Building a workable routine

Zikra Rahman


The clock strikes 3 am… 5 hours left until your physics test. On your desk splatters papers and post-its. The words in your textbook don’t even look like letters anymore. Staying awake won’t be an issue though; the second hand ticks. You never wanted to cram your semester into one night… it’s just the math test yesterday, the english essay and the spanish presentation tomorrow. As a student, it gets difficult to balance your school work, social life and well-being through the deadlines and stress. Here are Prep excellence’s tips to building a workable routine. 


Plan ahead


Go get yourself a cute agenda, make a bullet journal or use Google calendar. When you keep all your tasks in your head, a 500 word essay feels like a 48 part presentation. Writing your tasks down puts the workload into perspective, especially when you’re not constantly trying to remember them. After you’ve listed your assignments, you can break the tasks into smaller proportions. 


To do so, determine your working pace, deadline and workload. Divide your work into smaller parts: research, first draft of script, second draft of script, good copy of script, choose pictures for the infographic, make outline for infographic and final copy of infographic. Then distribute a bit of your work throughout your time slot, keeping in mind your limitations and abilities. Then, you should determine and write down what you want to accomplish each day. So, instead of reading 15 chapters in 2 days, read two every day for 7 days. 


Listing things down gives you a greater control of your life, as well as clearing your mind. Now, you can focus on other aspects of you: better sleep because you don’t stay up cramming for your next test and exercising more because you’re not anxiously sitting around anymore. Ideally, you should have four lists. However, people are different and too many lists can have the opposite effect and stress out many. But you should aim for at least a monthly and weekly schedule. And even if you don’t always use a daily schedule, you should opt for one during the exam season and big projects. 


Yearly: for your big projects, goals and personal ambitions. For example, learning a programming language. 

Monthly: to divide your big goals, as well as events, exams and monthly ambitions. You should set out deadlines and big goals here, so, finish learning a specific course by the first week of march. 

Weekly: for your obligations, exams and events. Your weekly schedule will probably be the most pressing. You can divide your monthly goals into here. 

Daily: You divide your weekly goals into here. You list specific tasks you wish to accomplish. Can be used to balance aspects of life other than school or work. For example, try including a 30 minute walk, hanging out with a friend, cutting out on social-media etc. It is also the most effective list to build good habits and routine. Crossing-out every-time you abstain from bad habits and accomplish a routine can “send you on a roll”. 


Set a time to sleep and a time to wake up


The saying: “early to sleep, early to rise, keeps you healthy, wealthy and wise” has its merits. If you’re a night owl, you work better at night and can’t do anything in the morning. However, when you’re sleeping at four am and waking up at 3 pm, it crosses the line. We’re not saying sleep at eight and wake up at four, however, a healthy sleep schedule reduces stress and increases concentration. Setting a target time based on your individual circumstances to sleep will encourage you to start and finish your work before said time. To build a sleep-schedule, keep into account which times you’re the most and least productive, when you have to be awake, your workload, etc. 

Divide your work into light – heavy – medium


The hardest part of working is getting started. So, start with your easiest task to help “break the ice”. Then, finish up your hardest assignments while you’re still “in the zone”. Finally, finishing up with the moderately demanding tasks allows you to take a breath and better adjust to your recreation period.


Define and prioritize clear goals


Although obvious, when working, divide your work according to importance, which can be defined through deadlines and workload. Once you define clear objectives, it becomes easier to divide your work. Some people work better setting up a big ambition at the end of the tunnel: studying will help me graduate and get a job. Others are better off setting smaller, more concrete, ambitions: studying will help me get an A on the exam. 


Don’t overwork yourself


While working hard is important, beware of overworking. Committing yourself to too much can cause burn out, which is often mistaken for laziness. Overworking, often caused by procrastination and stress, is detrimental in the long run: working too much now affects your productivity, ability to accomplish future tasks, mental and physical health. To avoid overworking, instead of immediately moving onto the next assignment, take breaks every time you finish a task. Devote time for recreation and to yourself: meet up with a friend, go on a walk or watch a movie. Setting up recreational events into your time-table can encourage you to finish your work before said time. Whenever you feel the pressure overwhelming you, it’s an indicator you should take time to relax. It’s more effective and refreshing to take small breaks everyday rather than working relentlessly throughout the week and taking one entire day off. 


Drink water, sleep, eat balanced, breathe and exercise


Not taking care of yourself largely contributes to student stress. When the basic needs aren’t paid attention to, things start to slip out of your control. Start by placing a water bottle near/on your desk. Building good habits is tough, so despite the temptation, start small and progressively increase intensity. A 10 minute walk is better than 0 minutes. And slowly, you can increase that 10 minutes to 30 minutes. Consider starting some yoga, meditation and breathing exercises to relieve stress. 


Sneak in revision time


Use seemingly meaning-less time to get work done. If you take the bus home, pull out your textbook pdf and get some reading done or review your chemistry notes. If you’re studying on the go make sure to prepare your material and study goals beforehand: download pdfs of documents if you don’t have internet access and determine how many pages you want to get done. For your next test, take the key ideas of the material and put them into jot-notes on your phone, which you can review while waiting for the subway. You could also play a youtube video or a recording of yourself while you do house-hold chores. Enjoy your schedule clearing up and going-out with friends!


Make friends


Whether your peers are in or out of your academic life, they can help you keep track of your study and life habits. Sprinkling out obligations to them throughout your schedule can help you organize your work around that. Healthy friendships make mundane life more fun; hence help you avoid losing control. A positive influence provides someone to talk and relate to when you’re stressed. Forming a study group or working on an assignment together can make otherwise dreadful studying fun and help you understand the material better. 


Make studying fun and change the pace


When studying is made fun, it exhausts less of your energy. It also decreases the likelihood of procrastination and falling back into old bad habits. Rather than giving yourself a reward at the end, make the actual experience more pleasant. Some tips would be: buy cute stationary, listen to your favorite soundtrack and form a study group. Try out different study methods, like note re-taking (take your scrambled messy class notes and retake them in an aesthetic fashion when you come home/before the test) and the box study method (Make 3 boxes with post-its of your information: check the first one every day, the second every other day and box 3 every week. When you get a question right, promote the post-it to the next box. When you get one wrong, demote it back to the first box). When multiple things are due the next day, a change of pace can help you be more efficient and productive. So, divide your assignments in chunks: 10 math problems, alternate to 30 pages of reading, alternate to writing a paragraph of that essay, take a break then repeat. 


To conclude, the key to maintaining a workable routine is balance. You want to list down your personal, recreational, professional and educational needs, then divide them throughout your time-table accordingly. It’s a method of trial and error as you get to know yourself: your strengths, weaknesses, study habits, pressure limit, attention span, individual circumstances etc. A workable routine must take all these aspects into account in order to be effective and productive. A tip is to replace negative habits with a productive passion you enjoy more, so instead of mindlessly scrolling on your phone, write a new story. Balance also gives you a greater control of your life, which reduces stress, which in turn increases balance. However, getting rid of bad habits can be extremely demanding and overwhelming, so it’s important to break the ice by starting slow and small. For example, to fix a sleep schedule start off with going to bed 20 minutes earlier, then go on from that. Instead of trying to change yourself overnight and giving up after a week, implement little bits of these tips day by day into your life. 

Creating a College List

by Aatina K. Shaikh


If you’re a senior in high school, a lot of the adults in your life have most likely already placed an emphasis on attending college. Senior year is the time for students to get started on the college application process. For many, this part of their lives can be daunting because college admissions are already unpredictable and on top of that, there’s a multitude of steps that must be completed before you can get to the part where you’re opening decisions left and right. Through this series, I hope to be able to guide you through those steps, so you can feel prepared and confident in your college applications. Then, you’ll be able to relax afterwards as you wait for college decisions to be released.

One of the first things students should work on is putting together a list of schools they would like to apply for. Often, the list will change as colleges are periodically added or dropped after learning more about them, which is totally normal. Don’t feel pressure to apply to a school simply because it was on your list at one point. When choosing the colleges students plan to apply to, it’s imperative they complete extensive research to decide if the colleges are good for them. Just because a school is well known or ranked high doesn’t guarantee it’s the one for you.

When researching colleges, it’s important to have about 8-12 institutions on your list in order to have a higher chance of gaining admission to a college. Placing all of your faith on 1-2 colleges is never a smart move. While it has worked for people before, it’s important to understand the importance of maximizing your chances of admission to these colleges, while also having choices in case of circumstances where financial aid is important, or the possibility of falling out of love with a college. An applicant  A good rule of thumb is to have 3-4 safeties, 3-4 targets, and 2-4 reach schools.


What is a safety, target, or reach school?

These are terms that are important to understand when deciding what colleges to add to your list. The terms above describe your likelihood of admission into the institution, which can be determined through a bit of research online. Please, don’t disregard applying to schools that fall into any of these categories, especially those safety schools because there have been many instances where students will go to their safety schools due to their financial reasons, the need to be close to home, or because they weren’t accepted to their target or reach schools.

Safety schools are institutions where your stats place you well above their average admitted student, giving you an almost guaranteed admission. Oftentimes, these are state colleges with high acceptance rates. They allow you that safety net to fall back on in case your target or reach schools don’t pan out.

Target schools are those colleges where you fall between the 25th and 75th percentile when looking at your statistics. These are colleges where you fall into the shoes of their average admitted student, allowing you almost a guarantee of admission, however, there is still a chance of rejection. It’s important to apply to these colleges when looking for a place that will support you as a student and allows you the ability to be surrounded with academically like minded individuals.

Finally, we have reach schools. These are colleges where your stats are below that of their average admitted student. Know that applying to these schools isn’t always a waste of time because there is a lot that goes into making a decision on a student, especially since many institutions have switched to a more holistic approach at reviewing students applications. These colleges are higher up on the list because you are applying with the hope you are possibly accepted, but it’s important to not hold a huge weight on their decisions. An additional note in regards to reach schools: ivies and T-20 schools (those institutions with the single digit acceptance rates) will almost always be reach schools, no matter what your stats are. These institutions accept very few people and the students in their class are incredibly diverse, so while you may be their ideal student, you still may not be accepted due to the slim admission rates.


Researching Colleges

A lot of factors go into researching colleges, though many students don’t know what to specifically look for. I will briefly summarize my top five categories that I believe are important (Cost of Attendance, Acceptance Rate, Average GPA/ACT/SAT, Diversity, and Population Size), but if something isn’t a deal breaker for you, or simply doesn’t hold as much weight, feel free to not include it within your research. There will also be categories that aren’t as relevant to deciding if the college is good for you, however, it’s smart to note. Pro tip: create a google sheet or an excel spreadsheet to store research in to look back on later. I will reference this spreadsheet a few times within this series as it will help a lot when applying to colleges and when receiving admission decisions.


Cost of Attendance (COA):

The COA of a college is imperative to know because while schools do award financial aid through grants, scholarships, and loans, we must be realistic in how much they will give. If you would be an out-of-state (OOS) student, they will most likely award you less than they would an in-state student. This applies heavily to colleges under the University of California (UC schools). They will give little to no aid to out-of-state students; so expect to take out loans or pay for the entirety of their tuition on your own.

For low-income students, take a look at colleges that are 100% need blind. They will award low-income students, full tuition or a full ride if admitted, but keep in mind, they are typically incredibly competitive. Examples of need blind colleges include the entire ivy league, Boston University, Rice University, Stanford University, MIT, and others. If you are low income, you may consider creating a category to mention how willing they are to help with financial need because while not all institutions are 100% need blind, state colleges may have similar rules for students residing within their state, or colleges may guarantee almost 100% financial needs are met. Also, please look into programs such as Questbridge if you identify as a low-income student.


Acceptance Rate:

The acceptance rate will play a big role upon which category you place the college under (safety, target, or reach). It’s great to keep an eye out in order to keep your expectations appropriate for the institution. Oftentimes, students may attempt to avoid applying to colleges with acceptance rates that are too low in order to save money.


Average GPA/ACT/SAT:

This category will allow you to create goals for your standardized scores, while also working to bump your GPA up into their threshold within the first quarter/ semester of school. A strong ACT/SAT (99th percentile score or a top 25th percentile score for the school) score makes any application stronger, but many schools are test-optional for applicants attempting to gain admission into the class of 2027, so it’s important to make a note of that as well in case you don’t have a score in this ranges. Please keep in mind, your score on the SAT or ACT does not make or break an application, nor does it define you. If it did, I’m sure they’d still look for it, however, it holds a small percentage of the decision, especially through holistic review.



This one is important for applicants looking to find a community on campus, especially if you’re likely to house on campus. It also allows for a dash of culture to enrich your time spent at the institution. A campus that is filled with diversity typically has support groups for all groups of people and is more accepting of differences, even within the student body. It also creates a safer, more comfortable environment, say, for students who identify as people of color.


Population Size:

The population size of a campus is incredibly important to your time on campus. If you’re looking for a campus where you see the same few people a day and teachers are typically more interactive with their students, you will want to find colleges with smaller population sizes because it often leads to lower faculty to student ratios. Colleges with under 5,000 students would be considered to have a smaller population size. For students who are comfortable with the idea of a busy campus bustling with life, look for campuses with large population sizes (~10,000+). If a medium sized school sounds perfect for you, where you get the best of both worlds, look for institutions with about 5,000-9,999 students.

You may even consider a category in that spreadsheet for faculty to student ratio if class size is important to you, but it isn’t mandatory and I believe it completely depends on the student’s learning size of comfort when deciding if there is a specific class size they are looking for. Both smaller or larger ratios have their advantages and disadvantages, so bear those in mind when deciding what is best for you.


After the College is Added to the List

Once you’ve decided to add a college to your list, there are a few more things you will want to look for and store somewhere in case you need to find it later on. While it may seem obvious, it’s important to keep these in mind when completing applications.


Application Deadlines:

Making a note of when applications are due allows you to create a timeline for when you begin your applications to these colleges.

There are a few types of admissions, which result in different deadlines. Early Decision (ED) is binding, meaning if you are accepted to the institution, you are required to go legally, unless there is a financial issue. The acceptance rates for early decision will be much higher than the institution’s regular decision or early action, so if there is a college you are sure you want to attend if admitted and it’s your dream school, applying ED may be the route to go. Expect application deadlines in October or November for Early Decision.

Early Action is simply applying early, with no legal binding to the school. You receive your admission decision early, though, there may be a higher acceptance rate for Early Action. Colleges may also require students to apply in the Early Action cycle in order to be considered for merit scholarships, so research if this is the case for your colleges. The application deadline for Early Action is around the same time as Early Decision, so October or November.

Regular Decision will have a later deadline and is the most competitive, but again, there is nothing binding applicants to the school. This is the most common application round, so colleges receive the majority of their applications during this round. The big advantage to this round is it’s due later (December-January), so there’s more time to perfect an application and hold more confidence in it.


Demonstrated Interest:

A select number of colleges will base their admissions decisions on demonstrated interest, so it’s important to keep in mind in order to fulfill this piece of their review. The best way to show demonstrated interest is through visiting the school, scheduling a virtual visit, and communicating with them over calls or emails. Additionally, how you interact with them on social media is important, so try to follow their Instagram accounts or their Twitter. And try to communicate with them frequently because one email simply isn’t enough. You must convince this school you are in love with them (even if you aren’t) because they will have a bias towards students who seem more excited at the prospect of attending their institution.


College Website:

This one is a given. It’s mainly in order to go back when you need to do some more research on specific programs for essays. It helps when you have a direct link because college websites are large and can be hard to navigate because they cater to many different groups of people.


Admission Counselor Contact Information:

This can be important to keep in mind when there are questions the website can’t answer. This is also a direct line of communication that is best to use when demonstrating interest outside of visits. Contacting the institution is a great way to land on their radar, however, don’t bet on this working for prestigious schools with high volumes of applicants. Research the specific admission counselor assigned to your region/location because you will be redirected to them regardless, so it’s best to email them directly for a faster response. If you aren’t able to find their email, don’t stress too much and send it to the generic one because they will most likely redirect you themselves.



Many institutions will guarantee housing for freshmen, even require it, so it’s important to make sure you are aware of these facts beforehand. If housing off-campus is important for you, this may be a deal breaker, however, for those who will rely heavily on housing on-campus, it’s reassuring to know there will be space for you. When they have a rule that freshmen are to stay on campus though, just know, there is almost always going to be a lively student body with events constantly happening to entertain the students and enrich them. The idea of leaving your parents may be nerve-wracking, but rest assured, they will try to give you a great experience while you spend your year there.


Final Thoughts:

The college application journey may seem complicated, however, I hope this series will allow you to have some peace of mind knowing the steps will be laid out for you with detailed instructions. Don’t feel that your college list has to be definite once created. You will learn more about different colleges in the coming months, so it’s okay to change what colleges you are interested in. Just make sure that as you get closer to October or November, you aren’t still constantly changing your list because this will be when writing supplements becomes really important. Keep an eye out for additions to this series to keep yourself on task and in the know this year. It can be hectic, but there are a lot of resources you can avail (I will try to mention as many as I can), so please don’t overlook them. Good luck as you begin your senior year and I hope your personal journeys through the college application process are smooth with very few bumps in the road.

Upcoming SAT Dates: Test Dates for 2021-22

Kaisar Alam, Ph.D.

After the many COVID cancellations in 2020, disruptions to the tests have been minimal in recent months. SAT is offered 7 times a year (March, May, June, August, October, November, and December). SAT is generally offered on Saturdays, but if you cannot take the test on a Saturday for a religious reason, Sunday alternate dates are also available. Some school day tests are also given, and your school will generally notify you about them.

The table below provides SAT test dates, normal registration deadlines, late registration deadlines, and score release dates for the 2021-22. The tests dates are primarily late Spring and in the Fall. This allows juniors to take the test before the summer. The seniors also get multiple chances to hit their score target.


SAT DateRegistration DeadlineLate Registration Deadline*Score Release
August 28, 2021July 30, 2021August 17, 2021September 10, 2021
October 2, 2021September 3, 2021September 21, 2021October 15, 2021
November 6, 2021October 8, 2021October 26, 2021November 19, 2021
December 4, 2021November 4, 2021November 23, 2021December 17, 2021
March 12, 2022February 11, 2022March 1, 2022March 25, 2022
May 7, 2022April 8, 2022April 26, 2022May 20, 2022
June 4, 2022May 5, 2022May 25, 2022July 13, 2022

* For mail registration, late registration deadline is about 1 week earlier.

Registering for the SAT

Begin by signing into your College Board account and going to the registration link is: registration link. The SAT costs $52.00. If you don’t know which test center is best for you, you can find the closest centers here. SAT scores are released in approximately 2 weeks, except for the June administration.

Are top SAT scores still helpful? Yes!

Many colleges have adopted test-optional policies in response to COVID-19, at least temporarily. However, college admission tests still play an important role even for test optional colleges. If you receive a good score for the college (top 25% for the college) or a 99th percentile SAT score, my personal advice will be to submit it and give yourself an advantage in admission test scores.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, test optional policies might make it more difficult to get admitted to top schools. The class of 2023 (2019 freshman class) was the first test-optional class for University of Chicago, but their admission rate dropped 1.3% (7.2% to 5.9%). Even more interesting, the average test score increased 15 points!

Many colleges including Yale and Princeton have announced that standardized testing remains optional for 2021-22 admissions cycle and have indicated indirectly that they intend to resume testing requirements for 2022-23 admissions cycle.

Despite the test-optional policies, 1.5 million students still took the SAT in 2020. Clearly, most applicants are still submitting test scores to test optional schools. You can submit a great score to enhance your application!

SAT Test Prep

It’s never too early to start preparing for the SAT. If you need help with your test preparation, please check out our blog and YouTube channel. Prep Excellence offers several industry-leading test prep courses and top SAT tutoring that you can take advantage of.

© 2021 Prep Excellence. All rights reserved.

College Board discontinues SAT Subject Tests and Optional SAT Essay

Kaisar Alam, Ph.D.

© 2021 Prep Excellence. All rights reserved.

Today, January 19, 2021, the College Board made a major announcement that it is discontinuing the SAT subject tests and the SAT essay.

The cancellation of SAT subject tests in the U.S. is effective immediately. Students currently registered for a future subject test will have their registration fees refunded. Outside the U.S., College Board will offer two more administration of subject tests (May and June 2021) .

The optional SAT Essay will be discontinued after the June 2021 administration. Thereafter, it will continue to be available in the states where it is required as a part of SAT School Day administrations.

While the pandemic might have expedited their demise, the subject tests and the optional essay were losing ground for some time. In fact, the College Board announcement mentioned that the pandemic was a catalyst for these changes, “The pandemic accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to reduce and simplify demands on students.”

While the decision to discontinue the subject SATs does not affect the SAT immediately, the organization will reportedly focus its efforts on the AP exams and developing a more flexible, streamlined, and digital SAT, which would be administered at testing centers by live proctors.

No additional details are available on the upcoming changes to the main SAT. College Board attempted to develop an “at-home” digital SAT last year after the pandemic played havoc with test administration. David Coleman, CEO of the College Board, said it would provide more information in April, but provided no time frame for the digital SAT.

According to the College Board, there have been 2.2 million registrations for the weekend SAT in 2020. However, only about 900,000 tests were administered because of exam center closures due to coronavirus.

The College Board’s statement said, “The pandemic has highlighted the importance of being innovative and adaptive to what lies ahead. We are committed to making the SAT a more flexible tool, and we are making substantial investments to do so.”

SAT Subject Tests

SAT subject tests were multiple-choice tests and were offered in 20 subjects like biology, chemistry, literature, mathematics, physics, US history, world history, and a few foreign languages. Each test lasted an hour and were scored out of 800.

While subject tests were not required by all universities in recent years, many students still submitted them to bolster their college applications. Ivy League and other top schools including Georgetown, Harvard, and Princeton required scores from the subject tests in addition to the SAT or ACT. Approximately 220,000 students from the high school Class of 2017 took one or more subject tests.

The importance of the subject tests, however, has gone down in recent years and few colleges still required the SAT subject tests. Furthermore, subject tests have a lot of overlaps the Advanced Placement (AP) exams, also offered by the College Board. AP exams have become widespread in recent years. Taking the AP subjects can help demonstrate the mastery of a subject and scoring high in the AP exams can provide college credits, which can help a student graduate faster and save money in college. According to the College Board, the widespread access means that SAT subject tests are “no longer necessary for students to show what they know.” Over 1.2 million students in the high school Class of 2019 took one or more AP tests.

The College Board CEO David Coleman said that the aim was to eliminate redundant exams and not to increase the number of students taking AP courses and tests. Coleman said, “anything that can reduce unnecessary anxiety and get out of the way is of huge value to us.”

There might be some unintended repercussions. For example, SAT subject tests allowed many students an opportunity to demonstrate mastery of a second language such as Spanish. These students will have to find other ways to accomplish the same.

SAT Essay

The SAT consists of reading, writing, and math and takes three hours excluding breaks. The optional essay was 50 minutes long and was scored separately.

The essay prompt was introduced in 2005. The current version of the SAT began along with a new essay in 2016. (The ACT also includes an optional essay.) For the SAT essay, the student has to read a passage and explain how the author made an argument to persuade an audience.

Since late 2019, I have advised against taking the SAT Essay (unless a student is applying to school requiring or at least recommending it, such as West Point and Howard). Many colleges have decided that the SAT essay scores were not useful for admissions decision. SAT essay was dropped as a requirement by Harvard and many other selective colleges in 2018. According to Jeremiah Quinlan, Yale University dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid, Yale recently stopped considering SAT subject test scores and the SAT essay score never really became a part of Yale’s review process. He also expressed support for a more flexible, accessible, and digitally available SAT.

Because the SAT Essay was graded manually and the graders had minutes to grade each Essay, objective grading might have been an issue. A 2005 New York Times article reported that Dr. Les Perelman of M.I.T. found that the old version of the essay rewarded long essays and the students were not penalized for factual errors. Dr. Perelman said about SAT Essay, “I would advise writing as long as possible and include lots of facts, even if they’re made up.” I am not aware of any such study for the 2016 version of the test; however, if one of my students was insistent on taking the SAT essay, I would advise him/her to write longer SAT essays to have a chance for a good score. Thankfully, the students will no longer have to worry about the SAT essay going forward.