The majority of your work should be finished a week leading up to the exam. You’ve already poured over mountains of vocabulary, towers of practice exams, and piles of practice problems (I love alliteration!). You know your triangles, you know the answer is always in the passage, and you know to check your pronouns for a clear and appropriate referent. Now, the only thing left is to take the actual exam and apply all the knowledge you have spent the last months cultivating. So what should be done the week of the exam to make sure that you apply all your knowledge effectively?
1. Establish a regular sleep cycle.
Look, I know with all your clubs, sports, non-profit internships, and *ahem* social engagements, it’s nearly impossible to keep a regular sleep schedule, but the week of the exam this should be a priority. Try to be in bed by eleven or midnight and up by six or seven every day so that the day of the exam you are awake and ready to go. Don’t do anything you don’t usually do on the morning of the exam! If you aren’t a coffee drinker, don’t decide to start drink triple espressos before the big test.
2. Avoid lots of starchy food the morning of the exam.
This may sound more like dieting advice than test taking advice, but the two are connected! Your body responds to the intake of lots of white flour or starches like potatoes and white rice by releasing insulin which in turn causes sharp drops in blood sugar levels and thus drops in your energy level. The test is three and a half hours long! The last thing you want is an energy crash half way through. The eventual energy crash from stimulants like caffeine is another reason to avoid chugging coffee right before the exam.
3. Do a few SAT problems every morning when you wake up.
Preparing your body and mind to work at the time that the test will occur is a small but critical step you can take to make sure that you are at your absolute best the morning of the SAT. You don’t have to take a full exam every morning, but doing a few problems will establish a pattern of putting your mind in the right place to tackle SAT problems when exam day comes.
4. Avoid “cramming” the night before the exam.
Cramming has its benefits. On tests that are primarily information based, cramming can get you through if you have spent a little too much time on your *ahem* social engagements instead of studying, but the SAT is a skills test not an information test. It tests your ability to identify grammatical errors, find information in passages, and solve math problems in creative ways. These are really not skills that you can cram for. At best, you may be able to squeeze in a few extra vocabulary words, but you will almost certainly be much better off getting a good night’s sleep and being alert and ready for the exam than you will attempting to take three practice tests the night before.
5. Psyche yourself up! Tell yourself you are going to do great!
This may seem a little hippy-dippy for some students, but there are a large number of studies which demonstrate time and again that people who think that they will do well, actually do better! Giving yourself a little pep talk before the exam may be just the thing that you need to get yourself out of a mindset that can cost you points. DO NOT groan when you get to a math section because “math is my worst subject”. If you have gone through the Veritas Prep SAT 2400 book, worked with a Veritas Prep tutor, or have been reading these excellent blog posts (See? Tell yourself you’re great!), you have all the skills necessary to do wonderfully on the exam. Tell yourself that you are awesome because, more likely than not, if you tell yourself you are great, you will be more likely to act great.
None of these steps are a substitute for actual practice in the months leading up to the exam. The brain is most effectively developed by repetition of skills over time, so if you have not learned the techniques to most effectively tackle the SAT, practice and repetition should be your first steps! Get the Veritas Prep SAT 2400 book, get a tutor, and set aside some time to seriously study. If that work is done, these steps will ensure that you are at your best the morning of the exam. You are awesome! Now go BE awesome.
David Greenslade is a Veritas Prep SAT instructor based in New York. His passion for education began while tutoring students in underrepresented areas during his time at the University of North Carolina. After receiving a degree in Biology, he studied language in China and then moved to New York where he teaches SAT prep and participates in improv comedy. Read more of his articles here, including How I Scored in the 99th Percentile and How to Effectively Study for the SAT.