It’s January, which means that winter is slowly crawling to an end, Argos are counting the days left until spring break, and the first SAT of 2017 is approaching, well, fast. The normal registration deadline for the March 11th SAT is February 10th, with the late deadline following shortly behind on February 28th. Students can prepare for the exam in the obvious ways — register early, get all of your testing materials together, and then…
And then what?
Taking the SAT for the first time is, to put it mildly, absolutely terrifying. No matter how many prep courses you’ve taken, or practice tests you’ve labored over, or prep books you’ve all but memorized, the nerves still kick in, and they kick in hard. From the beginning of our high school careers — and for some of us, even our middle school years — we’ve been told that the SAT is the most important test we’ll ever take. It’s a huge part of college applications, crucial to do well on, so on and so forth. And that isn’t necessarily false — the SAT is important.
But as a (very tired) senior who has taken and survived it twice, I can promise you that it’s not the be all and end all of your future. Yes, it’s important, and yes, you should prepare as thoroughly as you can, but if you mess up, it’s not the end of the world. Seriously. You are still you whether you get that high score you’re dreaming of or not, and you still have the potential to do incredible things, whatever a few numbers on a transcript say. So take a deep breath. It’s okay to be anxious, it’s okay to be completely wracked with nerves, but you’re also going to be okay.
For those of you entering the fray for the first time coming up this March, I have three big pieces of advice for you, but mostly just a lot of good vibes and telepathic cheering that I’m sending your way. You’ve got this.
- Put your health first.
I can’t stress this one enough, and although I can’t make it into a flashing neon sign on an 80-foot wide billboard, I can put it at the top of the list. Studying is absolutely worthless if you don’t take care of your mental and physical well-being before the test, too. The overused advice to get a good night’s sleep and eat breakfast is, yes, overused, but it’s valid and incredibly important. Allow yourself breaks between studying, and give yourself little things to look forward to even amidst the stress. Trust me, any exam, no matter how important it is, isn’t worth a mental breakdown. You take the SAT maybe once or twice, but then you have to deal with yourself a lot longer, so it’s better to prioritize being well over doing well. (This applies to AP tests as well!)
- Don’t try to cram study.
There’s nothing wrong with studying the night before a test. Actually, I recommend it! Go over the concepts and the ideas that you struggle with the most to give yourself a refresher on the information; it can be really helpful. However, there is a problem when you study the night before the test.
And just the night before the test.
Space out your studying. Give yourself at least two weeks to prepare for the exam, but the more time you give yourself, the better. Allot some time in each day to review one subject or concept, and focus all of your energy on that. If you try to study everything all at once, you won’t retain the information. It’s like trying to catch a waterfall in a bucket rather than a few drops — you’ll end up spilling it all if you try to fill the bucket all at once, but if you fill it at a slow and steady pace, you won’t run into the same problem.
- Don’t study the way you’re “supposed” to, but study the way that you learn best.
Studying is different for everyone. I know that there’s a concrete idea of what studying is — you know, that one where a student is hunched over books and making flashcards until their hands cramp — and while that version might work for some people, it doesn’t work for a lot. Some people are visual learners, and benefit from visual aids such as graphics and color. Auditory learners need to talk things out, and to listen to them to understand concepts. Ask questions, have a conversation about the material with someone, record yourself reciting formulas or facts and listen to it over and over. Setting information or numbers to a tune helps too; you’ll remember the tune, even if not the specific information, and that can help you call it back up. Kinesthetic learners do best with hands-on learning, such as example problems or real-world applications. Experiment with these different styles, mix and match, and figure out what works best for you. Some people benefit from different types of studying for different subjects, while some have one universal system that works well for them.
Trial and error is really the only way to figure this out. I wasted so much time my sophomore and junior year trying to just listen to information and watch review videos, and all I got out of it was relaxing background noise for naps. It’s okay if something works for your friend and not for you; learning is an incredibly unique process for each individual, and it’s worth all of the time and effort to try and figure out what way you learn best.
Good luck and happy studying!