Nine years ago, I wrote this blog post about the 12 Days of Test Prep.
Little has changed so here, again, are the 12 Days of Test Prep (with some updates for 2022).
You see, in a perfect world, you spend at least six months preparing for the SAT or ACT. After all, test-taking is a skill that can be learned, like playing the guitar. And any skill can be perfected over time.
Unfortunately, not everyone has time. Too often I field calls from families looking for test prep one or two weeks before the test. It's not an ideal situation, but there are several things one can do just weeks before the SAT or ACT.
Above all, don't stress. With only two weeks to the test, stressing or cramming will actually hurt your score.
Instead, and in light of the holiday season, try the Twelve Days of Test Prep:
12 Days Before the Test: Take a full-length practice test. Time yourself and follow the the directions just like you would have to do on test day.
11 Days Before the Test: Score your test. Calculate your Raw Score for the test. Be sure to follow the guidelines in the test guide to do your calculation. Then, use the scale provided in the test guide to determine your Scaled Score. Also, see if you can determine any patterns in your answers, like you struggle with algebra questions or passage-based reading. Recognizing your strengths and weaknesses will be key on test day: score points quickly and accurately in areas of strength, skip or give yourself extra time in areas of weakness.
10 Days Before the Test: Prepare a Game Plan. The first step in your Game Plan is figuring out the score you need to achieve. Compare your score from the previous day with the score of accepted students to the school(s) of your choice. Once you know how much you need to improve, you can figure out a Game Plan of how many more correct answers and how many fewer incorrect answers you need per section. For example, if you need to score 100 points more in the SAT math section, this could mean that you roughly need ten more correct answers and four less incorrect answers in the total math section of 58 problems. For both tests, your Game Plan really takes shape when you manage correct answers versus incorrect answers. The second step to developing a Game Plan is to leverage your knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses from the previous day's exercise. With these three data points (the score you need, which questions to answer quickly and which questions to avoid) you have the foundation of a solid Game Plan.
9 Days Before the Test: Practice your Game Plan on one section. Use the study guide for another practice test. Score your section, analyze it and adjust your Game Plan as needed. Keep in mind: avoid stressing or cramming by doing only one section of the test: like just the math portion on the ACT or just the critical reading sections of SAT. Keep in simple.
8 Days Before the Test: Same as the previous day, but with another section.
7 Days Before the Test: Same as the previous day, but with another section. By today, you should have completed all of the multiple choice sections of the SAT practice test.
6 Days Before the Test: Complete the ACT practice test and perform the same score analysis as other days. If you are prepping for the SAT, write and essay on this day and see if you can get your English teacher or a tutor to read it and score it. Learn how to increase your score on your essay.
5 Days Before the Test: At this point, it is time to slow down on the studying and reduce any stress. You could try and memorize some vocab words, but go slowly and certainly don't exert yourself. The most important muscle to build at this point is your confidence.
4 Days Before the Test: Check in with your Game Plan. Review how many correct answers you need and how many incorrect ones still keep you in line for the score you want. Revisit the two practice tests to see if there are problems that you might want to avoid on test day. For example, if you struggled on trigonometry, avoid those problems. There is not enough time to cram some trig studying so learn to skip and guess on those.
3 Days Before the Test: Remind yourself that you are ready and prepared for test day. Think about the test as a game or a puzzle that you will master with your Game Plan. Mentally prepare yourself with positive visions of you scoring points quickly and easily. Above all else, gets lots of rest and eat right.
2 Days Before the Test: Get lots of rest and eat well. Make test day stress free by printing your admission ticket, getting your picture identification, pencil, calculator, snack/water all ready for tomorrow. Ideally you wake up on test day and seamlessly get to the test center with little stress and plenty of time to think more positive thoughts.
1 Day Before the Test: Chill. Seriously. Chill.
While test day is not Christmas Day, hopefully the twelve steps above will get you ready and prepared for the big day. Sure, there is a lot more you could have done, but by following the above steps you will undoubtedly have a good plan on how to maximize your score.
And here's hoping that Santa treats you nicely with a robust score!