Tag Archives: test day

SAT Test Day Tips: 10 Tips to Make Life a Little Easier on Test Day

Rich is one of Knewton’s expert teachers, and his strategies can really boost your SAT prep.

No matter how much practice you do, and no matter how much you try to anticipate exactly what SAT test day will be like, you can’t really know what it’s like until you go through it.  I should know: I’ve done it a few times, both for real and as an educator.  But even though there’s no way to replicate the experience of test day, that doesn’t mean that tips aren’t helpful!

So, with that in mind, I wanted to give you a few pieces of advice:

1. Know your test center

If you’re not taking the test at your own high school, I’d recommend scoping out your testing center ahead of time.  Learn where it is, how to get there, and even what the inside looks like. One of the most difficult things to deal with is unfamiliarity.  On top of the stress of dealing with test day, you may have to deal with taking the test in a location you don’t know.  Strange surroundings lead to anxiety, so if you can get to your testing center ahead of time and just take a moment to acclimate yourself to the surroundings, it will be a big help in the long run!

2. Relax

The night before the test, do something relaxing and get to bed early.  Watch a movie, read a book, go out with family or friends. Anything to set you at ease and take your mind off of the impending stress. Eat a good, nourishing meal.  And don’t touch any study materials!  Last-minute cramming will only stress you out further, and it’s a waste of time anyway, because if you haven’t internalized the info by the night before the test, you certainly won’t internalize it by the next morning.

3. Check your gear

Take a moment to make sure you have a few sharpened #2 pencils and a functioning calculator.  The last thing you want is to be in the middle of a math section only to find that your calculator doesn’t work. Or how about suddenly realizing that your pencils aren’t #2?  You’ll wish you had checked ahead of time.  And all you’ll need is a plain, no-frills, four-function calculator.  The arithmetic on the SAT is very basic and won’t require something like the brand new TI-7490123, or whatever the latest model is.

4. Fuel up

On the morning of the test, eat a good breakfast that will keep you energized and alert throughout the morning.  Go with your standard “part of this complete breakfast” fare — cereal, milk, orange juice, yogurt, etc.  Avoid doughnuts or any other pastries with lots of fat and high amounts of sugar.  Extra fat will make you sluggish and kill your concentration.  Sugar will give you a really quick buzz and make you super-energized, but soon after, you’ll crash and burn, most likely during the first few sections of the test!

5. Kick the caffeine

While we’re on the subject of food, you should avoid caffeine if at all possible.  Some people need that dose of coffee or tea to jump-start their morning.  If you know your body well enough, and you know you can’t function without a little caffeine in the morning, then it may be best to stick with your cup of coffee or tea.  But just realize that caffeine is a diuretic, which means that you’ll need to make more sudden trips to the bathroom.  And usually, proctors will not let you leave the room until designated breaks.

6. Show up early

Get to your testing center early, and be prepared to wait in line.  You’ll probably have to show up at 7:45 a.m, even though you probably won’t start taking the test until around 9:00 a.m. or so.  I definitely recommend bringing something to pass the time, such as a book or a magazine.  It will relieve the stress of anticipation.  And this is worth repeating:  do NOT bring a test prep book for last-minute cramming.  Again, if you don’t know it by now, you won’t know it in the next 30 minutes.

7. Bring snacks

More food advice (this is making me hungry!):  Bring a snack, because you’re going to be there past noon.  The test itself is 3 hours 40 minutes, but that does not include breaks, waiting in line, getting seated, passing out test booklets, etc.  When all is said and done, you’ll probably leave the testing center at around 1:00 p.m., if not later.  That’s a long time to go without food.  You are allowed to eat and drink during designated breaks, so I recommend bringing something like energy bars and a small box of fruit juice.  Energy bars are especially good, because they often have added nutrients and enough carbs and protein to substitute a meal.

8. Ditch the cell phone

If at all possible, DO NOT BRING YOUR CELL PHONE!  I recently took an SAT in which someone’s phone went off in the middle of a section.  The student tried to ignore it, hoping whoever was calling her would hang up, but that didn’t happen, and she was asked to leave the room.  Most likely, her scores were invalidated, as the policy states that you can be removed from a testing administration if your cell goes off (or if you are caught using a cell-phone calculator, for that matter).  Don’t even risk having this happen!  Leave your phone at home.  You can deal without it for a few hours.

9. Get ready to tune out

Be prepared to deal with lots of annoying noises.  It’s just going to happen, so you might as well prepare for it.  The guy behind you constantly sniffling at high-volume.  The girl who marks her answer sheet loudly and furiously, slamming the pencil to the paper.  People all around you stomping or shuffling their feet.  Cars going by the school, or people talking outside.  There are any number of really annoying distractors possible, so you should acknowledge that they will be there.  The more you accept it, the better you’ll be able to deal with it and divert your focus back to the test.

10. Stay in the moment

Finally, only worry about NOW!  Once you’ve finished a section, move on and don’t think about it until after the test is over.  The worst thing you can do is waste time during one section mulling over what you did on the previous section.  While you’re wondering whether you should have put A instead of B on question 7 of the last section, you’re eating up time on your current section and risking further errors.  No doubt, this is a pressure situation, and you’ll likely question yourself several times.  But one question isn’t worth the fuss.  You can obviously get a good score without getting every single question right.

Oh, and a little added bonus tip:  After the test is over, reward yourself!  Take the rest of the day to relax, eat your favorite meal, hang out, or whatever you want to do.  I personally find that doing something active really helps, because you’ve just been sitting for several hours, and you’ve been stuck inside your head doing mental gymnastics!  Go for a run, or play basketball, tennis, or whatever sport you enjoy.  Or if the weather’s nice, simply spend some time walking around outdoors.

If you follow these simple tips, your test experience is bound to go a lot easier.  Good luck!

GMAT Test Day, Minute by Minute

In reality, test day is not that different from any other day of preparation—test-takers must be attentive, focused, and fully prepared to bring their A-game. But for many test-takers, the term “test day” brings a variety of symptoms: cold sweats, night terrors, the shakes, and so on. Knowing the nitty-gritty of what to expect when you get to the testing center can help relieve some of that unnecessary anxiety. Here’s Knewton’s minute-to-minute breakdown of a typical testing experience.

1. Arrive early, but don’t plan on studying at the testing center. 30 minutes before liftoff.

Show up to the test center 30 minutes before the official time, as the GMAC suggests. Although this may mean waking up even earlier than expected, avoiding any feeling of being rushed is priceless. However, many testing centers don’t allow studying in the waiting room, so don’t plan on getting there early and reviewing notes. Use the time before the test to relax and focus on the task at hand.

2. Locker Room. 10 minutes before liftoff.

After presenting your identification and test reservation, you may be given a key to a locker, into which you must put everything on your person other than your identification itself. This includes pens, paper, books, cell phones, house keys, lucky rabbit’s feet… everything. All you are allowed to bring in is your identification and the locker key itself. Think of this as a cleansing ritual, or a locker room warm-up. Although some centers may be more lax than others, in no circumstances expect to carry anything into the testing room.

3. Entering the Testing Room. 2 minutes before liftoff

The testing room will be a room filled with computers. It will be shut off from the rest of the testing center and under constant video monitoring. You may feel like the subject of some strange scientific experiment entering this room, but fear not. No shocks will be administered, and you will be far too wrapped up in your computer screen to notice the cameras or the half-lidded gaze of the proctors. Also note that you will be not only starting the test on a different schedule than other test-takers, but that it is likely that the others in the room may be taking different tests altogether. Whispering or passing notes is neither an option nor a temptation; this is not high school.

4. Tools of the Trade. Seconds before liftoff.

You will be provided with several tools with which to conquer the GMAT. The scratch pad looks and feels like a laminated legal pad; it is lined, yellow and shiny, and you will be provided with a thin black dry-erase upon which to write. These both work well, and you are allowed at any time to raise your hand to get the proctor’s attention if you need replacement pads or pens. You may also be provided with noise-canceling headphones (like those used by jackhammer-using construction workers). These work like a charm, even though the noise you’ll be canceling is the clickity-clacking keyboards of a dozen other test-takers.

5. Liftoff. The argument essay (30 min).

After signing in (perhaps with the proctor’s input), you’re off! You begin with the argument essay, and are given a 30:00 ticking digital clock in the corner of the screen by which to measure your progress. Depending on your comfort with this time period, you may want to outline your essay on the pad before writing, especially noting which examples you expect to use and in what order.

6. Getting Personal. 30-60 minutes in. Issue Essay.

Same deal; you know the drill.

7. Eight is Enough. 60-68 minutes in. Break 1 (8 minutes).

You have the option to take an 8-minute break at this point. Keep in mind that the break starts the second you click “yes,” meaning that once you raise your hand to get the proctor, sign out by using your ID, and leave the room, you have less time than you might think to get back. This is enough time for a bathroom break or a breather, but no more. Up to this point, you have been at the test center for an hour and a half, and not yet seen one verbal or math question. So the first third of test day is all warming up and doing the essays; try to time your caffeine intake accordingly.

8. Test Day Begins. 68-143 minutes. Math  (75 minutes).

Test day begins in earnest. The quant section will come first, and you’ll have 75 minutes to complete it. Since the math section is considered far more difficult to finish in this time period than is the verbal for most test-takers, plan accordingly (and use timed practice to understand your own timing). The math section will have you using that scratch pad in earnest, and you may want to use it to virtually “eliminate” choices on the verbal section by writing out A, B, C, D and E and crossing out choices as you go. The number of each question (and how many are left) is provided at all times, as is the time.

9. Eight is Enough Part 2: 143 minutes- 151 minutes. Break 2 (8 minutes).

Just like Break 1, except it’s likely that you will need this break even more. Take it to get a breather and prepare for the next section. Shift from math to verbal mentally, with the different timing considerations in your mind.

10. The Home Stretch! 151- 226 minutes. Verbal (75 minutes).

Stay alert! You’ve been at the test center for almost 4 hours at this point, but your concentration and focus is as necessary as ever. Watch those questions count down as you go…

11. Getting Down to Business. Score Reporting Info. 226-234.

As your reward for finishing the test, you get to decide which schools get your (still unreported) score. Let visions of leafy campuses, whiteboards, and elbow-patched professors fill your mind as you enter the schools you’d like to receive your score reports.

12. Do or Die: Canceling Your Score. 234- 236.

Last step: you have two minutes (with a ticking clock) to decide whether to cancel your score or report it. What’s your final answer? If you decide to report the score, you will immediately be informed of your scores and percentiles on the math and verbal reports. Either way, after four hours, almost half of which did not involve any math or verbal questions, test day has become history. It wasn’t so bad, was it?