a seemingly difficult travail, but now you can relax, for today’s post is all about making the best study plan possible—and in just 7 short steps!
Step 1: Take a Practice Test Right Away
Regardless of which test you’re studying for, your first step should be to take a sample test. Treat it like you would the real thing—take the test in one sitting (yes, it makes for a long day) with proper timing on each section. This way, the score you get will be an accurate reflection of your abilities.
After you’ve taken the test, score it and look at the questions you got wrong. The trick is to make this test a diagnostic for what you need to study. Thus, identify your strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you noticed that you got all the questions on geometry right but continually missed questions about percentages, you would know that geometry is a strength area and does not need as much focus as percentages do going forward.
Step 2: Set a Realistic Goal
Use your diagnostic score to set a realistic goal for yourself. Keep in mind the kinds of scores you’ll need to get into the schools of your choice, and make sure you have enough time to achieve your goal score. You are a better gauge of your abilities than anyone else, so you should be able to know what you’re capable of. But remember, don’t push yourself too hard—it’s virtually impossible to get a perfect score on any standardized test.
Step 3: Identify Short-Term and Long-Term Study Projects
With your goal set and your weaknesses identified, separate what you need to study into categories of short-term and long-term projects. If you’re taking the SAT, for instance, memorizing the most common SAT vocabulary words will definitely be a long-term project, something you should work on every week from now until test day. But other things you need to work on—like the aforementioned percentage questions—would probably be something to brush up on once, early in your studying. You always want to start your studies with your biggest weakness so you can maximize your test score right away. Then, as you get closer to test-day, start working on things you didn’t need as much improvement on, but don’t waste time relearning your strengths. If you got every geometry question right, you cannot ameliorate your geometry score anyway, so don’t waste your valuable study time on it.
Step 4: Make a Calendar
The first step to making a calendar is to pick a test date. Try to give yourself a few months to study, but also make sure to leave a second test date open after that test date so you can retake the exam (if necessary) before your college applications are due. On your calendar, mark off specific areas of study each week, and set aside at least (we mean at an absolute minimum) two hours per week of actual studying time. The purpose of the calendar is to make sure you aren’t just sitting down and opening an SAT book blindly—you should be sitting down knowing what you’re supposed to be studying that week and the weeks after that.
Step 5: Keep Testing Yourself
In your calendar, build in time for monthly checkpoints, full-length practice exams so you can track your progress and reevaluate your study plan. Make sure what you’re doing is working and causing score increases; if it’s not, reevaluate, and maybe add more study time each week to your calendar.
Step 6: Stick to Your Plan
This should go without saying! You’re making a plan to be followed, not just a plan to look at and ignore. Don’t let anything get in the way of this study plan! Make sure that each week there is time set aside for your studying, and treat that time as a commitment that cannot be avoided, a permanent appointment that cannot be canceled. Letting even one week pass without following your plan can derail the whole project, so don’t let that happen.
Step 7: Peak at the Right Time, Then Relax
Finally, on your study plan, build in time to relax, especially the week of the test. Ideally, your plan would increase the amount of time you study per week as you get closer to the test, with the acme of study time reached about two weeks before test day. After that, take one last diagnostic, and use the weeks before the test to only focus on the small details you struggled with on said final diagnostic.
Then, and this is of the utmost import, make sure to build two days of relaxation in right before the test. Don’t plan on doing any strenuous studying those days, and instead just use the time to recover before the big day and review the vocabulary words and math formulas you’ve already memorized. Make sure you’re going into test day fully recharged and rested, because you’ll need a clear head and lots of energy for the real thing.
But, if you’ve made and followed a successful study plan, the real thing should be practically old hat for you…
These key SAT words are expertly identified by Sentia tutors
Peruse: read carefully
Travail: painful labor
Acme: Peak, top, pinnacle