We all know that Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were big into tiny naps every couple hours, and that Hegel says the owl of Minerva flies only at dusk – but how can we make the most of our down-time in this incredibly busy season of standardized test preparation, AP tests, SAT tutoring, mid-terms, and high school final exams? As a seasoned academic tutor in New York City, I’ve found that learning how to effectively manage breaks and time off can be one of the strongest tools in a student’s test prep arsenal. By keeping in mind a few of the following suggestions, you can sharpen your study skills, help yourself to avoid burnout, and even increase productivity in these crucial months ahead.
Schedule to keep in control
It’s incredibly important to remember that you are master of your own break. Time off from studying can be key to recharging a tired mind, but here inertia will be your enemy. If you’re planning to spend four hours studying for your AP US History test on a Saturday, set a timer to give you off for a five or ten minute period every hour or so. On a broader time scale, if you’re preparing for a big English midterm next week, set aside a day where you either focus on something non-academic, or at least a different subject. You’ll be surprised at the kinds of insight you can come up with after just a little distance from the topic at hand is achieved. Just remember – keep your hiatus strictly limited!
Mix up activities
Studying really is hard work – and all that yawning you’re doing after a full day of preparing for your finals or reading through your SAT II books isn’t necessarily because you’re bored. Exercising the mind takes very real energy, and you should learn to use your breaks in effectively managing the energy stores you’ve got left. If you’re really drained, it’s been proven that a 20 minute nap can do wonders for mental alertness (just be sure to ask someone to wake you, should you decide to ignore the alarm!). But otherwise, some push-ups, jumping jacks, or even a quick run around the house can really improve your focus and drive – it’s all about increasing the blood flow. My only suggestion would be not to use your break time to catch up on leisure reading. The eyes can only take so much in a given day.
Plan breaks for standardized tests (what’s allowed, what you can sneak in)
Before you walk into your SAT, ACT, AP test, MCAT, GRE – whatever – be sure to look up online how many breaks you’ll have, what’s allowed (snacks, water, etc.), and if you’re allowed to get up, stretch, or even use the bathroom. This will help you not only to prepare for test-day in terms of packing. It will also help you in terms of recreating some of these conditions when you give yourself practice tests. The more you’re used to the conditions, and not just the questions, the more at home you’ll fell on test day and the better you’ll perform.