ATTACKING THE NEW SAT: TWELVE FAQs
9 HOW CAN I GET THE MOST OUT OF MY STUDY SESSIONS?
1. Create a schedule, a study log, and place to study. Stick to a firm schedule of 30–40 minutes a day for SAT preparation. Write it down in your daily planner and commit to it like you would to a daily class. Also, keep a log of notes for each study session, including key strategies, important formulas, vocabulary words, and advice for your next test. Then make an effective study space: a well-lit desk with a straight-back chair, plenty of pencils, a timer for practice tests, flashcards, your study log, and even a stash of brain-healthy snacks.
2. Eliminate distractions. Turn off all alerts on your phone and laptop, and tell everyone in the house that this is your study time. Make sure everyone is in on the plan. Even kick the dog out of the room.
3. Stick to focused 30 to 40-minute sessions. Set a very clear agenda for each study session, such as “Master six new roots and complete the first half of Algebra Practice 4 in Chapter 7” or “Read and annotate one complete New York Times Op-Ed and read Lesson 2 in Chapter 9.” Then find your study spot, shut out all distractions, and set to work. Try not to go beyond 40 minutes for each session: stay focused and engaged, and keep it brisk.
4. Do 30-second checks. Once you’ve completed your session, take out your study log. Give yourself 30 seconds to write down the most important idea(s) that helped you through that study session. Reread your notes just before you begin your next session.
5. Learn it like you have to teach it. Now step away from your log and imagine you have to run into a class of eighth graders and teach them what you just learned. How would you communicate these ideas clearly? What examples would you use to illustrate them? What tough questions might the students ask, and how would you answer them? How can you explain the concepts and strategies in different ways? How can you help the students to manage potential difficulties they might have in a testing environment?
6. Sleep on it. A good night’s sleep is essential to a good study program. You need at least eight hours of sleep per night. To make your sleep as effective as possible, try to fall asleep while thinking about a challenging problem or strategy you’re trying to perfect. As you sleep, your brain will continue to work on the problem by a process called consolidation. When you awake, you’ll have a better grasp on the problem or skill whether you realize it or not.
7. Make creative mnemonics. Whenever you’re challenged by a tough vocabulary word, grammar rule, or mathematical concept, try to visualize the new idea or word as a crazy, colorful picture or story. The memory tricks are called mnemonics, and the best ones use patterns, rhymes, or vivid and bizarre visual images. For instance, if you struggle to remember what a “polemic” is, just turn the word into a picture based on its sound, for instance a “pole” with a “mike” (microphone) on the end of it. Then incorporate the meaning into the picture. Since a polemic is a “strong verbal attack, usually regarding a political or philosophical issue,” picture someone having a vehement political argument with someone else and hitting him over the head with the “pole-mike.” The crazier the picture, the better. Also, feel free to scribble notes as you study, complete with helpful drawings. Write silly songs, create acronyms—be creative.
8. Consider different angles. Remember that many math problems can be solved in different ways: algebraically, geometrically, with tables, through guess-and-check, by testing the choices, etc. Try to find elegant, simple solutions. If you struggled with a problem, even if you got it right, come back to it later and try to find the more elegant solution. Also, consider experimenting with pre-test rituals until you find one that helps you the most.
9. Maintain constructive inner dialogue. Constantly ask yourself, What do I need to do to get better? Do I need to focus more on my relaxation exercises? Should I try to improve my reading speed? Should I ask different questions as I read? Should I refresh myself on my trigonometry? Having a clear set of positive goals that you reinforce with inner dialogue helps you to succeed. Banish the negative self-talk. Don’t sabotage your work by saying, “This is impossible,” or “I stink at this.”
10. Make a plan to work through the struggles. Before you take each practice test, have a clear agenda. Remind yourself of the key ideas and strategies for the week. But remember that there will always be challenges. Just meet them head on and don’t let them get you down.