The Secret Magic Formula for Cramming for SATs & ACTs


From your very first test prep session with a CollegePrepExpress instructor, you are trained to think of standardized test preparation as a twofold proposition: 1) study the specific material covered on the test, 2) take practice sections under test conditions (i.e., using bubble sheets, timed, etc.).  Like prepping for the state championship, it’s a matter of scrimmaging (i.e., practice tests), and doing drills on what needs work (i.e., studying material you get wrong or leave blank).

In my last blog—How Much Should I Study for Standardized Tests?—I suggested that, solely from the perspective of getting into the college of your choice, you ought to treat your preparation like a really important course.  Several important courses, actually.  And while it makes sense in theory to carve out a good chunk of time every day for study and practice throughout the year (as you would carve out class and homework time for regular school courses), most students choose not to take their studying seriously until the weeks before D-Day.  Take a look at the “Countdowns” above and guess where we are right now?  That’s right, time to turn up the heat, crank up the volume, ratchet up the effort!  In short, let’s get SERIOUS—it’s time to CRAM.

The secret magic formula for standardized test cramming is simply this: Spend 30 minutes a day MEMORIZING material that’s covered on the exam and spend 20-30 minutes a day taking one practice section per night. Each week of implementing this magic formula, of waving this magic wand, will net you approximately one full practice test and 3.5 hours of learning the material that’s covered on it.  Do this two or three weeks in a row and you will see dramatic improvement in your scores.  Do this two to three months, and hello Harvard (or wherever else you have your heart set on going) :-).

To be one level more specific, I’d recommend doing your 30 min of memorization during the first half of your day.  First thing in the morning would be terrific since a) morning is when you’ll be taking the real deal so you may as well get used to having your brain work on this stuff during the morning hours, and b) your brain likely functions at a higher level in the first half of the day than the second half, even if you think you’re a “night person.

What exactly should you study during this half hour?  Great question.  1) You should memorize (not read, not review, not glance over, not look at) the SAT Hit Parade and the Notes on the Practice Tests (see Downloads on this site). And 2) you should flip through all the practice tests you’ve taken to date and quiz yourself on the words you circled and the items you got wrong or left blank.  Do you know the words now?  Could you get those (or similar) items right if they appeared on game day?  For those words and items with which you continue to struggle, make flash cards or write a new, condensed set of notes. Continuously writing and then condensing your notes is a fantastic study habit to develop for college. Why not practice for college, even as you study for college entrance exams?  As a reward, you may just get the scores you always dreamed of.

Another secret to waving this wand is not to think of the all the work you have to do altogether.  Think only of ONE HALF HOUR this morning (or early afternoon), and ONE HALF HOUR tonight.  You can’t do tomorrow’s or the next day’s work today, so don’t waste a second thinking about it.  Focus on today only.  When tomorrow comes, focus on one half hour in the morning and one half hour at night.  THAT is manageable. 🙂

Don’t get left behind the wave of CollegePrepExpress students who have taken up the challenge by committing to an hour-a-day regimen.  Here are a couple of recent, actual emails, transcribed verbatim:

“I’ve been studying a lot for the critical reading off of your word list online (most of the words I actually saw on my practice SAT which is cool)…. I’ve taken a practice test and I feel like my studying has already paid off especially on the reading). It makes me eager to study more because it is so rewarding!”

“Just wanted to let you know I began my three weeks of torture. Here’s proof attached [iFlash card stack of SAT words from Notes on the Practice Tests] =)…. I went over the notes on Practice Test #2 yesterday, made flash cards for the vocab, and went over the flashcards from both tests. I also took a math section. So far so good!”
There’s more energy in numbers, so everyone needs to do his or her part (note the pronoun-antecedent agreement? ;-))  Get to work on the magic formula and, if you feel like it, post your experiences by clicking Add a Comment below. 🙂

Finally, a word about spring fever: There will be some super nice days in the coming weeks, and normal people—students and adults alike—will migrate outside.  Consequently, take advantage of rainy, gloomy, or cold days.  Spend housebound days doing double duty so you won’t feel guilty enjoying the beautiful spring days. The finish line is in sight!


About CollegePrepExpress

The primary purpose of CollegePrepExpress, LLC is to help students get into their top secondary schools, colleges, and graduate schools and to reduce stress surrounding the entire admissions process.

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