High School Seniors: Balancing Classes, AP, SAT/ACT, College Apps, and More This Fall


High school seniors looking to go to a four-year college next year are all in a similar, stressful situation.  Your schedule is full, your new classes are very hard, you’re supposed to be taking critical standardized tests, and you have college applications to start and finish.  All of this while you are having the added pressure of deciding where you want to spend the next four years and what you want to do with your life.  Not to mention the anticipation of parting ways with many of your closest friends shortly – our private Costa Mesa tutors are here to help with your senior year.

Overall, it really isn’t an easy time for anyone.  Unfortunately, reading this won’t be able to take all of that stress away.  What it will do, however, is give you some guidance to help alleviate your difficulties and help lead you toward success in all of these endeavors.  After helping many students in similar situations, here is some of my advice about how to balance everything in this busy and difficult time:


Hopefully, you’ve already taken your standardized test of choice at least once.  Hopefully, you also prepared for that test by studying and taking practice tests.  If you have, this is good news: with your upcoming test you are only trying to improve your previous scores, and you have a good grasp on the test already.  You are likely a little rusty on the material if you haven’t been studying over the summer, so you need to refresh yourself.

For many students, there is simply no time to take a full-length practice test because of their other obligations.  Instead, take each section one at a time with a timer.  Take a timed reading section one day, and a timed math section the next.  Write a timed essay if you are taking the essay.  By doing this, you only need to find about an hour of spare time to study, while still getting used to the questions again and getting comfortable with the time limits and pacing.

If this is your first test and you have not studied at all, you are in a more difficult situation.  You simply must take a timed, full-length practice test before your real test if you want to perform close to your potential.  You will do poorly (compared to what you are capable of) if your first time taking the full SAT or ACT is on test day.  Wake up early on a weekend if you have to and take a full practice test.  Score it and review your answers or have someone experienced to do it for you.  Students almost always improve by huge margins after taking the test for the first time; make sure that the first time is just practice.

SAT Subject Tests

Many students will also be taking the subject tests this time of year to apply to the few universities that require them.  Because usually, only the more selective schools will be asking for the SAT subject tests, this means that you will want to do well on them.

Unfortunately, these tests are not well-known and are often an afterthought for students who find themselves forced to take them in the fall of their senior year without much or any preparation.  These are still standardized tests, and you still need to be familiar with them if you want to do well.  Like the other standardized tests, you should be taking practice tests.  Luckily, the subject tests are not very long.  Get ahold of some practice tests (official ones if possible) and take them when you have free time.

These tests do require detailed knowledge of the subject you are taking them for, so you will likely have to review your old class material and study.  Take the practice tests early, so you know which tests you are best at and what material you’ve forgotten and need to practice – our private Costa Mesa test prep tutors will help you score high.

AP Tests

Senior year is also the year when students have the most advanced placement (AP) classes on their schedule.  These classes have a lot of added difficulty, as well as the anticipation of trying to pass the AP test at the end of the year.  Luckily, that test is a long way away, and you have plenty of time to study and prepare for it.  If you also need to prepare for other standardized tests, make college applications and feel overwhelmed, then I recommend putting some of your AP prep on the backburner.

This does not mean you should slack off in these classes.  You could easily fall behind and see your grades slip (which you will have to report to the colleges you applied to, even though your applications are submitted before you know your final grades).  Focus in class and make sure you understand everything to the best of your ability.  You just might need to save the extra studying and AP prep for later.

Don’t start taking AP practice tests and having AP review sessions if it means sacrificing your SAT/ACT prep or your college applications.  These are more important right now, and you need to put the time and effort into them before dedicating extra attention to AP material (READ: Costa Mesa Tutoring Tips: 5 Time-Saving Study Tips).

New Classes

The above points are referencing studying that you do to pass the AP exams ultimately – a goal that you should have if you are taking an AP class.  You should save AP test specific studying for later in the year if you are too busy now, but you can’t neglect your grades and new classes.  Here are three simple tips to help you stay on top of new classes during a busy time.

Stay organized.  Don’t start cramming all of your papers into one folder because you think you don’t have the time to organize them.  Don’t write your notes on loose scratch paper or keep every class’s notes in the same notebook. Don’t miss homework or test dates because you didn’t bother to write them down.  Make yourself do at least the bare minimum for organization.  You’ve been in school long enough to know what to do and what not to do.  You don’t need to go over the top and doing anything extra special this year to be organized, but you do need to keep yourself on top of things while your schedule is busy.

Do everything early.  It is easier said than done to avoid procrastination, but it is indisputable that finishing work early will save you from a lot of unnecessary extra stress.  When you get an assignment, do the assignment.  When you learn about a test, study for the test.  When you’re assigned a big project, start it right away.  This tactic will save you this fall.

Find someone to hold you accountable.  This tip goes with the two above.  You need something to hold you accountable for doing things like staying organized, doing work early, and studying.  It could be a parent, or a tutor, or a friend.  Someone who knows what you need to do and can check in on you to make sure you’re doing it.  Find a classmate who will always do the homework early with you so you can make each other do it.  Tell your mom your study plan and write it down so she can follow up with you and make sure you’re staying according to schedule.  Get an experienced tutor who can guide you in your application process or standardized testing and make sure you’re doing what you need to do.  It is easy to slack and procrastinate when there’s no one to call you out on it.  These are all examples of ways to avoid that.

College Applications

You need to do this early and give them the attention they deserve.  Deadlines for regular decision vary, but the most common is usually January 1st.  However, they can be as early as November and as late as next spring.

However, knowing the deadlines shouldn’t be too important if you aren’t procrastinating.  Aim to finish your regular decision applications in October, so you have plenty of time to review, improve, and add new schools.  If you haven’t already, then contact the people you will be asking for letters of recommendation.  Do it as soon as possible and tell them exactly what you would ideally like them to write about you.  The more detail you give your recommender, the more likely they are to give you a letter that isn’t generic and has the details you want colleges to read.

Make your list of schools, familiarize yourself with application requirements and formats, and start writing your essays, personal statements, and resumes.  You should ideally tailor each of these documents to each school, but you should still have your base templates to go off of.  Give yourself several weeks to polish, individualize, and have others read and review.

A good tactic is to make yourself do something application related every day.  Tell yourself that you just need to work on an application for only five minutes.  Often, these five minutes will turn into much more, but even if it doesn’t, five minutes is still progress.  Progress every day will add up.  You will feel better, avoid procrastination, gain experience, and build a healthy habit.  Make sure you stay accountable and do at least a little bit of work each day.  Before you know it, you will be finished, have quality applications, and have plenty of time before the deadlines.

Make sure you have a successful senior year with the help of a private Costa Mesa tutor. Please call TutorNerds today!

Michael C. is currently a private math, science, and standardized test tutor with TutorNerds in Irvine and Anaheim.

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