Packing is an art. And I’m not talking about for your trip to Disneyworld. I’m talking about packing your brain for the SAT. Many students, for so many reasons, at some point, end up packing and cramming at the last minute for a test or a project. Sometimes you can’t avoid a cram session. But this is the worst possible scenario for the SAT. Stanford University knows this and recommends the same thing to their students:
“…the majority of the information gained through cramming sessions ends up being forgotten not just over a period of time but even during the actual test itself. … cramming places too much stress onto the brain, pushing it beyond its limits. When the brain is overworked too much, too often, it increases feelings of anxiety, frustration, fatigue and even confusion.”
For the SAT, and for your future success, don’t cram.
Some keys to avoid cramming involve sleep, proper planning, good materials, and taking breaks:
Don’t Skip Sleep
A recent study at UCLA found a clear trade off between sleep and cramming. They were initially surprised that students who crammed would have more academic problems in the days following their cram session. “But then it made sense once we examined extra studying in the context of sleep. Although we expected that cramming might not be as effective as students think, our results showed that extra time spent studying cut into sleep. And it’s this reduced sleep that accounts for the increase in academic problems that occurs after days of increased studying.”
Make sure that you get eight hours of sleep while preparing for the SAT. This is the easiest thing you have to do for your studying—just sleep. Not study words or do practice problems—just sleep.
Don’t Study Whenever
Haphazard studying can be as bad as not studying. One researcher from the UCLA study had this to say, “Academic success may depend on finding strategies to avoid having to give up sleep to study, such as maintaining a consistent study schedule across days, using school time as efficiently as possible and sacrificing time spent on other, less essential activities.”
Not only should you plan for eight hours of shut eye, but also you need to plan everything else. High schoolers have busy schedules with classes, sports, clubs, college admissions, social life, and now studying SAT idioms and coordinate geometry. So even before you start studying, look at your weeks and budget time to study for the SAT. I know. It seems impossible to fit another thing into your schedule, but remember that this is for college, so cut back on the nonessential activities to make more time for SAT practice.
Don’t Study Whatever
Choosing which course, which book, or which study schedule is worse than choosing what to wear to the next dance. Actually, it might be harder because there are more options for SAT preparation than clothes in your closet.
Before you decide what to study, make sure to consider your needs. Some books are tailored to advance students, others beginning students. Some courses are too short or filled with too many students to be effective for some students. Research options for online, self-study courses. Good material will cover all the SAT question types in detail and give you tips for identifying common wrong answer types. Make sure that it includes full practice tests and plenty of practice. Ultimately, you’ll need to spend time to find the right materials before you begin studying.
Don’t Study Every
Day Just as your brain needs sleep, it also needs breaks. When you study SAT reading comprehension or grammar points, schedule breaks before returning to what you studied.
Another study showed that “massing” all of your studying into a single session, on one topic, had negative effects on learning. What the researchers found was that a study break is essential to remembering something in a week or in six months. According to Science Daily, “When two study sessions were separated by breaks ranging from five minutes to six months, with a final test given six months later, students did much better if their break lasted at least a month.”
Now this doesn’t mean you get to take a month break. But there are two important take aways here: first, space your study so that you return to a concept or question type after a couple of weeks of working on it. Second, make sure you have enough time before the test to study everything with breaks between concepts. You cannot use this strategy if you cram, so start studying a few months in advance.
This post was written by Kevin Rocci, resident SAT expert at Magoosh, a leader in SAT prep. For more advice on taking the SAT, check out Magoosh’s SAT blog.