06/18/2014 10:35 am ET Updated Aug 18, 2014

4 Steps to Avoiding the Summer Slump

We've all been there.

Whether we have three hours of free time after school, three days of free time during a long weekend, three weeks of free time during winter break, or three months of free time during the summer vacation, we start out by thinking, "Oh good! Three whole hours/days/weeks/months! Now I can really get something done!"

Sometimes we are successful, but all too often, we find ourselves at the other end of that time period and wonder "Where did it all go?"

Summer vacation obviously provides you with a major opportunity to make progress in SAT/ACT test prep. Without the daily pressures of school, you have much more energy to devote to sharpening your skills. But, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, "With freedom comes responsibility."

Sure, you have a lot of time available to you to make progress, but you also have a lot of time available to misuse. To put it another way, if you were given one million dollars, you could spend it on things that matter to you like an African safari, theater tickets, or a charitable donation; or, you could spend it on a lifetime supply of gum balls.

No disrespect to gum balls, but I choose option #1.

So, how does one avoid the summer slump? Here are my tips for making the most of your summer break:

1. Make a list of other things you'd like to do that have nothing to do with test prep, and do them!

There's a Lucille Ball saying that I love, "If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it."

By having things to do other than test prep, you are cultivating an active, engaged lifestyle. These other things don't all need to be productive: they could be seeing a movie with friends, taking dance classes, going for runs, writing a screenplay, or reading a novel at a nearby café. The point is, it's a lot easier to motivate yourself to do something when you are staying busy than when you are sitting on the couch watching television (I know this from experience). As the Newtonian law states, an object in motion stays in motion.

2. Set clear goals for what you want to accomplish in your test prep and how--and why--you will accomplish it.

Do you want to raise your score? Take a certain number of practice tests? Learn all of the grammar and math rules? Increase your vocabulary? Practice working with a digital watch? Develop your impromptu writing skills? All of the above?

Take a few minutes to reflect on what you want to accomplish. Be as specific as possible.

Next ask yourself exactly how much time you want to commit to accomplishing your goals every week. I find that having regular days to work on your goals helps, but you may prefer having a goal such as "I will work for 90-minutes any three days in a given a week" or "I will commit twenty minutes to vocab exercises every morning" or "I will take and review one full-length test every-other week."

Last, but not least, consider why your test prep matters.

Nothing will fire up your engines like an inner sense of purpose.

3. Involve other people in your goal setting.

Other people can help to motivate us and hold us accountable to our commitments. Find someone whose reminders you would find encouraging rather than naggy, and tell them about your goals. Ask them to check in with you about your progress and encourage you to show up for yourself. You can also find others who will actually partner with you in achieving your goals. This might be someone with a shared goal (in this case, another student) or a test prep coach to meet with regularly. By involving others in the process, you are not only more likely to follow through, but you are also more likely to have more fun. Another way to increase accountability all on your own is to create a written track record of your lessons that you can look at to review your progress.

4. Do nothing.

Chances are, you are pretty burnt out after finals. It's all good! Take a few days, or even two weeks, off. Give yourself the opportunity to rest and recharge. But, choose a start date, schedule it in, and stick to it when it comes.

Now, I want to hear from you!

What steps will you take to achieve your goals this summer?

Erika Oppenheimer is an SAT and ACT test prep coach. She works with students from across the country on a mindful approach to test prep.

To receive Erika's free Organize Your Test Prep e-mail and pdf series, visit