It is a constant delight to work with students who homeschool high school. They never fail to amaze me with their creativity, their work ethic, their unique way of seeing the world.
However, there’s one skill that I often find lacking, even in the most proactive and academically rigorous families. That is the skill of working backward. Some would call it time or self-management. In all fairness, mom might do this in her head, but rarely do I meet a student that handles it well. But, be forewarned, if you want your child to be successful in college, it is a vital skill to master. Summer is the perfect time for you and your student to get up to speed with this skill and to plan next year.
Here’s what working backward looks like. Since most of you have already signed up for whatever AP classes your student will be taking next year, let’s use an example of planning for an AP test. We know the AP Chemistry test is on a certain date in May. If we are smart, we’re probably taking the corresponding SAT Subject test in Chemistry as well in May or June. We’ll say June. So, we have two test dates.
I like to use 2 types of calendars:
1. A yearly calendar on two pages – when it is open I can see 12 months in front of me in one glance.
2. A monthly calendar – one page for each month of the year with room to write on each day.
Using a pencil, we start by working backward on the yearly calendar.
June – Chemistry AP Subject Test Day
May – AP Chemistry Test Day
April – 2-3 AP Chemistry practice tests
Chemistry SAT Subject test runs (4-5)
March – 2-3 Chemistry SAT Subject practice tests
CollegeBoard AP Chemistry Practice test (released exam)
Register on CollegeBoard for the June SAT Subject test in Chemistry
February – 2-3 Chemistry SAT Subject practice tests
Study AP Chemistry test prep book
January – Study Chemistry SAT Subject test prep book
September – Contact the local school to arrange for the AP Chemistry test to be taken in May.
But we are just getting started! Now you need to add all the other details of your life to the calendar as well: other tests, tournaments (sports or debate or whatever), music recitals, family vacations, church events, any commitment your family has needs to go on the 12-month calendar.
Then as you approach each month, all the small details need to transfer from the yearly calendar to a monthly calendar and the day in which each practice test is going to happen, each essay is going to be written, etc. I recently ran across my daughter’s September calendar for her Junior year (right before the October PSAT and November SAT). She had blocked out time for:
5 SAT essay runs (25 minutes each)
3 SAT math sections (not the full test) – 70 minutes each
2 Full blown SAT tests (4 hours each)
2 Full PSAT tests (2 hours and 10 minutes each)
While the discipline of using a calendar can initially seem overwhelming, it will make your life easier once you get the hang of it. Everything has its own time and place to be accomplished. It will also allow you to be more flexible as you learn to schedule intense study periods during slack times for activities. It can help you pinpoint periods that are overloaded and shift activities or eliminate things that don’t fit. Rather than being a ball-and-chain, a well-planned calendar is actually a freeing experience. And, it can help your student be successful when they go to college.
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