As the College Board prepares to switch to the redesigned SAT in March 2016, many students are uncertain about what the new test will look like, and how they should best prepare for it. The good news is that, while the revised SAT will have some important differences from the test’s current form, the core strategies for smart SAT prep haven’t changed. These five keys will help ensure that students bring their best “test game” to the SAT, no matter which version they take.
1) Don’t wait until the last minute to start
There’s a limit to how much can be learned in a particular amount of time, and while it varies from person to person, in most cases you will be short-changing yourself if you wait until one or two weeks before the test to start your SAT prep. A 2009 study at UCLA found that “spaced-out learning” was more effective than cramming for 90% of its participants. Giving yourself more time to review the material will lead to better retention and understanding.
In addition, putting off your SAT prep work until it’s almost too late will significantly increase the stress and pressure you feel, and for most students, the test is stressful enough on its own. Don’t compound the anxiety by failing to give yourself enough time to get ready.
2) Set a smart goal
Take a practice test as early as you can in order to get a sense of what score range you are starting from. Then think about what your goals are, considering what schools you plan to apply to and how long you have to prepare. Set a realistic goal for yourself. Remember, the higher your baseline score, the harder you will have to work for any additional increase.
3) Make a plan
Some students have excellent self-discipline and feel comfortable studying for the SAT independently. Others will have better results with the structure and support of a study partner, tutor or class. Consider your own study habits and decide which mode of study would be most beneficial for you.
4) Practice with purpose
As you study for the SAT, it is crucial that you try to replicate real-world testing conditions as much as possible. This means that whenever you take a practice section, you should always time yourself, and limit your exposure to enticing diversions such as your smart-phone or television.
You should also get used to tolerating some distractions in your environment. After all, you won’t be able to take the SAT from the comfort of your own bedroom. Seek out alternate study settings like libraries, cafes, or other public places to practice getting accustomed to the occasional sneeze, cough, or other ambient sounds.
Keep track of your progress, and set specific intentions for each study session. For example, you may want to focus on completing the section in the given time, or making sure you read each question correctly. Bringing self-awareness and reflection to your practice will pay off dividends.
5) Give yourself an edge
Just like most high school sports, the SAT requires a certain level of endurance for success. The test takes about three hours and forty-five minutes to complete, and in order to maintain top-notch performance, you want to ensure you can focus and stay engaged for that long.
You can give yourself an edge by taking care of your health in the weeks leading up to the test. Eat healthy meals; studies from the CDC have confirmed that students who eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains regularly do better in school and demonstrate an enhanced ability to focus. Good sleep and regular exercise also make a big difference to students’ academic performance.
So while the SAT is being redesigned this coming March, the strategies for intelligent SAT prep haven’t changed. Start early, set a realistic goal, follow a plan, study with purpose, and follow good lifestyle habits to ensure your best possible performance.