Time is precious on a standardized test. On test day, efficient time use can be the difference between a top score and a failing one. And in test prep, as on the test itself, time is of the essence. Here are some time management tips to help you make the most of your test prep.
Tip # 1: Big Activities go in Big Time Blocks, Little Activities go in Small Ones
This sounds like common sense: if a certain test prep activity takes a few hours, reserve it for a day when you have a few continuous hours of free time. If an exercise takes an hour or less, schedule it for a shorter break from your work or school duties.
In practice, however, a lot of students miss this crucial aspect of test prep time management. They do a practice exam in three one-hour installments on three different days, making the experience much less useful or effective. They set unrealistic goals, telling themselves they’ll start doing an intense round of practice questions after dinner, and then falling asleep before they can do everything they’d planned. Don’t let this happen to you. This leads me to my next tip….
Tip # 2: Use Your Evenings and Weekends Strategically
For most test preppers, there is a general scheduling rule: short activities on weekday mornings or evenings, long activities on the weekends. Make sure you reserve the most time consuming test prep for your days off. Otherwise, it’s very easy to not meet your study goals, and to leave important activities fragmented or incomplete.
Tip # 3: Know What Score You Need, and Actively Work Toward that Score
Always use your test prep time to work toward a specific target score (or score range). It’s all-too-easy to just focus on skills building without thinking about the scores you actually need to hit. Set score goals for yourself, and deadlines for reaching those score goals. Make this a key part of your test-prep timeline. Otherwise, you may find that your exam date is rapidly approaching, but you don’t have enough time to get to your target score.
To figure out what score goal you should work toward, you can check the policies of the schools you’re applying to. If you’re not yet sure which schools you’ll apply to, there are a lot of great web-guides that list the score expectations for top schools. (Take this list of LSAT scores for top schools, for instance.)
Tip #4: Maintain a Daily or Weekly Planner
In most cases, it takes at least a month to prepare effectively for an exam. This means your plans should be both long-term and well organized. Make sure you know what study goals you need to meet on a given day or in a given week.
If it seems intimidating to put together a detailed plan for a month or more of study, have no fear. There are many pre-made study guides and planners available. For a typical example of different ready-to-use study plans, see this GMAT study guide; it lists and describes several different options for one month, three month, and six month study plans.
David Recine is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been teaching K-12, University, and adult education classes since 2007 and has worked with students from every continent.
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