There’s a skeleton in my SAT closet. It’s something I don’t always tell to students, but there’s a lesson to be learned, so here it goes: I could have done a lot better in prepping for my test. There, I said it.
I took a classroom-style course from one of the major prep companies, but I just didn’t care enough. I once left the class to get a drink from the cafeteria, then went outside and watched the other students doing that boring stuff while I sat in the sun and sipped my drink.
The irony is that years later, I realized I actually enjoyed using the skills that the SAT is designed to test. And I had every reason to be focused. I could have gotten higher scores and been a better candidate for higher-tier schools. I could have been more likely to get scholarship money so I wouldn’t have so much debt, now. It was, in many ways, the single most important test I’ve ever taken, and I might have actually taken some pleasure from preparing for it. So why did I choose a bottle of Coke and some sunlight over improving my SAT score?
Why I Got Apathetic about SAT Prep
The short answer is that I didn’t feel like it was my choice. I was there mostly because of pressure from my parents, as many students who enroll in those courses are. There were more factors, sure—the dryness of the teacher, the mixed skill-level class, and my already quite high score—but the biggest problem was that I wasn’t self-motivated. It was all external pressure.
Motivating Yourself to Study
Knowing why you are taking the SAT is vital. You need to know it every day. You realize how massively important which college you go to is, and where that is depends on your score. Yes, your grades and extra-curricular activities count for a whole lot. But this test is also the single simplest factor to make dramatic changes in. You can bring up your score, and you can bring it up a lot—just so long as you put the effort in. Don’t let any one class suffer badly for it, but put the SAT high up in your priorities. But if you’re already sunk into the doldrums of apathy, for whatever reason, there are ways to get out.
First, take some of the outside pressure away. If you start feeling like you “have to” do some SAT studying, ex the thought away with a mental “Command+W,” and replace it with a reminder that you’re doing this because you want to. Nobody else’s college options depend on it. Try to build a positive, personal association with prep, and avoid doing it only when you hate the idea.
That being said, do try to set up a routine for at least one small thing. Looking at some SAT flashcards on the bus, doing a few practice math problems while you eat breakfast, or thinking critically about the author’s purpose every time you read are all good ideas, but there are many others to choose from. Getting into just one good, small habit can make a positive snowball. If you start thinking of yourself as the type of person who practices vocab daily, you’re much more likely to feel the motivation to do other things to raise your SAT score.
And finally, change how you think about the test itself. It’s not like tests you get in school because almost nobody gets 100%. Your goal is only to do better than you’ve done on it before. Every time you do some practice, remember how you performed last time, and try to beat that. Your only competitor is yourself.
Remember that there’s always room for improvement. If you’re scoring lower than you’d like it to be, then great—it means you’ve got strong goals. If you’re pumping out right answers all the time and feel like it’s good enough, remember that you can do even better and open doors for yourself, so it’s time to make a new, higher goal.
When you look back at your SAT preparation down the road (and I promise you that you will at some point), you’re going to want to know that you had the foresight to fight for a higher score. Don’t let future-you down.
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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.
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