Today, there are more distractions than ever before. If you ask a student about the #1 reason for why he / she cannot spend the ideal amount of time on prep for the SAT / GRE / GMAT, odds are that he / she will tell you that too much time is being spent on the phone, connecting with people or playing games.
It might be easy to condemn this useful tool, and say that a smartphone has no part in test prep. However, we have always believed in turning potential adversity into opportunity, and we have seen multiple instances of technology being used to enhance preparation quality, rather than detract from it or hinder it.
In this Jamboree special feature, we will introduce you to a training partner you didn’t even know you had, and talk about specific ways in which smartphones can increase your preparation efficiency, and help you immerse yourself more completely in test prep material so that you never feel last minute exam pressure.
In every section of every test, there are at least 10 best in class apps that can improve memory, enhance understanding and increase practice time
Getting your basics right in any standardized test is easy, if you are willing to put in the hard work. All you need to do is find the right coach, create a plan with the coach, and then follow the plan. But one element that will always be part of every plan, and that some people can have trouble with, is practice. For a test which has 50+ questions (as pretty much every great global test does), 50+ chapters to master, and takes hours to give in a controlled, unfamiliar environment, there are many levels of practice required – you have to master solving questions, and have to master solving them within a given time, in a particular interface.
Therefore, every second you can spend on practice is valuable, especially in the earlier stages, when you are mastering different areas of content. Fortunately, your smartphone is your friend here: there are many apps that can help you get better at any required chapter. Some of these teach you the basics through creative animations; some of them help you improve your memory through simple association games, some of them allow you to challenge your best performance in various question types (and thereby ensure that you keep getting better), and some of them connect you to a community of people practicing the same questions as you, so that you up your performance due to peer pressure.
There is an app for every kind of test aspirant – from the person who wants to master Quant to the person struggling with Verbal, from the person who can’t wrap his / her head around concepts to the person who just needs more practice to get problems correct, from the person who is too slow to the person who hurries too much, from the person who has too little prep time left to the person who has started months in advance. There truly is an app for everything!
Smartphones can be used to improve your internal sense of time
Pretty much every major standardized test interface has an inbuilt clock, but the data that it gives you is not always everything you need. In an ideal world, you should be able to look at a question and immediately, mentally, allot yourself a number of seconds to solve it. This internal clock should be able to raise an alarm in case you are behind on time, and help you decide dynamically whether you can spend an additional 20 seconds on a question or not.
Of course, this internal clock is not something that most are born with; it develops over time for the vast majority of people, and needs to be trained with diligent practice. Smartphones offer many tools to help you develop an internal clock; over and above the many excellent apps and games where time is of the essence, you can also use the simple stop watch feature to time any daily activity that you know well – for example, any of the steps of a visit to the gym – and try to guess the time that you will take for each activity.
Basically, a smartphone can give you a better, granular sense of time, and put you in a position where you can actually make every second of your big test count.
Smartphones can help you utilize travel time for prep, something that no other tool can
If you are the average student / young professional in India, you probably travel about two hours per day, probably in public transport. This is a long time; over such a journey, there is only so much you can use your favourite messaging app or play your favourite game; after a while, boredom often sets in, and many of the students we coach to success tell us that their first instinct is just to stare out at the road / tracks.
This is time that is definitely not rest or recreation, and that can surely be used for preparation. More than anything else, a smartphone works to make this happen – it is less bulky than a laptop, more connected than a laptop, and more comprehensive and interactive than a book. We have seen three primary uses of a smartphone as a prep device in transit – the first, of course, is through the apps that we talked about earlier in this piece, as a means of direct preparation. Second, it can be used to solve conventional questions and increase speed. Third, it can be used to read informative and / or motivational articles related to the particular test of interest, and fire up a candidate for further preparation at a later date.
Even a small advantage like an hour a day spent on test prep can make a huge difference in the long run; if you have a hundred bonus hours that you spent in perfecting your knowledge of your syllabus, you will be able to take it easy in the final stages, and focus more on the small details like ensuring mental and physical well being, and further practice in realistic simulations.
Smartphones can help you monitor your adherence to work plans, through calendar apps and measurement of time spent on ‘distractions’
A few years ago, you might have had to write down how you spent every half hour of your study / prep time in a book, and sift through all these notes at the end of a day to understand how efficient you had actually been. Luckily, smartphones ensure that we no longer have to live in this old world; a good calendar app will always remind you of what you are supposed to be doing, and as long as you register when you start and stop each important activity, there are a hundred apps that can analyze the data for you.
It is very useful to discuss some of this data with a trained mentor or coach, who can eke out insights from your test score patterns combined with your work plan data collected by your smartphone. For example, your test scores reveal which areas you are good at, which you’re great at, and which areas need work. If you also have access to the amount of time – and quality of time – spent on preparation, it is an easy matter to look back on the prep, and find out what worked and what did not work.
You can then go on to do more of what is working well, and build that into your daily schedule; as regards the inefficient prep time, you should focus on how to make it more effective, and work on changing the way you did things then. Whether the root cause is time of day, difficulty of subject material, work load on day, or something else, your smartphone driven analytics will give you the first warning that a certain session of prep could have, and should have, gone better than it did. Keep in mind that not all distractions are bad, and that your smartphone should ideally tell you how you can use the time you spend on prep better, rather than pressure you into spending every second of every day on trying to get better at your test portion, because that might be counter productive.
Smartphones can act as a great motivator, by delivering a constant, customized feed of information about all your dream schools
The way we consume content is changing by the day; it is no longer newspapers, magazines or even websites that tell us about important occurrences in the world or features that we are interested in; our mobile devices give us any time content at our fingertips, all day every day.
Since the best way to put in additional effort in preparing for a standardized test is to focus on the great benefits of a good degree abroad, you can use your smartphone to your advantage, yet again. To create your customized feed of motivational content, you can start with a set of email subscriptions, that give you access to every newsletter from your dream schools, and the key influencers in your circles of interest.
Next, you can set up alerts that tell you when the next big thing comes along in overseas education; there is nothing that helps in preparing yourself for a life in the big leagues like immersing yourself in the day to day happenings. Finally, you can also join social media groups in the areas of interest, and use your smartphone to keep in touch with bright, motivated aspirants across the globe like yourself.
Smartphones can connect you to prep partners, and spur you on to greater efforts
Long before smartphones became available to the general public as indispensable tools to live life, they were used by corporate executives to plan work and improve efficiency. The fact that we primarily use them for Candy Crush and WhatsApp today does not mean that the efficiency features have gone away; in fact, they are more useful now than ever before.
Using just the basic features available, you can create reminders for every facet of your work plan, to make sure that you never fall behind. You can monitor your progress against that of a close friend or prep partner, and use that to create motivation to study smarter. You can analyze your performance over time; you can stay in touch with a community of people who spur you on to greater efforts.
If you view a standardized test as a professional endeavour, your smartphone will be like your personal assistant, making sure that you are able to function at your optimum levels.
Smartphones can provide useful diversions from prep, and help you go on for longer without feeling any stress
Of course, the big advantage that smartphones can give you is any time prep, but they also perform a useful function that, at first glance, actually looks like a distraction. Their ability to connect you to recreational features (e.g. games) and social features (through messaging apps) reduce the time that you spend on direct preparation, but also improve the quality of prep in the long run by keeping you happy and focused.
As long as you limit the time you spend on diversions and follow your overall study plan, smartphones give you a huge advantage – in terms of overall well being and emotional support – that previous generation of test aspirants never even had access to. Sometimes, you need a distraction to help you come back at full effectiveness!
We hope that, at the end of this Jamboree In Depth feature, you agree completely with us when it comes to smartphones, and see the unlimited potential upside rather than the obvious small downsides of distraction. The important thing is to realize that these devices are not going away from our lives any time soon; the reality we have to live with is that we need to ace test prep in a world where we have constant access to the world in the palms of our hands.
Those who are most successful in standardized test performance are able to use every part of their surroundings – including the omnipresent smartphone – to help them get better and better at the topics they have chosen to master – all you need to do is to work systematically to see the beneficial results on your SAT / GRE / GMAT prep.
In case you want to hear about more interesting hacks to use the modern world to your advantage in an age old quest, you need to become part of the Jamboree community. Luckily, that is very easy; all you need to do is book a session at one of our centres near you, and you can meet an expert or see one of our classroom sessions in progress. Post this, you can work with one of our experts to understand which program is best for you, sign up to our mailing list for a constant stream of useful tips, and much more. All the best!