How to Balance Test Prep with a 9-to-5

Whether you’re a financial analyst seeking CFA certification… a paralegal studying for the LSAT… or an aspiring MBA swimming in GMAT books while working toward your 10,000 hours… you can relate. Preparing for standardized tests while keeping up with a corporate job can seem impossible.

Have no fear. I conducted interviews with successful professionals who have gone through the process of studying for exams while holding down full-time jobs. Here are 10 life-hacks that may help those of you who are experiencing serious burnout:

1. Talk to your manager

Often, employees are hesitant to alert their bosses of test prep, in fears of raising alarm that they are soon to depart. But you must remember that any certification which improves your expertise is ultimately positive for your company. It’s also much harder to embark on what will be a difficult schedule without evoking sympathy from your manager. You need some leniency from coworkers when it comes to your availability.

2. Make sacrifices

Your phone should be in airplane mode during study hours. No texts, no social media. Get a land line in your apartment where you can be reached in case of emergency. Give that number to a select number of important friends and family members, but remind them that it can only be used in the most urgent of circumstances. Manage expectations with your close friends and family before your process begins. Tell them which study hours are off-limits ahead of time.

3. Rise early

Catch your mind while it is still a clean slate. Study early in the morning, before the pressures of the work day have hit. Very few professionals admit to being “morning people”…but most agree that a demanding work schedule makes studying after leaving the office too difficult to sustain.

4. Cut the booze

Most of those surveyed for this piece suggested limiting yourself to social outings one night a week. Alcohol can be a stress-reliever, but it also affects your ability to sleep well, which is much more important. Try to align your drinking schedule with your one night a week. Partying with friends will seem like much more of a treat, and something you can look forward to. But be careful not to go overboard. You are certain to be a lightweight on your new schedule.

5. Hibernate

Those polled for this article stated that it is always best to choose a test date that accommodates a winter studying schedule. Spring and summer days are when you’ll be most restless and eager to get out and socialize. While the weather is cold and dreary, you might as well stay in and be productive.

6. Stay consistent

Stick to your schedule. Any semblance of constancy will make you feel more secure in yourself, and your ability to stay disciplined.

7. But switch it up

At least one day a week, choose a location that is not your home or office to get some studying done. Try a local library or quiet coffee shop. A change of scenery will do you some good by resetting your mind.

8. Stay positive

Always keep the end in sight. Write a list of your long-term goals, no matter how lofty. Post them above your desk at home or on your fridge. Draw daily motivation from a constant reminder of how your life will look once you’ve achieved the ideal score. And don’t forget to celebrate your “wins” after practice tests, big or small!

9. Be realistic

Before you outline your goal score… you need to know where you are. Take a diagnostic test before beginning the process so you have a bench-marked idea of how much improvement is needed, and in which sections of the test. Write it down, and keep it someplace you’ll remember. Even when you’re not reaching your goal score, seeing how your marks improve over the weeks and months will give you the added ego boost you need.

10. Prioritize health

Get sleep. Eat clean. Exercise regularly. This much is non-negotiable. Your brain needs fuel to multi-task, so give it all the support it needs.

Arielle Patrick

Arielle Patrick is a native of Manhattan, Princeton grad, and communications strategist in the financial sector. By night, she hosts fundraisers for non-profits and donates her time as pro bono PR Director for a few start-ups and charities. Follow her on Twitter: @akpatrick

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