How to Balance Studying for Final Exams and the SAT, ACT

Students who plan to take the ACT or SAT in December face a unique challenge: balancing their final weeks of test prep with studying for final exams.

Here are some ways students facing both exam types can balance these equally important priorities.

Apply Parkinson’s law. Parkinson’s law is a British economist’s satirical conclusion that work expands so as to fill the time allotted for its completion. The idea is that we tend to spend more time to complete tasks than we truly need. If we give ourselves three days to write a research paper, for example, that is exactly how long we will take to do it. If we give ourselves just one day, however, we will still finish the paper, but in one day instead of three.

[ READ: Learn From Your ACT, SAT Practice Test Results With These Tips. ]

This December, you can accomplish more by allotting yourself less time to get everything done. Instead of allowing yourself a whole day to memorize the formulas that will be on your physics final, for instance, give yourself a few hours. You will be surprised by how much you can achieve under pressure.

Break it down. It can be overwhelming when you look at the big picture of everything you must do this December. Studying for finals and for the ACT or SAT seem like enormous, insurmountable goals. But reviewing the 30 most common SAT words and taking five online punctuation quizzes sound like much more manageable tasks, don’t they?

Each large-scale to-do is composed of numerous small, less daunting tasks. Your job is to figure out exactly which small to-dos will bring you closer to the big goal, and then attack them one by one. For instance, try aiming to complete two or three small tasks per day. Remember, “Little by little, one goes far.”

Take the plunge. Maybe you have heard the expression, “Getting started is the hardest part.” Well, psychology says it’s true. Our minds are terribly good at creating excuses for not doing things, and these excuses inevitably develop into feelings of dread. Dread, in turn, prevents us from getting started at all. However, the the tasks that need to be accomplished rarely, if ever, turn out to be as awful as we imagined them.

[ READ: Online Tools That Can Support ACT, SAT Prep ]

This December, just buckle down and do it. Once you get started with your studies, you will soon find yourself in flow state, a state of mind in which you experience extreme focus, a loss of sense of time, and self-satisfaction.

A Sample Review Schedule

When you have a great deal to accomplish in a short time, time management becomes especially essential. Here’s how a hypothetical student named Clara can budget the last two weeks before her finals and the ACT:

— Two-week mark. Clara dedicates between one and two hours a day to studying, depending on what her other commitments will allow her. She may devote an entire session to reviewing for finals or to ACT prep, or she may allot half the available time to each.

— One-week mark. Clara assesses which half-dozen or dozen problem areas she can realistically master in the remaining week and devotes all her efforts to strengthening them. She also meets with a study group of her classmates to boost motivation and collaborative learning.

— Three-day mark. Clara reduces her studies to just two or three persisting problem areas and ensures she is getting the recommended eight to 10 hours of sleep per night.

— One-day mark. Clara stops all review and gets herself into the right head space by meditating, eating her favorite meal, video chatting with her best friend and doing any other activities that will lift her mood. She also makes sure to have all her materials ready the night before her first test and gets to bed at a decent hour.

[ Read: 6 Tips for SAT, ACT Test Prep Procrastinators ]

Here are some additional tips that will help you maximize your study time:

— Postpone unnecessary plans. If there are any commitments on your calendar that can wait until after finals season, consider putting them off until the holiday break. Having one fewer to-do on your agenda can alleviate stress and prevent interruptions to productive stretches of study.

— Unplug. Our cellphones are perhaps the greatest distraction of modern times. Put yours on airplane mode, hand it over to a family member or hide it in a drawer somewhere so you aren’t tempted to check it during your study sessions.

— Take short but frequent breaks. Your study sessions should consist not only of studying, but also regular breaks. The Pomodoro Technique suggests taking five-minute breaks after each 20-minute period of focused study. However, you can modify this number to your liking. The point is simply to move around to prevent burnout and to recharge your circuits.

Take control of your pretest to-dos this December by following the above tips and designing a study schedule that suits your needs for performing well on both your final exams and the SAT or ACT.

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