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!
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!