If you’re like most high school students, there isn’t a lot of downtime in your day, let alone time to study for something other than your normal homework. Yet the SAT looms in your future, and you keep hearing about how you need to start studying for it months—maybe even years—in advance. How can you fit SAT prep into an already overloaded school day? The solution is simple: study in 5-minute segments. Even the busiest teenager has 5 minutes to spare—whether riding in the car, waiting for practice to start, or sitting in the dentist’s office—so there are no excuses: start prepping for the SAT now.
The following is a list of our top recommendations for quick, on-the-go, 5 minute study sessions.
1. Read a boring article.
The SAT selects dry, difficult passages for the reading comprehension questions. Get prepared for such utter boredom by reading similar articles, which you can find in our suggested magazine reading list. Print a few to take with you, and whenever you have a few minutes, read! Concentrate on the main idea of the article and how the author feels about that main idea.
2. Learn 5 SAT vocabulary words.
Print out our free Repeat Offender Flashcards, and you can take SAT vocabulary words with you wherever you go. Even better, get the free eBook (located on the same link) for your phone. If you have 5 minutes waiting in line in the school office, pull out the Repeat Offenders and learn 5 words. These short study sessions will add up over the school year, and before long, you’ll have a profound SAT vocabulary. And if you don’t know what "profound" means, then you’ve proven just how badly you need some vocabulary study.
3. Take a vocabulary quiz.
If my little test using the word "profound" didn’t convince you to amp up your vocabulary study, take a formal assessment free on our website (if you haven’t figured it out by now, everything in our Free Help Area is, well, free. It wasn’t easy, but I’ve talked the boss into putting more free stuff out there than most SAT websites. You’re welcome). These quizzes take only a few minutes to complete, and they are great for both revealing how much vocabulary work you really need as well as testing what you have learned.
4. Rewrite a math problem.
Know the very best way to learn something? Teach it to someone else. I consider myself a non-math person (put some serious trigonometry in front of me and I’m likely to sneak out the bathroom window when you’re not looking), but I can consistently score above a 750 on the SAT Math section. Why? Because I have rewritten thousands of SAT math questions. The College Board does not release its official questions for use by tutors or test prep companies, so authors like me have to create questions for our books and courses. To make our questions as accurate as possible, we use official questions as examples and modify and update them. Then we have to test them to make sure they work. I might run through 20 combinations of numbers before I find a set that make a question work, but in the process, I’ve practiced that question 20 times. So if you have 5 minutes to spare, challenge yourself: can you take the same question, and make it work with new numbers? Can you change the question slightly to make it your own creation?
5. Learn 5 math formulas or relationships.
We don’t stop at free vocabulary flash cards. Oh no, not us! We also have free math flashcards! Print them and throw them in an outside pocket of your book bag. When you’re waiting for the team bus before your game, take them out and memorize five relationships that are tested on the SAT. The test does provide some basic geometry formulas, but we want you to memorize them and many others that can help you on test day.
6. Complete a short math problem set.
In 5 minutes, you can complete 4 problems and still have time left over to check and review your answers. We have some sample problem sets on our website to start; once you finish those, work through 4 questions at a time on the College Board’s free practice test or on one of the tests in the Official SAT Study Guide. Remember, though, that the key to a score increase is studying what you did wrong, so be sure to review each question that you missed or guessed correctly.
7. Recreate a grammar question.
Just as you should create your own math questions mentioned in #4 above, you should also rewrite your own grammar questions. If you struggle with a question, rewrite it, making the error the same in both questions. Model your sentence off of the one in the question, but change the topic. This will familiarize you with common SAT sentence structures, as well as alert you to error patterns.
8. Practice a short Writing problem set.
More free stuff! In 5 minutes, you can practice, score, and review 6 multiple-choice Writing questions. We’ve got a starter problem set on our website. After you complete it, tackle 6 questions at a time on the College Board’s free practice test or on one of the tests in the Official SAT Study Guide.
9. Plan an essay.
In our courses and books, we recommend spending 4 to 5 minutes planning the essay you will write. This involves determining your viewpoint and brainstorming examples that support your position. So take 5 minutes to read an essay question (never fear, you can find some here!), and then jot down your stance—a rough draft of a thesis, basically—and four or five examples that provide evidence of that stance. Don’t write the essay; simply plan for it. This invaluable practice will hone your ability to think quickly under pressure when the real test rolls around.
10. Solve the SAT Question of the Day
Every day, without fail, the College Board releases one random Math, Reading, or Writing question on their website. Who said they were evil, conniving test makers? This simple act of viewing a single question each day will eventually expose you to all of the types of questions on the test and all of the patterns in the questions. You should complete these questions daily. Better yet, print them out and start a library of SAT questions. You can use them later when searching for specific types of questions or when writing your own versions of questions. Do it. No excuses.
11. Decipher a puzzle.
The SAT is a reasoning test, and there is no better way to sharpen your reasoning skills than by completing reasoning puzzles. Shocking, I know, but we offer some free puzzles on our website, and you can also find them in newspapers, magazines, and variety puzzle books. My grandmother was an avid crossword puzzle fan, but she hated the logic games that came in her puzzle books. As a middle school student, I started completing them when I visited her, and I can honestly say that the skills I learned from determining whether Alma, Betty, or Curt either flew, drove, or hitchhiked to either Denver, Edmonton, or Flagstaff have served me well in school, on tests, and in life. They might make your brain hurt for 5 minutes, but repeated practice will make the SAT painless.
12. Relieve SAT pressure.
Struggle with test anxiety? Take 5 minutes before the test to study how to relieve the pressure. We have some ideas in our Free Help Area that may help you distress less, but you should also start practicing calming breathing techniques, performance visualization, and self-confidence building (“I will ace the SAT, I will ace the SAT, I will ace the SAT.” And I am so not kidding). If you know you suffer from test anxiety or excessive pressure, you must deal with it now, not on test day.
Obviously it’s not ideal to study for the SAT for only 5 minutes at a time. Most students need to commit to more serious study time, especially in the months immediately preceding the test. But if you are just starting to think about taking the SAT or are short on time, these suggestions can help you jumpstart your training and keep you fresh on the days that just don’t allow you a full study session.
Photo: 5 Minutes to Midnight, courtesy of Markus Grossalber