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Make the Most of Prep Over the Holidays

By December 3, 2015December 11th, 2015ACT, For Students, SAT

Holiday-Prep-Post-ImageThis blog post was contributed by Debbie Friedman, one of Compass’ most talented and experienced tutors. Debbie graduated from Brown University and currently works as both a tutor and a professional literary editor. 

As the holidays approach, many students may be planning to jump-start their test prep. The question becomes: how can you best use your time?

Some students may see the holidays as an oasis of free time to finally “binge-prep,” other students may become overwhelmed by expectations they’ve set for themselves, still others may want to be as far from test prep over their vacation as possible. The key, as with most things in life, is finding a balance.

The majority of Compass students will be prepping over the holidays for the February or April ACT, so that will be my focus, but the takeaway for the SAT is similar: Break up the homework into smaller chunks and work on them more frequently.

I can’t tell you how many of my students scramble to complete all of their homework, after not having looked at it for two weeks, right before I arrive. Conversely, I have a number of students who do all their work right after I assign it. This may seem like great time management, but the problem is similar—by the time we review homework, the concepts we’ve been working on have become hazy. While I can certainly sympathize with both approaches (I’ll admit to being more of a procrastinator myself), I see students succeed more readily with consistent practice.

A major challenge of the ACT is pacing. The temptation some more eager students have is to repeatedly work through entire timed ACTs. And while I absolutely recommend timed practice tests, students should aim to take them about once a month, ideally proctored by Compass. Practicing the test by only sitting the full test can just reinforce bad habits (you wouldn’t, after all, train for a marathon by just running marathons, right?).

A practical solution to working on both the pacing of the test and pacing your prep is to carve up the test and practice smaller amounts more frequently. Try picking two sections to focus on each night (e.g.: Science and English on Monday, Math and Reading on Tuesday). Break them up in the following ways:

  • Science, Reading, and English, are all conveniently divided up into passages for you. Give yourself the goal to complete one passage. Then check your answers. See if you can figure out why you missed the problems you missed: Carelessness? Did you let one question suck up all your time? The timing breakdown is as follows: Science: 5 minutes per passage, Reading: 8½ minutes per passage, English: 9 minutes per passage.

The Math section, however, can’t be broken up as easily into smaller chunks. Since the problems get more complex as the Math section goes on, the timing is not uniform, and not all students are even aiming to finish. However, there is still a lot to be said for working on, say, ten problems, then checking your answers. Understanding why you are missing problems is especially useful in the Math section. Are you making careless arithmetic mistakes? Or do you not remember certain formulas? The ACT Math section requires students to know a variety of concepts – from the Pythagorean Theorem to the difference of squares – and familiarity with these concepts and formulas is integral to your pacing. Take the time to review topics you’re shaky on—your work will go that much faster with these concepts fresh in your mind.

You don’t want your entire holiday break taken up by test prep, and you don’t want the only test prep you’ve done to be six weeks (or more) before the actual test. The holidays are a great opportunity, not only to devote time to test prep, but to start setting habits for the weeks and months leading up to your test date.

Ash Kramer

With a career in test prep and higher education that began in the late 90s, Ash has held a variety of educational roles from tutor and writing instructor to administrator. She serves as the Chief Product Officer at Compass, where she is lucky to lead a brilliant team creating the very best digital learning materials.

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