For many students, junior year in high school is the most intense year of K-12 schooling. Suddenly they find that their classes are much more challenging, their activities and sports become much more time consuming, and then test prep adds to this already-too-full schedule. All this, combined with maintaining a fulfilling social life, is hard to balance. Not to mention sleep, which is extremely important for growing teenagers. With this mountain of responsibility, learning strategies on how to successfully manage this full plate can not only be a life-saver today, but is also a valuable life-long skill.
Improve Your Efficiency
Perhaps the most useful strategy is to increase your efficiency. All too often, students try to do their homework, write a paper, or study for standardized tests with their cell phone inches from their hands. Every alert, text, or ding grabs their attention away from their work, disrupting their train of thought–sometimes only for a moment, but other times for a 30-minute phone call or invitation to go do something else. Sometimes, once the cell phone is in hand, a quick scroll through Instagram-Facebook-TikTok feels inevitable. Even just a short disruption can make it more difficult for the student to get back into their work. A 15-minute worksheet somehow takes more than two hours to complete with all the interruptions. So, here is the first step to improving your efficiency: please, put the cellphone aside when you are doing HW or test-prep–silenced and face down.
Another way to improve efficiency is to be realistic with yourself. Set reasonable goals for what you can accomplish in an evening. Focus on what your task is. Take breaks when you get tired. Maybe even go outside for a walk during your break. Reward yourself when you accomplish your goal. It’s never a good approach to demand too much from yourself: “I am going to sit here and write this 15-page paper until it is finished” or “I am going to read the entire textbook tonight to study for tomorrow’s test.” That just never works.
Instead, be honest with yourself. Some students benefit from listening to music while they study; others not as much. For some students, music with words is too distracting when they are trying to write or read. But when they are working on math problems, it helps them relax and enables them to figure out tricky problems. Whatever it is, figure out what works best for you!
Learn to distinguish between what is important and what is not as important, and what is urgent and what can wait. Doing an extra credit project in your favorite class where you already have over 100% should never take priority over finishing an assignment for a class you are struggling in. Your grade in that struggle class may hang in the balance, and doing well on that assignment may push your grade up to the next level.
Standardized Test Prep
Even though you are weeks away from taking the SAT/ACT, preparing for those comprehensive (and high stakes) tests takes time. Try to prioritize working on SAT/ACT practice a little each night, and set aside blocks of time for a few full-length practice tests. This will help you prepare for the actual test(s). Your Mindfish tutor will be happy to help pace your work so that it’s not too overwhelming, but still helping you to get closer to your goal scores.
School vs Social Life
Set your own limits of what you can do and when. If you have a big test coming up next week, or you are 2 weeks away from taking the SAT or ACT, then perhaps you should decline the invitation to go to the concert and sleepover. Going skiing for the weekend may not be the best idea either. There will be other weekends when you do not have a big test looming, that will make a weekend ski trip or sleepover much more enjoyable and much less disruptive.
Get Your Parents to Support Your Priority
Try to keep your parents in the loop with your priorities. Maybe they are trying to plan a spring break trip, or a long weekend up in the mountains skiing. If your parents know you are devoted to preparing for SAT or ACT or have an upcoming big test or assignment, perhaps they can choose an alternate time, or scale back the plans to ensure you can have fun and still get your school and test prep work done. Or maybe instead of a beach vacation over spring break, your parents can plan a trip to visit some of your top colleges or universities. But you have to let them know what college towns you would like to explore. After all, parents can’t read your mind (usually).
Remember, Only for a Few Weeks or Months More
Hang in there! The added work of test prep will only last a few weeks or months. If you prepare well, you may be set to only take the tests once – or perhaps twice – and get the scores that reach your goals. That will be one less thing on your “to-do” list!