You’ve been studying for months, and now you’re almost at the finish line: tomorrow morning you’re sitting for the SAT. And whether it’s the first time you’re taking the exam or what you hope to be the last time, you’re aiming for a score that will knock college admissions officials’ socks off. So, how should you be spending the precious few hours before the exam?
Well, the answer might come as a surprise—and as a relief. Put aside the books and put on your favorite movie: you should spend the evening before the exam relaxing! Test day anxiety is a big problem for many students, bringing their actual test scores down from their practice test averages, sometimes by as much as 100 points. And the best thing you can do to combat this test day anxiety is to go into the exam as relaxed and confident as possible. That means pausing and taking a breather the night before the exam.
Here are a few more things you should consider doing the night before the test!
Physically Get Ready for the Test
The night before, there are a few SAT-related things you should do. One is to go back over the test center information. Be sure you know where the test center is, how to get there, and exactly what time you need to show up. It wouldn’t hurt to do a “dry run” trip to the test center, just to be sure you don’t get lost on the morning of. If you’re going to be driving the next day, take a trip over in your car. If you’re taking public transportation, find out the bus or train information and take a trip that way.
Hopefully, the test is being administered at your high school, and you don’t have to worry about this. But, if you’re taking it in an unfamiliar place, you don’t want to discover on the morning of the exam, when you’re pressed for time and already nervous enough, that you don’t know where you’re going and get lost. Talk about test day anxiety!
Furthermore, pack your materials and make sure you pick up some healthy test day snacks at the supermarket, and have them packed and ready the night before. Foods with protein—string cheese, cottage cheese, hard-boiled eggs—will give you some much-needed energy for the middle of the exam, and fruits are a sweet treat and a boost of sugar you might need after that Reading test. And don’t forget to bring a bottle of water, too.
Also, make sure that you have your pencils and calculator ready, too. Have the pencils pre-sharpened, and make sure your calculator is in good working order and the battery isn’t depleted. That’s a surprise you don’t want in the middle of the Math test.
Go be Social, Just Not Too Social
Spend some time with your friends and do something you like — play video games, see a movie, go bowling, grab a slice at your favorite pizza place. Just don’t go overboard and party until after midnight. The key is to just enjoy yourself, and take your mind off the exam.Importantly, this means that you shouldn’t spend the entire time gabbing with your friends about the SAT, as tempting as this might be! If you think this might be impossible to avoid, then you might want to do something on your own. You don’t want to psych each other out with a big group freak-out the night before the test.
The most important thing to remember is, don’t try to fit in any last-minute studying. Whatever you gain from doing some last minute practice tests or running through flashcards is going to be outweighed by the stress it will create for you. What if you have an off day and you score 20 points lower on your practice test than you normally do? You don’t need a major blow to your confidence the night before the test. So, put all your prep materials away and say goodbye, for now.
Cultivate a Strong Mental Mindset and Get Sleep
If you’re particularly anxious about the test, you might try meditation to calm yourself down. A good way to meditate is to simply sit calmly, with your eyes closed, for twenty minutes. Breathe in and out deeply, and focus on repeating a word. If worries or anxious thoughts come into your head, calmly draw your focus back to the word (sometimes called a ‘mantra’). Countless scientific studies have shown this type of meditation has a calming and healthy effect on your mind and body.
Be sure to get a good night’s rest. This means you shouldn’t eat too heavy a dinner, which will keep you up at night. (But maybe your mom or dad can help you prepare your favorite meal—cooking is another way to take your mind off the exam!)
Don’t exercise too soon before bed, and limit your screen time in the hours before you go to sleep. You’ll want to have at least eight hours of sleep before the exam, so this might mean going to bed earlier than you’re used to, since you’ll have to be up quite early for the test. If you’re someone who tends to need more than eight hours of sleep, then factor this in.
If you have a hard time getting to sleep, read before bed, just don’t read up on test prep materials, read something light. TVs and other electronic gadgets have blue lights that make it difficult for your eyes and brain to shut down for sleep. And don’t try anything like melatonin or prescription sleep medication the night before the test—many of these things will leave you groggy the next day, and you don’t want to put anything in your body that you don’t know the effects of. No surprises right before the test! However, if you need some help catching some Zzzs, putting on a sleep mask and turning on a white noise machine can’t hurt.
The Morning of the Test
Now that you’ve gotten a good night’s rest and done everything you can to calm yourself, morning has arrived! If meditation worked for you the evening before, the morning is another good time to meditate and center yourself for the day ahead.
And it all starts with eating a good breakfast. Something with protein to give you energy for the day ahead, but nothing too filling, that is likely to sit heavy in your stomach during the test. If you normally drink coffee or some other form of caffeine in the morning, it’s okay to have your regular amount, but if you don’t, the day of the SAT is not the time to start putting caffeine in your system. It could make you incredibly anxious!
The same applies to any type of medication, like Adderall, designed to improve focus. If you take it regularly, of course, take your normal dosage. But don’t start a new prescription or up your dosage on the day of the exam. It could backfire on you and make you incredibly anxious or jittery while you’re taking the test.
Read something non-SAT related as you eat breakfast. It’s not a bad idea to read something—a newspaper or magazine, or a section of a novel—to get your brain going and ready for the Reading section. But don’t go and read test prep materials, for the same reason you want to stay away from them the night before the test. There’s no reason to make yourself nervous right before the test. Just read something for pleasure that will get your mind going.
Get a bathroom break in. While there will be time to use the restroom during the exam, make sure you go before the test, so that you won’t be distracted as you begin. And while you’re out in the hallway, try to separate yourself from whatever anxious, test-related conversations are taking place among your fellow test-takers. Perhaps you can sit quietly by yourself and meditate for a few minutes, or go outside and catch a few breaths of fresh air before the exam begins. Just make sure that you’re in your assigned room and seat by the time the test begins.
It’s Over…Now What?
Take a breather, and pat yourself on the back for all the hard work you’ve done. Don’t obsess over questions that you think you got wrong, or sections where you thought your performance was less-than-stellar. Remember that there will always be another opportunity to take the SAT, and that whatever score you get on the test does not define who you are.
If you decide you’re going to take the test all over again, give yourself a few days to rest. Then, make a study plan—what areas did you feel like you needed improvement in? Plan to drill these sections. Perhaps you’ll want to sign up for a test-prep course, like Prep Expert. Prep Expert offers online and in-person classes, as well as one-on-one tutoring, and has helped countless numbers of students improve their SAT scores. You also might consider taking the ACT—for some students who struggle with the SAT, this turns out to be a better test to take.
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