Ellen’s Choice: Applying my rules of Effective Time Management to the SAT, Part 3: Mix and Match!

Ellen’s Rules For Effective Time Management, Part 3

5. Mix up your subjects.

Spending all day working on the same project can lead to feelings of frustration and inadequacy. Mixing up your subjects helps the brain to stay engaged, since it can’t fall into the trance of working on the same thing for hours. If you’re writing a paper and starting to feel annoyed or frustrated with it, take a break and work on your math for a bit. You’ll sit back down to the computer feeling refreshed and relaxed, even if you haven’t stopped for more than fifteen minutes at a time all day.

6. Make the delineations between subjects clear and firm.

When mixing up your subjects, keep them distinct and separate from each other. Take a short break between subjects, or place the rest of your notebooks on the other side of the room so that you’re forced to get up and move around in order to change subjects. Give your brain several minutes to clear and reorganize for the next subject before you dive back in.

The same goes for organization—if you’ve got six subjects all sharing the same notebook, use dividers or get a five-subject spiral notebook to keep them all separate. If you use a three-ring binder, be very picky about where you put your notes. Take a few minutes at the end of each day to sort through your notes and handouts, punch holes in anything that needs it, and arrange them in the correct places in your binder. Keep everything you need for a certain subject in one place. It’ll only take a few minutes per day, but you’ll be rewarded with a much more manageable notebook and far less time spent sifting through loose-leaf paper looking for the prompt for your essay or that one sheet of notes about summations.


These rules apply to the SAT too, though they now apply differently since the SAT’s 2016 Redesign. Before the redesign, the SAT was comprised of nine short sections that alternated subjects between math, verbal, and writing. That format synched up nicely with rule #5, keeping you on your toes by shifting subjects frequently. Not so with the new SAT. Now it more closely resembles the ACT, with one longer section for each subject. So you can’t really mix up your subjects in the same way, rather, you should be practicing staying focused for a solid hour of question-answering on a given subject.

Rule 6 still applies, though, because you will still need the ability to switch subjects quickly. Generally you are given between 2 and 5 minutes’ break in between sections on the SAT, and you’re often not allowed to leave the testing room during that time. So it becomes extremely important to learn to clear your mind quickly and reset for the next subject. Close your eyes, take some deep breaths, whatever you feel you need to do to let go of the previous section and recenter your mind for the next one. If you can, get up and walk around the testing room (or out in the hall if you’re allowed) for a minute or two; shaking the kinks out of your body helps to clear your mind. Try a quick observation exercise – see how much you can see, hear, smell, or feel about your surroundings. Opening up your awareness will help to get you out of the test for a moment. Try not to get too distracted, though – you’ll want to rest your mind while you can and prepare for the next section.

Stay tuned for part 4: Procrastination Sucks!

Writing Rundown: Persistence Pays Off in “Peripheral Presence”

This was a really hard essay to write. Not because I couldn’t figure out what to write about; I knew almost from the moment I read the prompt that I wanted to write about Dracula. On the contrary, it was hard because I had TOO MANY ideas for this essay – I had so many thoughts buzzing excitedly around in my head that my outlines kept coming out really scattered and disorganized. I went through, no joke, at least FOUR different outlines for this essay – and I refused to even start writing a draft until I’d sorted out what precisely was wrong with my outline, scrapped it for the third time, and started over from scratch. I went through several different organizational schemes, starting with one centered around a favorite Hitchcock quote about suspense that was a good idea, but ultimately, had no place in this particular essay. My outline eventually settled on the format that probably should have been obvious from the start – the one that related most closely to the prompt. My outline finally – FINALLY – took on the shape of an essay composed of a paragraph each for the three parts of the prompt (action, theme, and the development of other characters).

Once I had a draft written, it hovered on my computer missing only a conclusion for a long time, because I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was still missing something…some key component of my thesis that I hadn’t addressed thoroughly enough. I had actually surprised myself with a really solid working thesis, even though it was technically two sentences instead of one:

While he rarely physically shares the same space as our heroes, their knowledge of Dracula’s constant scheming and plotting spurs them to act decisively, take risks, and in a variety of ways give their life’s blood in service of his destruction. In a sense, Dracula is the one who turns them into heroes.

Reading through my draft, I realized that other than an initial paragraph about Jonathan Harker scaling the walls of Castle Dracula, I had neglected that second sentence of my thesis – the idea of Dracula being the one who turns them into heroes. THAT was arguably the most important part of my argument – how does his rarely-seen presence become significant? He turns the protagonists into heroes, and brings about his own undoing!

Once I finally figured it out, the essay clicked together pretty quickly. The whole idea of an archetypal hero is a big, complex topic that could probably have been its own series of essays, so I didn’t want to dive too deep into the idea of ‘what makes someone heroic.’ That’s for another essay. So I kept it to a few extra sentences at the end of each paragraph to point out the heroic nature of the actions taken by the protagonists, and the hand Dracula has in prompting all of those actions.

The moral of the story here is that persistence pays off – and that it’s far less intimidating to get the bulk of your brainstorming out in the prewriting phase than it is to rework an essay that’s already drafted. Scrapping an outline – or three or four – is easy. Scrapping three pages of drafted essay can be traumatizing. But sometimes drastic measures are necessary – take a deep breath, clear your mind, and come back to your prompt.