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Lucas Fink

How to Study for Both the SAT and Your AP Tests

Everybody knows it, and everybody says it: junior year can be hellish. Clearly, the pressure’s on. If you’re taking on a rigorous course load, then you may be in a pretty tight spot right now, studying for both the SAT and your AP tests.

And even if you’re not in any AP classes, this post might still apply to you; after all, how close together are your finals and the June SAT? Whether it’s AP tests or other exams, having the biggest test of the year in a class be so close to the SAT is brutal.

Studying for both—and yes, you’ve got to study for the SAT—is a balancing act, one you do for weeks (or even months). Keeping from toppling over takes skill.

Source: The Prospect


Know Your Goal

The biggest problem, obviously, is time. How much of your life are you going to devote to these tests? Once you’re done with class, you still probably have a team, a club, a part-time job, or some other extra-curricular that’s going to eat up time. Maybe you have two or three. And you have to sleep, of course. What about seeing friends, reading a book, doing what you enjoy? Ideally, you’d have time for that too, but I’ll be honest; for a few weeks, you might not. Most people find that it boils down to three options—grades, sleep, or fun—and you can only pick two.

That’s a bit depressing, but don’t give up on it here. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. The time leading up to these tests will go by a lot faster than you think. Spending a few weeks with complete focus on academic goals (and being well-rested enough to remember what you study) isn’t going to kill you, and the reward is huge. These test scores affect your next few years, and the results can be pretty awesome.

Take, for example, a friend of mine: let’s call her Meghan. Meghan did really well on all of her AP tests, and when she started college, she was given course credits for those tests. So in her junior year of college, she took a semester off—she had enough credit that she didn’t need to take any classes for a whole semester, and she was still able to graduate on time. In that semester and the summer leading up to it, she moved to Prague for 9 months, got a job teaching English, and basically lived it up Euro-style. Then, when it was time to come back, she moved back home and started up classes again. Without the AP credits, none of that would’ve been possible.

Did I mention that high SAT scores and a solid GPA helped to lock down scholarship money and get her into her first choice school? There’s that, too.

If you’ve heard this before, it’s for good reason: it’s worth repeating. Keep your eye on the prize. Put your social life, your leisure time, aside for now. You’ll have a chance to come back to it later.


Organize Your Time

Devotion only gets you so far. What about the practical advice? The most important thing you can do, the one indispensable piece of the puzzle, is creating a study schedule for yourself. It’s much, much easier to just do what’s next on the list than it is to sit down and decide where to start, especially when you’ve got so much on your plate.

Give yourself something to do every day, however small it may be. Know how much time you want to spend on each subject. Include breaks in the schedule, too, so you know exactly when you can step back from your book or computer.

And, of course, each day in your schedule should have a couple of themes, focal points. Don’t expect to study for 5 different tests every day. But that’s not the real danger. The common mistake is exactly the opposite…


Mix Your Studies

Organizing doesn’t mean spending 3 hours studying only chemistry on Tuesday then 4 hours doing SAT math on Wednesday. Break up your time like that and you’re basically throwing some of your energy out of the window. If you want to really retain what you learn, you need to vary the topics a bit. Spend 30-45 minutes on one subject, then move on to another for an hour, and a third for an hour after that. Two or three subjects every day is a solid goal.


Repeat the Material

Similar to breaking the material up and studying different subjects, repeating the same material across several days makes it much more memorable. If you really want to learn, for example, how to write a good SAT essay, one of the best ways is to read example essays a few times, write more than one yourself, and come back to edit each one you’ve written a couple of times over. Each session you spend preparing for the essay might be only 30 minutes long, but in sum, they’ll add up to a much greater impact than you’d get by just hammering away on practice essays for hours on end on one miserable day.


Quiz Yourself Often

Repeating material isn’t just limited to the time you spend in your bedroom, kitchen, school library, tree house, or wherever it is you study. Spending just a minute or two mentally quizzing yourself, repeating information you’ve studied, really cements it. When you’re brushing your teeth, review the measurements of special triangles. While you’re in the shower, come up with as many SAT words that start with “C” as you can (cathartic, catatonic, candor, cede, creedence,…).

Every minute you spend helps; it doesn’t have to be time that you scheduled for studying, specifically. Keep your mind in the right place, and you’ll make massive progress.

And again, remember that it’s not forever! The tests will pass, and life will go on. Just not quite yet.


About Lucas Fink

Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.

2 Responses to “How to Study for Both the SAT and Your AP Tests”

  1. Luis says:

    Hi Lucas,

    How would you recommend studying for the SAT (October) and the ACT (September) at the same time? I’ve taken the SAT once and have never taken the ACT.


    • Lucas Fink Lucas says:

      Hi Luis,

      Good news: you don’t really have to study for the two tests completely separately. There’s a lot that’s common between them. If you’re going to take both, I’d recommend studying for the SAT but supplementing with a number of ACT practice tests and a bit of trigonometry review. In a way, it would actually be better to do the reverse (to study primarily for the ACT), but there’s simply more and better SAT prep material out there than there is for the ACT.

      In any case, the practice tests will tell you if there’s anything on the ACT that causes you problems that isn’t covered by the SAT material. The most significant thing would be the science section, but if you think of it like a dressed up reading comprehension test, it’s not necessarily worth spending a ton of time on. That depends on how strong/weak you are in that area.

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