Cramming for the SAT: Does it Work?

Photo by Mari Helin-Tuominen on Unsplash

Educators often make a big deal about how cramming for tests is a cardinal sin.

Students cramming, they say, will likely a) score poorly on said tests, and b) learn nothing. That’s a little misleading, however.

Anyone who’s ever crammed for a test can tell you that sixty percent of the time, it works every time. Cramming is king on tests that reward rote memorization, like multiple-choice history exams or vocab tests.

Unfortunately for us procrastinators, cramming is about as effective as synchronizing your study schedule with the alignment of celestial bodies when it comes to preparing for tests like the SAT and ACT. The key to absolutely crushing these tests is practicing for them like you would practice a piano concerto for a performance in Carnegie Hall, for an audience packed with classical music critics, celebrity artists, and that kid who laughed at you when you botched Chopin’s “Nocturne in E Flat Major” at a recital when you were in 5th grade.

Test prep services and online study guides are only a few clicks away from today’s smartphone-wielding teens. Yet, very few students have what it takes to master a standardized test. According to data from College Board, only 1% of all U.S. students in the 11th and 12th grade will score a 1450 or above on the 1600-point SAT. This 1% isn’t comprised solely of budding geniuses who skipped two grades and wrote an incisive critique of string theory for Scientific American. It’s also made up of students who sat down and decided to learn how best to study for the SAT. They worked for it.

This is what it takes to be in the top 1 percent of test-takers. 
Though your SAT scores may not be quite there yet, don’t take that to mean you can’t reach your goal with time, effort, and proper guidance. It takes several months for most students to improve to the point at which they can consistently get the high scores they dream of.

Many feel like giving up when they don’t see huge improvement overnight, after just a few test prep classes and skimming through some sample tests in the ol’ Kaplan or Princeton Review. But that’s not how studying works. You don’t go from running an 8-minute mile to running a 5-minute mile in a matter of weeks. You train for it, you keep going a little faster than you did last time until you can run a 7-minute mile, then you aim to cut your time down to six minutes. At Zinkerz, we’ll teach you the strategies and give you the tools you need to train — but you have to want that high score as badly as we want you to reach it.

If cramming isn’t the answer, what should I do instead?
Practice, practice, practice. Not just the kind of practice that has you doing the same thing ad nauseam, but deliberate practice. That means you’re constantly self-evaluating, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, following exercises and strategies designed by an expert to develop specific test-taking skills, and using feedback from others to find areas that need improvement.

There are no shortcuts to success. If you can spend around 10–15 hours each week reviewing your material and running through practice problems, you will see huge increases in your scores that bring you one step closer to getting into your dream school. Let’s get down to business.