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How to Plan Your SAT Practice and Study to Ace the Test

We all know that studying for the SAT is extremely important. After all, the test has a major impact on the competitiveness of your college applications.

But all that studying isn’t exactly fun, nor is it worthwhile if you’re not doing it properly. And even finding the motivation to study for the SAT is challenging, especially when you’re already devoting time to school, homework, and other extracurricular activities. Plus, it would be nice to sleep and have a social life.

Don’t worry. We have some tried-and-true strategies to improve your SAT study habits. By applying the methods below, you’ll find the motivation to hit the books so you can ace the test.

Tip 1: Set goals and make a plan

To hold yourself accountable to studying, it’s necessary to set clear goals and outline a plan.

It’s a good idea to set weekly study goals for yourself. Your goal should be:

  • Reasonable: Make sure your goal is something that you’re willing and able to do. Choosing a goal that’s too difficult only sets you up for failure and frustration, which decreases your motivation to study.
  • Specific: A goal like, “I’ll study some each week,” is far too easy to procrastinate or skip entirely. And what’s “some?” You could study for ten minutes on the bus and pat yourself on the back. Set a specific goal like, “I will study for an hour each weekday.” Better yet: “I will study vocabulary for an hour on Mondays and Wednesdays, work on math practice questions for an hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and practice reading passages on Friday.”
  • Put in writing: Believe it or not, research shows that you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals when you write them down on a regular basis. Put your goal in writing at the beginning of the week, write down your daily goal at the start of each day, make a calendar or a checklist, etc.

It’s also a good idea to tell people about your goals. Positive peer pressure (or parental pressure) works wonders, so tell your best friends, your parents, or even your teachers about how you’re going to study. Knowing that others will ask about your progress may motivate you to stick to your goal.

Now that you’ve got your goal, you need a plan for achieving it. In addition to considering when and where you’ll study, plan for potential obstacles.

You know yourself. What often holds you back or distracts you when you try to study? Maybe you get distracted by your phone or tend to fall asleep in the middle of a study session.

You know yourself. What often holds you back or distracts you when you try to study? Having a plan for any potential problem makes it much easier to tackle these obstacles as they arise.

For each potential obstacle, complete the following sentence in writing: “If [obstacle] happens, I will [plan for overcoming the obstacle].”

You might write, “If I get distracted by my phone, I will put it in my desk drawer or in the car until I’ve studied for a full hour.”

Or, “If I start to fall asleep, I will study at the kitchen table instead of on my bed.” If you don’t mind napping at the kitchen table, you could also study standing up, eat a snack for a quick energy boost, or play some background music that you don’t find distracting.

Having a plan for any potential problem makes it much easier to tackle these obstacles as they arise.

Tip 2: Reward Yourself

Sometimes, goal-setting can be overwhelming. You might think, “Now I really have to study for five hours this week. This is going to be horrible. I don’t know if I can do this.”

Instead of letting that throw you off, break your big goal into smaller steps. Each day think to yourself, “Okay, I just have to study for one hour today. Then I can use my phone or take a nap, or I can watch my favorite show on Netflix.”

When you reach your daily goal, celebrate! Celebrating your successes along the way gives you a confidence boost and the motivation to keep going.

You can even give yourself small rewards for each success. These rewards don’t have to cost money; they can just be doing something you enjoy.

For instance, save your favorite show until after you’ve studied for two days in a row, then treat yourself. Or you might only allow yourself to take a nap after you’ve studied for a full hour.

If your parents or other family members want to get in on the fun, see if they’ll cook your favorite meal if you meet your goal for the entire week, or take you to your favorite restaurant.

No matter how small the reward, treating yourself and celebrating your successes feels good and trains your brain to keep going.

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Tip 3: Break It Up

This may sound counterintuitive, but taking breaks (small ones) actually increases your focus and productivity.

Studies show that humans aren’t designed to work long periods without stopping. Researcher Tony Schwartz says that humans “naturally move from full focus and energy to psychological fatigue every 90 minutes.” Others suggest that this time span may be even shorter.

These studies are the reasoning behind the popular Pomodoro Technique. To try the Pomodoro Technique, set a timer for 25 minutes. For 25 minutes, study with complete and uninterrupted focus. When the timer beeps, take a 5-minute break before repeating the process.

Of course, the exact timing you use doesn’t matter. The point is that we all need mental breaks to refresh, recharge, and stay at our best. Pushing yourself beyond your cognitive capacity is ineffective and unhelpful.

Taking breaks is especially effective if you do something that gets your blood flowing. Stretch, take a walk around the block, jog in place, watch a video online, or even play the piano. When you’re done, you’ll be ready to give the study session your full attention and maximum brain power.

Final Thoughts: How to Plan Your SAT Practice and Study to Ace the Test

We get it: There are a million things you’d rather be doing than studying for the SAT. No one likes studying. But investing this time and effort is important for your future. And the sooner you get the studying out of the way, the more time you’ll have for other activities, writing your college essays, and social life.

Set reasonable, specific study goals. Put them in writing, talk about them, and commit to achieving them. Make a plan for how you’ll handle any obstacles that may stand in your way.

Break your big goal into smaller steps and celebrate each success along the way. And as you’re studying, take occasional breaks to refresh and recharge.

By following these simple steps, you’ll improve your SAT study habits — and your performance on the big test.

Curious about test prep? Start here

Author: Jason Patel

Jason Patel is the founder of Transizion, a college counseling and career services company that provides mentorship and consulting on college applications, college essays, resumes, cover letters, interviews, and finding jobs and internships. Jason’s work has been cited in The Washington Post, BBC, NBC News, Forbes, Fast Company, Bustle, Inc., Fox Business, and other great outlets. Transizion donates a portion of profits to underserved students and veterans in of college prep and career development assistance.