Earning high exam scores in school and on standardized tests is an important component of a strong college application. They show that you are a good student and that you push yourself to succeed. Strong scores are also a great way for you to demonstrate your academic strengths, whether on an SAT II or on a high level course in school. While there are many ways to prepare yourself for tests, the trick is figuring out what works for you.  

Assessing yourself

The first step to preparing yourself for success is assessing your own strengths and weaknesses. Challenge yourself in areas you are genuinely interested in. Ask yourself: what is a subject that I enjoy studying? What is a subject that I hate studying?

This mindset applies to choosing classes and to choosing which SAT Subject Tests to sign up for. Don’t sign up for a class that you think will ‘look good’ on your transcript or your college application, or because your friends are enrolling in it. Don’t choose to take a subject test in a subject that you don’t enjoy. Why is this so important? Mostly because it will be twice as hard to motivate yourself to study for your exams if you have no genuine interest in learning the subject matter. More broadly though, because authentically devoting your time to your own interests will lead to your success and happiness, and that extends to how you spend your time and to the choices you make. We wrote about this in our 2020 Goals for Students post.

You are the only person who knows you: if you don’t know you – who does? Stay true to yourself, and stay true to your interests, and you’ll find success! 

Gather Materials

Once you’ve chosen tests and classes you’re interested in, you’ll want to do research on the curriculum you are expected to learn and the ways that you can learn it. 

Be resourceful on your search for materials. A plethora of educational resources exist on the internet, and they are often free. Can you learn from Khan Academy or Youtube videos? Or you can listen to an educational podcast. Are there other books that speak to you more than your textbook does?

In the process of gathering materials, you’ll get a better idea of what you need to learn. 

Some concepts may seem equally as time-consuming to learn on paper, but in reality, you might be able to learn one from one 30 minute video and another from 10 one-hour long videos. Consider whether there is a lot of new material for you to learn, or if you will mostly be reviewing material you have learned in the past. Once you’ve reviewed your curriculum in depth, you’ll have a better understanding of the materials and time you need to learn them. 

It is always a good idea to take a diagnostic test if you can find one. Diagnostic tests will tell you where your subject specific strengths and weaknesses lie. Once you take a diagnostic test, you have a benchmark from which you can set your goal. Perhaps you want to increase your subject test score by fifty or one hundred points or your AP or IB score by one or two points. 

Time-Management

Find out when the test dates are, and think about how much time that leaves you for studying. Make sure to account for time away, such as spring break and weekend college visits, or weeks you know you will have a large amount of work in your other classes. 

Be realistic in creating your study schedule. Your focus should be quality of studying, rather than quantity of studying. Studying for thirty minutes or an hour each day may lead to an expectation that your success is guaranteed, but this is relying on quantity not quality. 

What is the quality of your studying? Studying WELL for forty minutes is much more valuable than studying distractedly for three hours.


Rather, focus on mastering a certain amount of content over studying for X number of hours. Perhaps you set a goal to successfully learn one concept or one chapter each week. In biology, you  may aim to master the Krebs Cycle one week and the Calvin cycle the next. While your studying schedule may vary week by week, you should maintain a steady pace towards your studying goals.

The best study schedule is one that is flexible and easily fulfilled, and will allow you to accomplish your goals. Leaving flexibility in your studying schedule will help you to avoid being overwhelmed or burnt out.

Accountability

Another facet of knowing yourself and understanding what will allow you to succeed is knowing how accountable you are. Will you stick to your study schedule? Or will you have to cram in the weeks and days before your exam? Some students tend to procrastinate, while others like to accomplish things with plenty of time left to spare. 

If you know that you tend not to be accountable, you have a few options. You can start your studying process very early and see if you succeed in sticking to your schedule. If so, amazing, keep going!

Another option is to study with a tutor. There are many different ways to work with a tutor. While you might need a tutor to walk you through the entire curriculum, you may also only need one for a few difficult chapters. You might also benefit from learning study tips and tricks, or simply from having a tutor devise a study plan for you.

There are many benefits to meeting with a tutor regularly. Your tutor can keep you accountable, ensuring that you stay on top of your study schedule and stay on track to learn all of the materials before the test date. They can also be an impartial grader for your diagnostic and practice tests, and can proctor practice exams in a distraction-free environment within accurate time constraints, reflecting your test day experience. Most importantly, they can adjust your study plan to meet your educational needs over time.  

Ask yourself if you think a tutor is a resource that will help you succeed in achieving your goals. If you think that that is the case, then be resourceful in finding a good tutor! 

One place you can find a tutor is through Command’s tutoring service. We follow a philosophy of transparent tutoring, and work with you to find a plan that would be most beneficial for you. We prioritize student needs, so we don’t maintain requirements common to other tutoring services, like a minimum session length or a minimum number of weekly sessions. We are here to help guide you towards success while ensuring that you retain autonomy in your studying process. 

Overall, you should make test preparation decisions that will allow YOU to succeed. You know yourself the best. Good luck!

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