1. Enjoy time offYou might have been disappointed last year when you found out your ACT or SAT score was lower than you expected. It can be frustrating to get a weak score, especially if you put genuine effort into preparing for the test. While many students may be inclined to hit the books right away after getting such disappointing news, a helpful idea is in fact to take a short break from studying. After your test, take at least a few weeks to relax and clear your head. During this period, try not look at any ACT or SAT material whatsoever. Diving into a study plan with negative emotions like anger, anxiety, or apprehension will be counterproductive. You should begin with your new study approach only when you feel recharged and motivated again. Once you are in a healthy and optimistic state of mind, it is time to do a self-appraisal.
2. Do some troubleshootingBefore you can modify your ACT/SAT prep to ensure you earn a great score, you must evaluate your study habits. If your latest test score was not much different from your previous score, it is probably safe to say that your current study routine is ineffective. You might have been nervous, tired, or hungry during the test, or you may not have waited long enough to retest to show improvement between exams. If discomfort or rushed timing cannot explain your performance, though, you must dig deeper to assess the problem. In the back of your mind, you probably have an idea of why your current study habits are keeping you from receiving a high score. Be honest with yourself and trust your instincts. Is the issue that studying in a group has been too distracting, or is it that you have been spending just one hour per week studying? There are endless reasons that could explain inadequate test performance, such as indifference, outdated study materials, and lack of time management. However, since only you know your routine, only you can speculate about the root cause of the problem.
3. Make the appropriate changesYour new approach to test prep should, not surprisingly, directly address the previous issues you had. If group study was too distracting for you, study by yourself in a quiet room this year. If your SAT math score greatly exceeded your SAT reading score, focus more energy on reading tactics this time around. Make sure that your new test prep approach focuses on your weaknesses, or you may see no change at all with your next score.
4. Take practice testsA practice test, which is similar in content, structure, and length to a real test, is the quintessential measure of test prep effectiveness. Practice tests should be taken periodically—for example, once a month for four months—to help determine whether or not a student’s study methods are working. If your next ACT is scheduled for five months from now, do not wait until the week before to take your first full-length ACT practice test. Here is why: if you perform poorly on the practice test, you might become worried about the real test and enter a panic on test day. By taking practice tests regularly, you can determine if your new study approach is working. If your practice test scores do not improve with time, return to step 2 and do some troubleshooting. Nearly all high school students could afford to modify their approaches to test prep. Since January is the month of new beginnings, there is no better time than now to shake up your test prep routine. After you take a break from studying, critique your weak areas and take them into account for your new test prep attack plan!
Tiffany Sorensen is a professional tutor and contributing writer with Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.