Learn Test Strategies
There are three main test-taking strategies that you must consider more than anything when taking a standardized test like the SAT or ACT, even more than the content: Timing, Context, and Intent. At first glance, you might think “well, duh” about timing, but then you might wonder what I mean by context and intent. As much as this seems obvious, if you haven’t practiced these ideas and put them into your test-taking habits, the obvious things might not come to you when they’re not right in front of you during the test.
Before you start any quiz or test, take some time to skim through it and see what you’re up against Try to find the hardest questions and single them out, leaving them for last. Don’t keep the time left in mind, don’t look around at the clock, and don’t worry yourself to death over how many seconds it took you to answer this question or how many minutes that awful Charles Dickens passage took to read. Just relax and solve each question as concisely as you can while finding all the relevant evidence needed to prove your answer is the one true choice. Once you figure that out, leave enough time to bubble in your answers (as you go, I recommend page-by-page) and double-check questions that you weren’t sure about.
Read everything you can and find every bit of evidence possible! You never know when you’ll miss that sneaky “EXCEPT” or “NOT” in a question. Context goes further than just reading the question, however. You also must read everything surrounding each question, including all the answers. Imagine going to a restaurant and being offered 4 dishes but picking the first one you liked before seeing the rest. You’re going to regret missing out on that filet mignon. Furthermore, using process of elimination is possibly the best way to get a right answer. Each answer eliminated increases your chance of success! There is evidence for the right answer every time and a lack of evidence (or sometimes hard evidence against) the wrong answers in every section. I’ll go through each section in the SAT and ACT and tell you what you need to focus on the most and why.
Tests like the SAT and ACT are designed and written by human beings. That means that taking these tests comes down to reading into how and why they wrote the questions and what concept or idea they are testing. Once you realize that, you can game almost every question using process of elimination and getting into the author’s head. Context clues can help more than memorizing information a lot of the time. Every question has a correct answer, one that is pretty good, one that is somewhat understandable, and a laughable one. Using the author’s intent takes a lot of practice and intuition to understand but is often the key to crushing any test. You can transfer this skill to other classes, college, and beyond! It’s a lifelong skill to see between the lines, find shortcuts, figure out tricks, and really comprehend text.
Get Started Now and Stay Organized
The more you start preparing now, the less stressed you will be in the future, rather than procrastinating until the last minute, effectively making all that work worthless as it doesn’t stick if done in a rush. Try to keep an upbeat attitude and learn good study and test-taking habits! Keeping a healthy schedule is a huge part of doing well in not only school, but life, especially as an adult. Achieving a good balance of work, fun, and sleep is key to doing well on a test or staying focused at work. This schedule includes doing homework at a reasonable time and really trying to learn from it and partitioning study times so that it’s not all cramped at the last minute. I would say that these homework and studying time slots don’t have to be hours long! If they are spread out nicely, they will be just small time commitments each day, with a sense of satisfaction and perhaps even some kind of reward from your parent or study partner – or yourself – if motivation is very low (this is extrinsic motivation).
Find a Study Spot
I often will recommend a study spot to students based on their habits. I won’t say to study in their bedroom, but will suggest the dining room as a great place to study. Many people don’t even eat at the dining table anymore, but it won’t matter much regardless. You’ll be sitting in a firm chair, it’s well-lit, and isn’t somewhere you will go to relax. Other options include an office, if your house has one, the living room if nobody is in there and you don’t spend a lot of time there, or even outside at something like a patio table if the weather is nice. These are all places in the home. This is not to say that you can’t go to a library or coffee shop to study. Keeping it close to home and cutting out distractions will make it easier to keep a schedule going.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Sleep isn’t seen as the most important thing in the world and most want to fit as many things in their day as they can, so they sacrifice sleep to accomplish other tasks. That probably sounds familiar to anyone reading this and as tempting as it is, it should not happen and definitely should not be encouraged. Unfortunately, their internal clocks encourage going to bed later once puberty hits, but they also encourage waking up later, which is nigh impossible because of school. Waking up early for school and going to bed late after a long day of learning, working, and interacting is not a healthy lifestyle. A lack of sleep, even a small amount lost, can be extremely detrimental to anyone’s mental and bodily functions, especially someone who is still growing. One easy thing to do is to sleep in on weekends, which most people probably do anyway. However, resting too much will push scheduling back that day and so on until the school week comes – then there will be trouble. Scheduling homework to get it done as soon as possible is an extremely effective way to prevent homework from piling up and giving future you a hard time. Similarly, scheduling after school commitments like sporting events, friend gatherings, and tutoring to be early while still permitting ample time for homework and dinner before a reasonable bedtime is also important. Taking a nap to replenish energy is another great strategy as after school and lunch, the body is tired and needs some rest.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Learning material, study methods, and test-taking strategies are all key parts to preparing for any exam. Most students will study by themselves, a much smaller portion will be tutored, and an even smaller portion will take regular practice exams. This is because the view of practice exams is that they are either a waste of effort to take an entire exam all at once, but this builds stamina and gives a great view of how the real test will go. Nothing beats practicing something like the real thing!