Cramming Isn't Going To Help

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Let’s get real for a minute about some facts of test prep, shall we?

If you’re a junior, the odds are very high that you’ll be taking the SAT in less than two weeks, and for several of you, this will be your very first attempt. For others of you, you have either just finished an ACT (likely your first attempt), and/or are about to take it in April.

Yes, the stakes are high. Yes, your heart is probably palpitating out of your sweater. Yes, the pressure is starting to brew…kinda like when you’re making your favorite penne pasta and you see the eensy little bubbles start to collect on the inside of the pot, right before the heat goes exponential on you and your face almost gets splashed with boiling water. Yowzers!

And what your natural inclination is, as this boil-boil-toil-and-trouble analogy pertains to your studying for the SAT or ACT, is probably dead wrong!

See, most of what I see from the students who don’t know better is this:

1) The eensy bubbles: Gee, there’s not much due right now, not that many tests, my ACT is SOOO far away…I can skip that homework assignment my tutor gave me on special right triangles, right? I can always make it up later.

2) Boiling water splashing in your face: Oh crap, the test is ONE WEEK AWAY! I don’t know everything! I KNOW…I’ll just CRAM!

Hmmm…do YOU see why this plan probably won’t work?


So I have a MUCH better plan for how to use your time the week before the Big Test, and it goes like this:

1) Don’t Cram!

Sorry, bud, but one week before a test, you basically know what you know and you probably won’t retain any new content. Especially because it takes SIX times learning/practicing a new fact/formula/rule before your brain stores it in your version of a hard drive. You just don’t have time to commit something to memory that’s brand new the week before the test. (Related: don’t go crazy and take 5 practice tests the week before the test, either!)


2) Refine Old Content

While you will likely fail at learning something entirely new the week before the test, you CAN, however, take the lower-hanging test-prep “fruit” and get that securely stored in your brain. What I mean by “lower-hanging fruit” is the content that you kinda know, but sometimes slip up on. You’ve definitely learned it before, practiced it before, but you’re not consistent with it. Your brain has probably seen this type of information 3-4 times and would just need a little boost to really understand and apply it—and nab some more questions.

What’s the best way to do this, you ask? Why, you should read my last blog post on my famous “Things to Remember” List! It's perfectly tailored to helping you improve in areas where you have some content down, but still have weaknesses and blind spots—and great at helping you pick up the points you'd otherwise leave lying on the table. 


3) Manage your Nerves!

While you successfully compile and commit to understanding those half-baked facts and formulas, also spend some time taking care of yourself! Make sure to get (8 hours of) sleep every night. Eat regularly and nourishingly. Front-load your homework or school projects, so you don’t have to do an all-nighter on Wednesday or Thursday. No late night hangs on Friday (sorry!). Make sure you have everything you need to bring with you on test day. Use your “Things to Remember” List as your study guide to read every night right before you hit the pillow. The correct preparation will quell any testing anxiety you have.


4) Plan on using spring break as a time to delve into new content.

Just earmark it for now. You can “cram” new content in then, when you have a break. After all, it won’t really be “cramming,” as you’ll have lots of time after to revisit anything you study!


I hope this helps you pause, take a breath, and think about how to use your time effectively. You are where you are, and there's no use pretending otherwise—instead, take some expert advice (that would be mine!) and do the stuff that can actually help your score right now.