How to Effectively Study for the SAT

6:45 pm. It has been a long day, but you have a big test in history, a biology quiz to study for, and you are three days behind on your SAT vocabulary, so you sit down to begin your studying.  You start by opening your computer, just in case you need to do any research, and quickly check Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail, as well as looking at activity on your blog.

Before you start you send a quick text and make sure that your friend Diane is also working on the project (she’s lazy but you would never say that to her face).  Now you crank up some music, but also take a quick look at some cute videos of gerbils recreating Rihanna videos.  You are all set and you look down at your clock: 8:45pm.  Oh no!  You only have 15 minutes before a new episode of Ice-Dancing with the Stars and you’ve accomplished nothing!

Does this sound familiar? The biggest issue I run into with my students is how ineffectively they use their “study” time.  I understand.  When I was going through school my studying was anything but studying.  I would cook food, watch TV, do anything but study while still convincing myself that this was effectively using my “study time”.  Studying does not have to take forever and yield zero results.  The most important ingredients in making your study time more effective are as follows.

  1. Find a dedicated work space
  3. Study little by little and review often

1.   Find A Dedicated Workspace

Humans like have different spaces for accomplishing different tasks.  The unfortunate truth is it is more difficult to do homework in your room than it is in your home office.  Period.  This is not to say that doing work in your room is impossible, but your body tends to fall into certain patterns in certain spaces.

If you are lying in bed while you are working you are simultaneously telling your body to “work” and “sleep”  and this can be harmful to establishing a good schedule for either.  If you work in your room, set a portion of it off as work space and ONLY WORK THERE.  Make sure the space is clean, orderly, and has all the tools you need to do your work (i.e. paper, writing implements, calculator, etc.) Having a dedicated work space also helps you with step two.

 2.   Avoid Distractions

This is the single most important tool for utilizing your study time.  We have SO many distractions around us at all times including phones, video games, all forms of social media and internet video.  These things are designed to eat up your time, but your time is valuable! TURN OFF THE INTERNET WHILE YOU STUDY.  Many people find this a bit extreme, but it is far and away the most effective way to prevent you from being lured away by enticing distractions.

Never attempt to study or do work while you are watching TV.  It simply is not an effective way to add information to your long term memory.  The more focused you are on your task, the more that task is valued by your brain and the more likely you are to retain the information associated with a task.

You can listen to music, but try not to listen to anything that you find too distracting.  Singing along to music is great, but does not help you retain what you read.  Read first, then sing to your heart’s content.

3.   Study Little by Little and Review Often

I think of the brain as a dense forest.  Walking through the woods makes a trail, but if you never use that trail again it gets grown over quickly.  If, however, you walk the same trail every day, the trail becomes more or less permanent and can be found later, even years after you last walked it.

The brain is similar in the way it stores memories.  By repeating things often, and over the course of a little time, we can create memories that will stay with us for a long time.  I like to study for half hour periods, and then take a break to do something else for about five minutes. Then, I go back to studying.

Then I begin my next day’s study session, reviewing things from previous days.  In this way, I am reinforcing the memory of the information I have already acquired. Though it requires more forethought, this method actually ends up saving you time.  Instead of studying for four hours before a test, you can study for a half hour a day for a week before the test and retain everything, even after the test has passed.

All of these techniques will help you to use more study time efficiently and effectively.  Happy studying!

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David Greenslade is a Veritas Prep SAT instructor based in New York. His passion for education began while tutoring students in underrepresented areas during his time at the University of North Carolina. After receiving a degree in Biology, he studied language in China and then moved to New York where he teaches SAT prep and participates in improv comedy.