The Last 14 Days: How to Review

Stacey Koprince —  July 1, 2011 — 6 Comments

What’s the optimal way to spend your last 14 days before the real test? 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 part here: Building Your Game Plan. Then come back and read this part!

What is a Game Plan?

In the last two weeks before your test, your focus needs to shift from trying to learn new things to acknowledging that your skills are what they are. They’re not going to change an enormous amount in the last two weeks; you can tweak some things, but now is not the time to change major strategies across an entire question type. Further, it would be a mistake to spend your last two weeks entirely focused on your weaknesses; if you do that, then you won’t be prepared to excel on your strengths.

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 strongly recommend 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 exam frequency. Struggling with probabilities or analyze the argument Critical Reasoning questions? Neither are that common; drop them from your list. Struggling with basic and exponential equations or inference Reading Comprehension questions? Those are common, so you do want to review those.

If you’re not sure how frequently a particular type of content or question is, ask on the forums. (I’m not providing a list in this article because these frequencies can change over time; I don’t want someone reading this a year from now 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. Also note that, when I discuss lower-level and higher-level questions below, you will not actually know the question ratings while taking the test. For your purposes, lower-level means I can do this / I find this pretty straightforward and higher-level means I find this hard.

Weaknesses

For your weaknesses, your goals are to answer lower-level questions correctly in roughly* the expected time and to make a reasonable educated guess on higher-level questions in no more than the expected time. Review the basic content and techniques for answering questions of that type; don’t worry about more advanced material. Know what you can do and what you cannot do; know how to tell within 30 to 45 seconds whether you need to make an educated guess on this one. 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.)

* Roughly 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 take 45 seconds less than you’re supposed to and then make a careless mistake. Also don’t take 45 seconds longer than you’re supposed to take. 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.

Strengths

For your strengths, your goals are to answer lower-level questions correctly in less than the expected time and to have a good shot at higher-level questions in roughly the expected time.

For the lower-level ones, you need to study 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?

For the higher-level ones, you need to review the more advanced content and solution techniques to make sure everything is fresh in your mind. 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 you can’t solve it in the expected time frame? How will you make an educated guess?

Pacing Plan

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 practice tests or practice sets of questions you do during your final two weeks.

What if you’re not on time? If you’re too fast “ you’re ahead on time “ then you need to be more systematic; you don’t want to make a bunch of careless mistakes due to speed. Make sure you’re writing all of your work down, taking notes, and tracking your answers on your scrap paper. Double check to make sure you’re answering the question that was asked.

If you’re behind on time “ you’re too slow “ then you’re going to need to sacrifice a question or two to catch back up. You absolutely do not want to speed up on every problem for the next five or ten problems; you’ll just be giving yourself a chance to make careless mistakes on every problem! Instead, the next time you start reading a problem and getting that Ugh! feeling, guess. Guess randomly and guess immediately. That will save you a minute to a minute and a half or so, depending upon the type of problem. If you need to do it again, then do it again the very next time you see an annoying problem. In this way, you’ll be selecting the hardest or most annoying problems as you see them (if you’re going to guess on any, it might as well be those!), you’ll be spreading your guesses out, and you won’t put yourself in the position of running out of time with a bunch of questions to go at the end.

Other Resources

Some past articles may help you develop certain pieces of this review.

For help with timing and pacing benchmarks, read Everything You Need To Know About Time Management.

Click here for help with Educated Guessing on Quant and here for help with Educated Guessing on Verbal.

Take-Aways

  1. Change your focus during the final two weeks of study: away from learning new stuff, and toward reviewing material and developing your Game Plan.
  2. Set your goals. For your weaknesses, get the lower-level questions right in normal time, but make educated guesses on the higher-level ones and move on. For your strengths, get the lower-level questions right in less time than normal, and try your best within the expected timeframe to get the higher-level ones right.
  3. Have a pacing plan and stick to it. Know exactly what you’re going to do if you find yourself ahead or behind on pacing.

Stacey Koprince

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Stacey Koprince is an Instructor and Trainer as well as the Director of Online Community for Manhattan Prep. She's also a management consultant who specializes in corporate strategy. She has been teaching various standardized tests for more than fifteen years and her entire teaching philosophy can be summed up in five words: teaching students how to think.

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