Summer break removes the burden of lengthy school days, extracurriculars, and homework, so even if you’re spending 30 hours per week getting coffee for adults who hate their jobs (just think, one day that will be you!), there’s still more time to prepare for standardized exams (aka the ACT and SAT) than you’ll have during the school year. It’s in your best interest to study for these tests, because—no pressure—they matter more than any AP exam or final essay you will write for class. But don’t be daunted—these quick tips can help you get started.
1. Set a consistent schedule.
Because these tests are so important, you might be tempted to start by biting off more than you can chew. But one does not simply study for the SAT or ACT willy-nilly. Set aside a certain amount of hours each week (I would suggest somewhere between 3 and 5) and schedule out what time you’ll sit down and study. Plan to do it when you know you won’t have anything else to do (like cross country practice, a shift at work, etc), and don’t give yourself excuses to slack off and miss hours (in other words, no Netflix-ing until you’ve studied). Commit to that time and you’ll have taken a big step in the right direction.
2. If you can, spend some extra money.
Some people think that pricey textbooks with titles like “THE ULTIMATE ACT PREP GUIDE” are a waste of your hard-earned benjamins. But, if you can find a prep guide that includes both official approval and tons of practice questions, you’ll be giving yourself a major advantage (BN.com has a sh$%-ton of great ACT and SAT study guides). Your primary goal is to get better at answering the kinds of questions that are on these exams, so if splurging a bit is an option, go for it. Dropping $200 on one book might seem crazy, but keep in mind that the scholarships you can earn by scoring higher on standardized tests could save you that amount by October of your freshman fall. I’m not joking when I say that my post-textbook SAT score got me $60,000 per year in scholarships.
3. Recreate the test-taking environment.
Some people only practice individual sections (i.e. Math, Writing & Language, etc) at a time, and while this approach makes sense in a time-crunch, you can use your blocked-out study time to see if you’re capable of handling an entire practice test (spoiler alert: you are). Working on a full-length exam will make you more comfortable with the time constraints than many of your less-prepared peers—you know, the ones who’ll be competing with you for admission spots.
4. Be honest with yourself.
Exam preparation requires a certain amount of self-grading. You’ll have long answer keys where numbers correspond with letters, and they put the two together in the smallest possible print you can read. And, since you’re by yourself, you might be tempted to say, “Well, I answered C, but the key says B, and I was 50/50 between those two. I’ll count it as correct.” Or maybe you’ll time yourself but keep working on unanswered questions for a minute or two after the timer goes off. Please don’t do this. The system won’t give you the breaks you may want to give yourself, and cutting corners now won’t do you any favors in the long run. Be tough on yourself and study hard, and when the ACT and the SAT roll around, you’ll know that you’re as prepared as you can be.