The Last 14 Days: How to Review
As we discussed in the first half of this series, Building Your Game Plan, during the last 7 to 14 days before you take the real test, your entire study focus changes. In this article, we’re going to discuss the second half of this process: how to review. (If you haven’t already read the first half, do so; then come back here and continue with the second part.)
What is a Game Plan?
The first half of the article, found at the link above, discusses how to build and implement your Game Plan. At the same time, you’re also going to be reviewing, so let’s talk about that!
What to Review
Part of the game planning process is determining your strengths and weaknesses (which is why I recommended that you read the Building Your Game Plan article first). You’ll then need to consider your list of strengths and weaknesses from the point of view of how frequently those topics or question types tend to be found on the real exam. Struggling with probabilities or “evaluate the conclusion” Critical Reasoning questions? Neither type is that common and you have just two weeks left; drop them from your list. Struggling with exponential or quadratic equations or inference Reading Comprehension questions? Those are much more common, so they need to be on the review list.
If you’re not sure how frequently a particular type of content or question appears on the exam, ask on the forums. (I’m not providing a list in this article because these frequencies can change over time; I don’t want people reading this in future to be misled when things do change.)
How to Review
How you review is going to vary somewhat depending upon whether you’re reviewing a strength or a weakness. You do NOT want to do the same kind of review for everything, but you DO want to review both strengths and weaknesses. Below, I will discuss “easier-for-you” and “harder-for-you” questions, since we don’t actually know any difficulty levels when taking the test. “Easier-for-you” means that you find the question fairly straightforward and you expect to answer it correctly without needing extra time, though you may sometimes make a careless mistake. “Harder-for-you” means that this question is more of a struggle, though you still will answer some of these correctly.
Overall, your review will include several consistent components:
- For RC and CR, a review of the major question sub-types, including how to recognize them, what kind of reasoning to use to get to a correct answer for that type, and how to avoid the common traps for each type.
- For SC, a review of the major strategies for answering any SC question, as well as a content review of the major areas tested. At the time of this publication, the three most important areas are Modifiers, Meaning, and Parallelism. The next “tier” of topics includes Subject-Verb Agreement, Verbs, and Comparisons.
- For PS, a review of and some practice with the major math skills (formulas to memorize, how to manipulate equations, how to translate from words to math, etc.) and the major standardized test solving techniques (plugging in your own numbers, trying the answer choices, estimating, etc.).
- For DS, a review of the overall solving strategies for this question type (rephrasing, using the answer grid, and so on) and common traps (for example, the C trap), in addition to a general review of the major math skills and standardized test solving techniques (similar to PS).
For weaknesses, your goals are to answer easier-for-you questions correctly in roughly* the expected time and to make a reasonable educated guess on harder-for-you questions in no more than the expected time. Review all of the basic content and techniques for answering questions of that type; don’t worry about more advanced material. (Remember, these are your weaknesses.)
Know what you can do and what you cannot do; know how to tell within about 45 seconds whether you need to make an educated guess on the problem on the screen right now. Then, review how to make educated guesses on problems of that type. (Note: an educated guess is just a fancy way of saying “identify and cross off at least one wrong answer before you guess.”)
*Note: “Roughly the expected time” means within 20 to 30 seconds of the average time you are supposed to spend on questions of that type. Don’t rush so much that you “save” 45 seconds on the problem and then make a careless mistake. Also don’t take 30+ seconds extra on any “weakness” problem. If it’s going to take you that long just to have a chance on something that’s already a weakness, it’s better to make a guess now and use that time elsewhere.
Give yourself permission to dump any of these questions when necessary, especially if you are already behind on time (the Game Plan part of the article talks more about this). Most important of all, do not lose time on questions that are in an area of weakness for you. You can still spend the normal time, but do not spend extra time on these questions.
For your strengths, your goals are to answer easier-for-you questions correctly in less than the expected time and to have a good shot at harder-for-you questions in roughly the expected time. (Again, recall that “roughly the expected time” does allow you to take 20 to 30 seconds longer on some problems.)
For the easier-for-you ones, you need to review how to be more efficient with the questions you can already do without much trouble. How can you shave 10, 20, 25 seconds without affecting your accuracy? How will you be able to spot the same shortcuts in future; what are the clues that should make a shortcut or an obvious wrong answer jump out at you? Also, review both the basic and advanced material for questions on the “easier-for-you” side, with more emphasis on the advanced material.
For the harder-for-you problems, depending upon your scoring level, you may need to review only the basic material or a combination of the basic and advanced material. Most people will need to do some combination of the two. Again, know what you can and cannot do; you may receive something that’s too hard for you even in an area of strength. How will you recognize that this one isn’t going to happen in the expected timeframe? How will you make an educated guess?
You’ll also need to review your pacing plan. How are you going to check yourself periodically to make sure that you’re on track? What are you going to do if you discover that you’re ahead of time or behind? Some people like to check the clock every 10 or 15 minutes; they know what question they should be on at certain time intervals. Others like to check based upon the problem number; at problem 10, for example, they know how much time they should have left, and at problem 20 and so on. You can use whichever method works best for you, but do have some way of checking to make sure that you’re on time; you need to get into the habit of checking approximately every 8 to 10 questions or every 15 to 20 minutes. Practice your pacing plan during whatever practice tests or practice sets of questions you do during your final two weeks.
- Change your focus during the final two weeks of study: away from learning new stuff, and toward reviewing material and developing your Game Plan.
- Set your goals. For your weaknesses, aim to get the easier-for-you questions right in normal time, but make educated guesses on the harder-for-you ones and move on. For your strengths, get the easier-for-you questions right in less time than normal, and try your best within the expected timeframe to get the harder-for-you ones right – but let go and guess when you need to do so.
- Have a pacing plan and stick to it. Know exactly how you’re going to fix the situation if you find yourself ahead or behind on pacing.