Summer is a season that many students dream of, but these three months also hold the potential to destroy your carefully laid preparations for college. While rest and relaxation are important parts of the high school experience, it is important to keep your brain sharp during the off-season heat.
For some students, this summer’s greatest challenge may be studying for college entrance exams while also allowing plenty of time for extracurricular and social activities. But staying engaged does not have to be difficult. Here are four ways students can keep SAT/ACT prep in their summer routine:
1. Answer one practice question each day
Do you worry that opening your ACT/SAT study guide each and every summer day will prove too difficult? If you do, try this strategy, which emphasizes consistency over volume – just answer a single practice question each day.
Of course, you must still motivate yourself to complete that problem. Consider setting a daily alarm, and when it sounds, do the practice question. Until you finish the question, do nothing else. Breakfast is an excellent time to make this appointment with yourself – it allows you to finish this task early in the day, before any other obligations intrude on your schedule.
And if you occasionally feel ambitious, answer two problems, not one!
2. Schedule a weekly study session
Scheduling a weekly study session is an alternate approach to ACT/SAT prep. If short, daily bursts of review are too off-putting or unmanageable, use a calendar (such as the one on your smartphone) to find time for a weekly study session. Choose a time when you can be free of distractions, and schedule your other summer activities around this commitment. Reviewing for the ACT or SAT is not often high on anyone’s list of entertaining pastimes, which is why you should create a definite schedule to follow. If you simply resolve to “do some studying each week,” it will be too easy to postpone your review session, or to promise yourself that you will complete a double session the following week. Your study session need not be long, but do ensure that it is focused. Two hours of review, for example, is adequate to keep yourself engaged without crowding out your other summer plans.
The simple act of reading during your summer break can positively affect your prep. Both the ACT and the SAT are shifting to place more emphasis on reading comprehension and interpretation (see my piece on the revised SAT for more details), so emphasize books that force you to use these skills. While you may not encounter your summer reading selections on the ACT or SAT, you will be building your familiarity with parsing dense language.
Perhaps this strategy sounds like the exact opposite of a summer vacation. However, remember that there are amazing works of adventure and romance that can help you hone your test-taking skills. While a text as weighty as The Federalist Papers would likely be very useful on the SAT, The Three Musketeers, any novel by Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters, and much of Mark Twain’s work can all boost your brain engagement over the summer.
This suggestion may seem a bit unorthodox, but you might just find that you can combine several of your prep goals into one when you volunteer. Many school districts, as well as churches, clubs like the YMCA, and even public libraries, offer tutoring and academic enrichment classes during the summer months. Look for a volunteer opportunity where you can work with younger students who are learning skills in your weakest area (i.e. math or science). From the perspective of your own test prep, you will generally be working with students at a much less advanced level. You may find, though, that teaching any kind of English, math, reading, science, or writing skill truly sharpens your own understanding. For instance, as a scientist holding a Ph.D. in microbiology, I thought I knew all I needed to about basic algebra and geometry. When I started tutoring high school students who were preparing for the SAT, however, I found out how much I still had left to learn. As the saying goes, you cannot really understand a concept until you can teach it to someone else. And as a bonus, your volunteer activities will only strengthen your college applications.
Summer is here. Take full advantage of this time to rest and recharge, but do not forget to remain engaged with academia, especially if you will be taking the ACT or the SAT in the fall. You do not need to devote your entire summer to exam prep, but you will have a much smoother experience come September if you keep your brain active this June, July, and August.
Brian Witte is a professional SAT tutor with Varsity Tutors. He earned his Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and holds a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University.
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