How to Stop Procrastinating on SAT and ACT Prep

The biggest barrier between incredible SAT and ACT scores might come as a surprise to some students. It’s yourself! There’s a marked difference between the test performance and score improvement of different students, and that difference has nothing to do with their school, their family, or their interests and extracurricular activities. It has everything to do with how MOTIVATED the student is to improve.

Two students of equal intelligence, one of whom takes the initiative to study, do his or her homework, ask questions, and review mistakes, and the other of whom simply shows up to an SAT or ACT prep lesson once every blue moon (and most often right before a big test), will achieve VASTLY different scores on the test. I see it all the time. The students who improve the most are those who put in DAILY work, ideally–or, at minimum, weekly work. These are the kids who go to SAT and ACT prep lessons every week throughout their sophomore or junior years and ENGAGE with the material, do homework, ask the right questions, review their mistakes, and take practice tests. They’re NOT the kids who procrastinate.

Procrastination is the number one enemy of SAT and ACT prep, but how do you recognize it and eliminate it before it’s too late? How do you STOP the negative cycle of procrastination? It takes mindfulness, but it can be done. Here are some tips!

Recognize what procrastination IS. Procrastination is putting off for tomorrow what you could easily do today. The decision to procrastinate is actually an unconscious one. It’s almost as if the brain and body are telling you, “You’ll be fine! Why not rest and have fun today?”

Ironically, procrastination can affect intelligent students just as much, if not more, than it affects average students. Why? Intelligent students are often used to things being easy for them and coming easily for them. They do well on tests without studying, so why would they study for the SAT or ACT? Sadly, this mentality leads to a rude awakening once they don’t get into all of the colleges they’d hoped to get into. And then, when they find themselves IN college, they’re surrounded by people who are smarter than them! Things stop being a cakewalk, and they haven’t cultivated the pattern of disciplined study that leads to academic success. This is why many naturally gifted children burn or fizzle out! When the going gets tough, they jump ship, because they’re not used to FIGHTING for their academic achievements.

How can you instill positive patterns of productivity? How can you recognize that by taking care of your business now, you’ll not only feel more prepared and less anxious about upcoming tests, but you’ll also end up having MORE free time to enjoy doing the things you truly love?

Make lists containing small tasks and physically cross things off

Lists can include long-term goals and short-term ones. The long-term ones are akin to affirmations. The short-term ones are where the magic happens. It’s like driving in the dark, as the old adage goes. You can only see as far as your headlights illumine, but you’ll get the whole way that way. Focus on what’s in front of you. Do not focus on the past or the future. The PRESENT moment is all that exists and is all that ever will exist. Be present. Complete one task at a time. By making the tasks small and manageable, you’ll get so much done, and you’ll feel incredibly productive. The first thing on your to-do list each morning can even be “Wake up!” You’ll have something to cross off immediately. Doesn’t it feel good? Make your goals small and actionable. Instead of “Study SAT,” try “Do page 432-442,” then “Check answers,” then “Review your mistakes.”

Give yourself rewards

Perhaps the great secret of successful people is that they make sure to do MORE than just work all the time. They give themselves rewards for completing tasks. Rewards are an incredible motivator. Whatever you’d like, tell yourself you can have it once you complete a task. Small rewards for small tasks, big rewards for big tasks. Whether it’s a slice of chocolate cake or a night out at the movies or even a trip to Australia, when you have a reward in sight, you’re more likely to accomplish a task. Remember, too, that completing the task is a reward in itself.

Complete the most difficult task first

Once you get the little things at the beginning of your to-do list out of the way, such as “Wake up,” “Have coffee,” and so on, the first major task you complete should be the most difficult. We only have a finite amount of energy and brainpower available for us to use each day, so it’s essential that you take advantage of the time at which you have the most brainpower and energy–usually early in the day, but often in the evening for some people. Get the toughest task out of the way. This is the task you’re naturally inclined to leave for last, and as such, it’s the task you don’t get around to and end up procrastinating on. You tell yourself, “I don’t have the time or energy for this task. I’ve been productive, though! I’ve checked my e-mail a hundred times and read five random articles and taken three Facebook quizzes. The big and important task will just have to wait until tomorrow.” Don’t do that! Get the big and important task out of the way first.

Change your environment or workspace

Many people procrastinate because their environment is cluttered, distracting, or far too comfortable. Why do your homework in your pajamas, lounging on your bed or favorite chair? You’ll simply get distracted, do something easier or more fun, or fall asleep. Go to a coffee shop, go to a library, make a work space for yourself at home that is CLEAN and free of distractions. Get natural light. You’d be surprised at how finding or creating the right environment for work helps you get things done.

Turn OFF your cellphone. Turn OFF the Internet. Work WITHOUT a computer.

The number one distraction in most people’s lives is technology. It’s a tool. When used properly, the Internet and your phone can provide you with valuable information. But when you’re attempting to focus and get deep work done, it’s a killer. Do NOT allow yourself to use the Internet or use your phone. Allow yourself five minutes of phone or Internet use once you have COMPLETED a significant task. Phone use and Internet use fall strictly under the category of “rewards.” It’s going to be incredibly difficult to cut the cord, but you MUST do it. If you only take one piece of advice from this article, staying away from technology as you work is the one to take with you. Obviously, many projects require the Internet. But you should be conscious of how you use technology. You don’t need it for every second of the project in most cases, so do what you need to do with it, then UNPLUG and get some real work done.

Have a snack or beverage in advance

How much of your work day is spent preparing yourself little snacks or getting yourself beverages? Get those in advance, so hunger and thirst won’t distract you. The last thing you want is to spend your study time making food or drinks. Plan ahead!

Schedule a time and stick to it–the power of ritual

There’s something to be said for sticking to a schedule. Once you carve out a space of time for an activity and DO the activity every time the designated time rolls around, something happens in your brain! It becomes MUCH easier to do the activity, since you’ve programmed yourself to do it. By creating a regular schedule and sticking to it as closely as possible, you’ll be creating a positive loop of productivity against which the negative loop of procrastination stands no chance!

Take breaks. Take walks.

This falls under the category of “rewards,” as it’s vitally important that you actually get something DONE before you take a break. But if you feel stuck, don’t hesitate to take a five-minute break or a ten-minute walk. Be strict about the time-frame for your breaks. It’s easy to spend the whole day taking breaks, but if used correctly, taking breaks and taking walks can provide you with precisely the boost you need.

Find a study partner to hold you accountable

You are who you surround yourself with! If all your friends do is distract you and cause you to make bad choices, get some new friends! Or, at least, get some new STUDY partners. By working in a group, you’ll more easily be able to get things done. The risk here, of course, is that the group spends more time socializing and procrastinating together than they do working. Set ground rules beforehand. 30 minutes of work, 5 minutes of talking. Whatever works for you. But having a motivated and productive friend to work with can really have a positive effect on your work ethic.

Visualize success and what it means

This is a powerful tool. Visualization leads to actualization. Tell yourself, “I will get above a 1500 on the SAT. I will get above a 30 on the ACT.” Whatever you want, imagine yourself getting it. Feels good, right? Guess what? YOU have the power to make it happen. YOU are your greatest ally. The voice in your head, however, that tells you to procrastinate and be lazy is your greatest enemy. That voice is not YOU! You are the conscious AWARENESS of that voice, the consciousness that has the power to visualize and to TAKE DELIBERATE ACTION. Awaken to the present moment and complete one task. Then complete another. Before you know it, your vision will have become a reality that YOU created. Celebrate it!

STOP Thinking

Thought is the enemy of productivity. I don’t mean conscious, deliberate thought. I mean negative background noise. How do you eliminate useless thinking? Be here now. Focus on your breathing. See what’s in front of you. If you catch yourself getting distracted or obsessing over the past or worrying about the future, or thinking of someone or something that has absolutely no relevance to the task at hand, simply acknowledge the thought, observe it, and let it pass. Re-enter the present moment. Re-read the question. Re-read the problem. Become the master of your thoughts by being HERE now and taking DELIBERATE action rather than allowing yourself to be caught up in a flurry of useless negative thoughts and mindless activity.

Stop reading this article! It’s over. Go complete ONE task. Just one. You’ll be glad you did. In fact, you might even complete another. And another. And another…

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That’s it! For more SAT and ACT prep tips, check out the rest of our blog. Looking for 1-on-1 ACT or SAT prep tutoring to help you with the college application process? Want to join an SAT or ACT group class? Contact us today!  We’re perfect-scoring tutors with years of experience helping students achieve the SAT and ACT scores they need to make their dreams a reality!


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