Preparing for SATs can be stressful, which is exactly why it’s so important to have a plan. Different people learn in different ways, and they also have different reactions to the test environment. The key is to know what type of learner you are and to design a test program that accentuates your strengths and compensates for your weaknesses.
To do that, you need to start with an understanding of what the SAT actually consists of. Essentially, there are three sections – Mathematics, Critical Reading and Writing – with 200-800 points available for each section. You’ll pick up at least 200 points just by taking the test, but you’ll want to aim for 600 or above for a respectable overall score.
Because no two students are the same, you’ll want to consider your study preferences to develop a plan that works for you – and not just to use the same schedules as your friends. For best results, use the year leading up to the exam to get your brain into shape. Here’s how to do just that.
The very first thing that you’ll want to do is to map out your skills against what invigilators are looking for. Look at past papers and identify common themes for each of the three main areas, then rank those themes in order of what you’re best at. Try to focus as much of your study time as possible on your weakest areas to give you the best chance of an overall high score.
It’s also a good idea to take personality tests to help you identify what type of learner you are. Different people learn in different ways, and you’ll want to set up a revision plan that works for you. That may mean recording information and listening back to it, creating flashcards and getting a friend to test you, or simply reading as much as you can. Do what works for you.
For the first few months, you’ll mostly be developing a plan for the remaining nine months while starting to identify weak areas. The first step towards improving your performance is to figure out what you’re doing wrong and what could be done better.
This is where the bulk of the revision will be done. Consider asking a family member to hold you accountable for sticking to your revision schedule, and don’t allow yourself to make any excuses when it comes to sitting down and doing the work.
You can help make revision more pleasant by mixing things up, such as by going on field trips or by reading newspapers. This less targeted skill building will turn you into a better all-rounder, and it can teach you things that you’d never see in a textbook. Lucille Lewis, a writing tutor at BestDissertation.com, recommends “reading as much as you can, writing as much as you can, and learning for yourself how creativity and learning can go hand in hand.”
For example, why not make critical reading fun by creating a filmed book report? And why not bring mathematics to life by building real-world models? You learn best if you enjoy yourself while you’re at it, so find a way to make learning as enjoyable as possible. You won’t regret it.
In the last few months before the exams, it becomes important to switch to a holistic revision schedule. By now, you should have improved your weaker areas and set yourself up with a pretty broad set of skills across each of the three SAT areas. With that complete, you’ll need to start revising everything that might come up – no matter how familiar you are with the subject matter. The last thing you want to do is to walk into an exam and discover that one of your old strengths is now a weakness because you forgot to practice it.
At this stage, you should also start taking practice tests – on paper where possible, so you can simulate the conditions of the exam hall. You’ll get a sense of how you’re likely to actually perform and be able to familiarize yourself with the instructions on the papers. Getting used to it now can save you precious minutes during the actual exam – time that could be put to better use if you checked your work at the end.
As the exam looms, resist the temptation to work harder and harder trying to memorize information. Stick to your schedule, and treat yourself to a relaxing evening off the night before. This might sound counterintuitive, but fatigue can be a real problem in the exam hall, which is why you need to be as well-rested as possible before you take the final test. Besides, you’ll have spent the last year getting ready – so a night off won’t make any difference.
Now that you’ve aced your SAT, you’re ready to look into the future. Remember that as important as it is to do your best in your exams, you shouldn’t allow it to take over your life. In fact, educators are already well aware of the phenomenon of test anxiety – and they know that if you focus too hard on getting results, you can actually compromise performance.
The best approach is to take the SAT exams seriously, preparing yourself as much as you can for them, while still staying calm and collected. Ultimately, you can only do your best – as long as you do that, you’ll be able to live with yourself no matter what your results are.
|Steven Wesley is an ESL teacher, ed tech enthusiast and education blogger. He is interested in educational, technological and political issues and believes in the mighty power of the pen to change the modern world. Follow him on Twitter.