Image from Pexels

Image from Pexels

There’s nothing worse than a high school backpack during SAT and AP season. As if hauling your books for seven classes weren’t enough, now you have to lug around test prep books that are almost thicker than they are wide – which I think we all can agree is a bit extreme.

So, I’m about to share with you the secret weapon of your standardized test prep arsenal that will help you study and save your back simultaneously: the test prep scrapbook. Now, don’t panic: you don’t need to make a beeline for Michaels or your local stationary store, you don’t need to invest in a bedazzler (that is, unless you want to), and you certainly don’t need the crafting expertise of Leslie Knope. You just need a couple of extra notebooks lying around, some sticky notes, and maybe some colored pens if you want to get artsy.

All the test prep scrapbook is is a space for you to untangle your testing “trouble spots” – whether those trouble spots are SAT geometry problems, AP Biology short answers, or comprehension passages for the Literature SAT Subject Test. I call them “test prep scrapbooks” because when I was prepping for tests in high school, they allowed me to fantasize – even if just for a moment – that I was doing something fun, creative, and not completely soul-sucking. I recommend devoting a one-subject notebook for each AP test and each round of SAT testing. You probably won’t fill it completely, and that’s fine. Your scrapbook shouldn’t cause you any added anxiety or stress; rather, it should help you focus your study efforts and keep you motivated.

A few things to put in your swanky scrapbooks:

Test Guide Outlines

When you’re going through your test prep book for whatever subject you’re studying, you can jot down bullet points for each chapter or section in your test prep scrapbook. Now, if you’re studying for AP World History, do not – I repeat, do not – try to write a detailed outline of your entire practice book. I can guarantee you that that is a colossal waste of time; instead, try jotting down a basic timeline, writing down major events and people as terms to define, and using tables to keep information organized. Keep track of causes and effects of wars, conflicts, elections, revolutions, etc. just to keep your mind engaged while you read – because even diligent highlighting tends to get monotonous when you’ve been doing it for hours on end.

While I found this most helpful for history (because you have to attack the information in a very linear way), you can do it for any subject. Just remember to keep it short and sweet – you just want the Sparknotes of the test prep guide, not the complete play-by-play.

Tricky Math and Science Problems

In this section, you can print out and paste SAT Questions of the Day that are giving you trouble, screenshots of Khan Academy chemistry problems that threw you for a loop, or, you can even recopy problems from your AP Calculus test prep guide. You absolutely don’t have to do this for every problem you work – that would take way too much precious review time – just the thorniest, most frustrating ones you come across. This is especially helpful when the problem you’re stuck on is one that’s very similar to a problem you might see on the exam.

You can even extend this section to include grammar practice if you’re studying for the SAT. Just jot down the major rules about modifiers and tense preservation, and then include a few examples, especially when those examples are tricky, or seem like they have one answer, but really have another. Easy as pie.

Essay Prep

Many, many AP test websites include essay prompts and short answer questions from past years online. So, for some helpful essay practice, print out the prompts and paste them into your scrapbook. Beneath the prompt, you can quickly scribble the outline of an argument (just set a timer for five minutes and then work with what you’ve got – this doesn’t need to be Shakespeare), brainstorm support for that argument – whether in the form of novels and plays, historical events, Constitutional amendments, or other relevant subject material – and then move on to the next prompt. For any essays dealing with poetry analysis, just spend a few minutes annotating your printout and then jot down a quick outline.


This one might seem silly, but I definitely swear by a healthy amount of studyspiration to help you through the rough days of SAT and AP testing. If you couldn’t tell, this is really where the “scrapbook” element of your notebook comes into play.

When I was in high school, I pasted pictures of my dream schools on the inside covers of my notebooks, and slapped sticky notes with motivational messages down on random pages, so that whenever I flipped to a new page, I could get a much-needed dose of motivation without the hours-long procrastination binge that Pinterest tends to induce.

I challenge you to explore what inspires you as you begin to fill up your notebooks: the gorgeous gothic architecture of your number-one school? A picture of the research lab, the stage, or the company headquarters you want to inhabit someday? The college sweatshirt you want to earn the honor to wear? Whatever it is that ignites your fire, put a photo of it in your notebook.

When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to write encouraging notes to yourself. I know, it seems goofy to write to your future self; but it sure helps your future self out to know that someone’s rooting for her! And of course, there’s the veritable “Old Reliable” of studyspo: the inspirational quotation.

A few of my favorites to get you started:

  • “You are enough, you are so enough, it’s unbelievable how enough you are.” – Sierra Boggess
  • “If you feel fear, that’s okay! Thank fear for showing up and reminding you that you are alive, and then send it on its way because it doesn’t serve you any longer!” – Sierra Boggess
  • “You have nothing to prove, only to share.” – Sierra Boggess
  • “The universe is conspiring in your favor!” – Sierra Boggess (Okay, okay, so I’m a pretty big Sierra Boggess devotee)
  • “Other people’s success is not your failure” – Christian Borle
  • “Good morning! We’re awake! We’re alive! That’s a good-ass start!” – Lin-Manuel Miranda

Now, off with you to Office Max to get those notebooks and study hard – you’re going to do splendidly.

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the author

Elizabeth Watson (just call her Beth) is a senior at an itty-bitty private Catholic high school in Virginia. In addition to writing for The Prospect, she writes and performs sketch comedy with her improv troupe, rehearses like mad for school theatre productions, suits up for forensics competitions, and writes poetry for her school’s literary magazine. A brief rundown of Beth’s favorite people and things ever to exist in no particular order: hole-in-the-wall bookshops, sweaters, Jane Eyre, peppermint tea (in a Troy and Abed mug, of course), Broadway musicals, British period dramas, Neil Patrick Harris, and Hugh Jackman. Beth’s long-term goal in life to is to become Julie Andrews, but for now she’s focusing on surviving the final stretch of high school and getting into college–hopefully as an English major

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