It is the week before the March SAT, otherwise known as the “Test Mojo” week. These are our favorite tips for things to do through the week to maximize your performance on Saturday.
- Get a good night’s sleep every night, but especially the night before the test. Studies show 7 hours is the optimal amount of sleep for a teenager. 😀
A FEW DAYS BEFORE
- Make your plan for getting to the test location. Confirm where you are taking the test and how you are going to get there in advance so you don’t have added stress before the test. For most of you, the test center will be your own high school. But if you are taking the test at another high school, find the test center and check out the parking or transportation situation ahead of time.
Once you know where you are going, make your plan and determine when you need to leave to arrive at the test center no later than 7.30am on Saturday. Communicate your plan to everyone who needs to know. Be sure that if you are going with a friend or parent, everyone agrees to the plan and knows when you have to leave.
- Check for test center closings if there is bad weather on the horizon or if you live in an area where there are travel restrictions or school closings due to COVID-19 (coronavirus) . The College Board posts test center closings a few days before each test date.
During bad weather, check test center closings on Friday night and on Saturday morning before leaving for the test center.
As for the evolving situation regarding closings due to COVID-19, the College Board has already announced that it is closing all test centers in several countries and may close other centers as well. Check here for updates.
THE DAY BEFORE
- If you are driving yourself, fill up your gas tank. You don’t want to have to stop for gasoline in the morning. If someone is driving you, then ask them to make sure they have a full tank of gas.
- Pack up everything you need to take to the test in a “go bag.” The friendly folks at the College Board have a handy checklist for you to use. One quibble we have with this list: the College Board thinks a watch, snacks, and water are simply “nice to have,” but we consider them “must haves.” Also, do yourself a huge favor and make sure you leave out all electronic devices. They are absolutely banned at the test center, so make your go bag is an electronics-free zone.
- Plan for a quiet relaxing evening at home. Last minute cramming will not help you on the SAT. So you don’t need to block out the evening to study, although 30-45 minutes of review of test-taking strategies is not a bad idea. Once you’ve done that, chill out and do something to keep your anxiety at bay. The absolute no-no? A late night partying with friends. That is just a set up for failure.
- Have a healthy dinner. Drink lots of water and eat a meal with protein, vegetables, and a few good complex carbohydrates. In other words, tonight is not the night to order in your favorite fast food, nor is it the time to binge on a few pints of ice cream.
- Get one more good night’s sleep. Your brain will perform best on the day of the test if it is well rested. Part of the reason that we recommend you start paying attention to sleep at the beginning of the week is that it should help you be in the rhythm of getting a good 7 hours. One mistake students often make is trying to go to bed super early on the night before the test. That usually doesn’t work well – you end up tossing and turning and get less than 7 hours OR you sleep 10 or more hours – both will result in you being sluggish in the morning.
- Set the alarm and have a back-up. You absolutely, positively don’t want to oversleep on test day, so make sure you will wake up on time.
THE MORNING OF THE TEST
- Wake up and turn on your brain with a little exercise, a shower, and a healthy breakfast. Today is not the day to roll out of bed and go straight to the test. You need to turn on your brain. Get started with a little exercise – 10 or 15 minutes of anything that will increase your heart rate and start oxygen going to the brain. Run in place, dance, do push-ups, whatever. Then take a shower and have a healthy breakfast. Reach for a bowl of oatmeal or have an omelet, instead of a doughnut or sugary cereal. You need something that will sustain you through the morning until early afternoon.
- Stick to your routine when it comes to caffeine or other stimulants. If you usually have a Red Bull before school, then have one today. But if you don’t, then don’t try it out today. Unfamiliar stimulants can turn you into a jittery mess.
- Dress in layers. The temperature of the room is unpredictable and if you are too hot or too cold, you may have trouble concentrating. If you dress in layers, you can be comfortable no matter the room’s temperature.
- Leave on time (or better yet a little early). There are no “late arrivals” on test day. Doors will close and you will not be admitted to the testing center after 8:00 a.m. Usually the doors open at 7:45 a.m., but do yourself a favor and arrive by 7:30 a.m. Then you don’t have to worry about being late – and it can be a bit of a zoo getting in and getting to your test room. (Double check your admission ticket to make sure that your test center is observing these standard times: it will say when doors open and close.)
- Don’t forget your pre-packed go bag!
- Give yourself a pep talk on the way. Corny as it may sound, your inner dialogue can shape your mindset at the test. So, say some nice, reassuring, and encouraging things to yourself on the way. “You’re going to kill it” is always a good mantra.
DURING THE TEST
- Breathe. Believe it or not, you may discover that you are holding your breath. Often when people are concentrating, they hold their breath, and doing so deprives your brain of much-needed oxygen and heightens anxiety. So breathe.
- Use your breaks effectively. Don’t miss out on these opportunities to refresh yourself. Leave the room, stretch your legs, go to the restroom, eat your snacks, and socialize with friends (but don’t talk about the test and don’t let yourself get sucked into a chat with a hyper-anxious friend). One important note – take your ID and admission ticket with you so you can get back into your room!!!
AFTER THE TEST
- Celebrate your accomplishment with some fun and friends. You’ve earned it!
Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.