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I once had a student who told me he “didn’t have enough time” to study for the GRE. Granted, he was a reality TV executive with a family and a two-hour commute – so if anyone had an excuse not to make time for test prep, he probably did. But after we sat down and had a simple conversation about time management and organizational study skills, we were able to make a few actionable recommendations that squeezed more than enough time for test prep out of his daily schedule.
Below are some of the easiest time management tips we suggest to hollow out a more productive routine. They’re painless. And you’ll be surprised by how rewarding it feels to get more done than what you thought you were capable of. In fact, these are organizational strategies I work through with most of my students in New York, and in my experience, they happen to be especially effective for high school and college students.
Assess your calendar
Step one is to take a sober look at how you’re actually spending your time. Sit down with a calendar, and for every day of the week plot out how you’re spending your time, down to fifteen-minute increments. Two and a half hours in class-- write it down. Fifteen minutes waiting for the train or the bus in the morning-- write that down. If you’re spending half an hour scrolling through emails or Facebook before you get out of bed in the morning, put that down too. With an exercise like this, you can start to see many fifteen-minute chunks of potential time you have at your disposal. Next step is to shift wasted opportunities into valuable prep time.
Always have something to read
No matter which standardized test you’re preparing for, sharpened reading comprehension and vocabulary skills are going to serve you well, as standardized exams tend to test your knowledge of vocabulary in context throughout the structure of the exam -- where it’s a reading section, writing, or even math and the hard sciences. You can work on these during every break in your day as long as you’re always carrying something interesting and challenging to read. Of course we always have access to this stuff electronically, but try making the most of print for reading – it’s easiest to be able to mark up an article, circle words that are unfamiliar to you, and underline passages that you want to return to. Try something informative and written at a relatively high level – like the New York Review of Books or Times.
Make the most of your phone
While phone reading isn’t always the best in terms of lasting comprehension, you can use your phone or tablet as a really convenient notepad and study device. I always tell my students to use it as a safety net – if you’re not carrying blank notecards for vocab words, your book for reading assignments, or your math text for practice problems, use your smartphone for it! There are tons of apps that will do in a pinch for test prep, and it never hurts to familiarize yourself with them.
You work hard! And when you’re focusing this much on eliminating wasted time in your schedule, it’s important to corral a bit of your day just to treat yourself for being so diligent the rest of the time. Plus, having something to look forward to can help you work that much harder during the rest of the day. Whether it’s a TV show you get to watch only after finishing your assignment for the week, or a dessert you get to eat after completing a book chapter – or even a podcast, like this excellent episode of Freakonomics that explores the potential of willpower: It’s important to have something tangible you’re working toward in the near future that’s not test-related.
Make yourself accountable
This is a big one. It’s important to fill someone in on your preparation plans – whether it’s a friend, a partner, your parents, or even a tutor – and to make yourself accountable to that person throughout the course of your preparation. Knowing that you have someone who can check in on you at any moment to see how your work is going can be a prime motivator in making the most of your time, in keeping organized, and staying honest with your preparation.
Of course it can be more complicated than this to whittle away the time required to study for the SAT, GRE, MCAT, or whatever it is you’re interested in. But give some of these time management tips a try and see if you don’t find yourself with more time to devote to preparing for the next step in your academic career.
For more relevant reading, check out these other blog posts, written by our tutors: Is Exam Stress Necessarily Bad?, Achievement Goals and Why They Matter, The Bionic Power of Mnemonic Devices. Looking to work with Andrew Jungclaus? Feel free to get in touch! Cambridge Coaching offers private in-person tutoring in New York City and Boston, and online tutoring around the world.