What to do During the Week Before the SAT

Here is some quick, common sense advice on what to do in the days leading up to your SAT, and on Test Day itself:

Obvious, but vital: You want to be stay healthy. Eat balanced meals and get a good night’s sleep.

You can continue to study for the exam, but don’t feel that you have to “go into overdrive.” Of course, if you haven’t started studying for the SAT, it’s too late to begin now. However, as James Bond and Mike McClenathan say, “never say die.”

If you do plan to study, it’s best to spend your time as efficiently as you can. If you’ve been struggling with a particular type of question, you might focus on reviewing that. On the other hand, don’t expect to gain much by studying vocabulary at this late date.

I advise most of my students not to study on the day before the SAT. Just relax and have a normal day, as long as “normal” isn’t too crazy for you.

Make sure your calculator is charged. You should use a calculator that you’re familiar with. Also bring a watch – preferably with a stopwatch or timer feature. Note that you are not allowed a watch that will make noise, or one that sits on your desk. And don’t forget your #2 pencils, your ticket, photo ID, and some snacks.

Here’s the College Board’s checklist.

English: A glass of Orange juice. Esperanto: O...

On Test Day

Naturally, you want to wake up early enough that you don’t have to rush. If you normally eat a big breakfast, do the same. It’s natural to be nervous before a big test, and you’ll only increase your anxiety if you break from your everyday routine.

You want to get to the test center a little early. If you care to socialize with other students, that’s fine, but I would recommend against talking about the content of the SAT. Wise guy remarks such as “you can’t ace the Math Section if you don’t know how to do derivatives” can induce nervousness.

Most students benefit from “revving up their brains” a little before the test. You might solve a few Sentence Completions or easy Math problems before you’re seated (you can store practice materials in a backpack, which might be left in a corner of the testing room).

You have the right to a good test-taking environment.

If you have a wobbly desk or chair, a flickering light overhead, or a student who won’t stop sneezing two desks away, be the squeaky wheel and ask the proctor to change your seat. Normally, you probably don’t want to be a troublemaker, and you know the proctor may find your request to be a nuisance. Be polite, but firm, and explain why you simply can’t take the SAT under adverse conditions.

Above all, remember what got you here. I’ve had too many students who have aced their last few practice tests, only to see their scores drop on the actual exam. Don’t focus too hard on getting a good score. Instead, focus on using the techniques that you’ve learned properly. Then good scores will follow.

Don’t try to “cruise” the exam. If anything, try to think a little harder than you did on practice SATs.

Relax and concentrate.

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3 comments on “What to do During the Week Before the SAT

  1. “You have the right to a good test-taking environment.”

    You should put that bit in bold. It’s SO hard to say something (ask Debbie Stier) but it could make a huge difference if something distracting is going on.

  2. Thanks, Mike.

    Many years ago, one of my students took an SAT, and the head proctor shortchanged everyone 5 minutes on the first section. THREE of the more aggressive students complained, but the proctor only replied “my time is the official time.” He realized his mistake about 5 minutes into the second section, and told the students to return to the first section and take 5 more minutes. As you can imagine, the damage was done. Many students had filled in their remaining answers randomly, and weren’t sure how to proceed.

    My student complained to The College Board, and was told his only recourse was to repeat the test for free (what else could they offer?).

    The moral of the story is that if you can’t get the proctor to fix the problem right away, it won’t get fixed at all.

    • That’s a great story; it really drives home the point. While a free retake is all CB could feasibly do, it’s probably little comfort to a kid who in the best case scenario has to sit for another 4 hours of testing, and worst case scenario is out of time due to application deadlines.

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