Last Updated: Oct 30, 2015
School has started again, and students are well into their classes and extracurricular activities. For many of you high schoolers, though, there’s still an additional task waiting on the to-do list: prepare for college entrance exams.
Scoring well on tests like the SAT and ACT is a major goal for any college-bound student. Schools use these assessments to determine college readiness and sometimes how much financial aid will be awarded. You value a quality education and want your results to reflect this fact to recruiters.
Fortunately, the opportunity to ace these tests isn’t available to only an elite group of straight-A students. Chances are you’ve studied for exams before and know the best way to prepare is by actively reading the material, taking notes, and reviewing topics you have forgotten. You can also make use of a number of resources around you, like test-prep books, the Internet, and guidance from teachers and older classmates. If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, here are some additional ways to prepare for upcoming tests. With these four tips in mind, you can study smarter and worry less.
1. Snack wisely while studying
Open any test-prep guide and you will most likely find a section warning you to avoid junk food on the big day. Sugary treats take more time to digest than other snacks, while greasy, fattening items like potato chips can leave you feeling tired and bloated. Foods like these won’t give you the mental energy to focus before a test, nor will they help when you are studying for one. But don’t ignore your hunger as you study. Instead, pick up an item that is refreshing and healthy, like yogurt with fresh blueberries or peanut butter on a celery stick. Only after a productive study session is complete should you indulge in that candy bar craving!
On a similar note, energy drinks are a tempting source of quick energy when you want to stay awake, but they aren’t always the best option for students. These drinks are loaded with sugar and caffeine, which can heighten your senses but diminish your ability to think and memorize. A cup of coffee is a better alternative. If consumed in the right amounts, coffee can enhance concentration and prevent drowsiness without the nasty crash effects later on.
2. Be diligent at note-taking
Memorizing important facts and strategies and being able to recall them instantly is a crucial test-prepping skill. The best way to strengthen your memory on any subject is by taking notes on key topics and reviewing these notes frequently. Some students make the mistake of either studying without taking notes or writing pages of useless notes. Don’t be like them. Your notes should be concise and relevant for your test. If you’re studying for, say, the SAT Math section, you’ll want to write a list of formulas likely to be tested. If you want to do well on the Reading segment, copy a list of SAT-level vocabulary words and their definitions. Make time to review these notes daily and your effort will be rewarded.
3. Take a lot of practice tests
Practice tests are invaluable study resources. They give you an idea of what’s going to be on the real test and what your areas of weakness are. Find time when you can take one of these tests in a room with little distractions. You should complete it within the time allotted to learn how long you can take on each question. Check your work, and don’t be discouraged if you get plenty of wrong answers the first, second, or even fifth time. The brain works differently at different times, and a low score is not an indicator of how bad you’re going to do on the real test—it just means that you need more practice. Find out where you went wrong and which kind of questions gives you the most trouble.
4. Channel your anxiety into motivation
There’s no arguing about it: taking the SAT or ACT is stressful, and even the brightest students are terrified of failing. You might be thinking, My chances at attending a good college are gone if I don’t do well. What will everyone think of me if I fail? These thoughts are natural to have! But instead of focusing too much on these worries, which can affect your confidence as you prepare, be positive. Don’t fear failure; crave success. Remind yourself, I’m studying hard for this test. If I ace it, my hard work will be rewarded and people will see that I take my education seriously. With this attitude, you’re ready to succeed at any test that comes your way.