Mindfulness and the SAT


In this article, we'll discuss how to use mindfulness to crush the SAT (and everything else that stresses you out!).

On Test Day

“Our mind is constantly evaluating our experiences, comparing them with other experiences or holding them up against expectations and standards that we create, often out of fear.”

-Jonathan Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are

When you walk into the gym/classroom/cafeteria on test day, it’s likely that you’ll be feeling anxious and scared. Even though you might have prepped for the SAT with all kinds of courses, you may be nervous.  All kinds of important, but unpredictable, life situations produce these feelings.

But here’s the thing: anxiety and fear actually impede (get in the way of) your ability to perform your best on the SAT.

In fact, they impede almost everything we try to get done in a day. To boost our performance, the best thing we can do (besides personalized SAT prep) is try to minimize our anxiety, but most people have no idea how to do this. There is a simple solution: mindfulness.


What’s mindfulness?

“You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.”

-Jonathan Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are

Mindfulness, according to the Oxford New American Dictionary, is:

#1: the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something;

#2: a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

So, it’s possible to be mindful in any given moment, not thinking about anything but the present time and place. But the practice of mindfulness is cultivating the ability to be mindful more frequently and more easily, and is the secret to the inner peace of Buddhist monks, among others.

However, while monks meditate for hours every day to cultivate their mindfulness, it is possible for high school students (and, in fact, anyone) to use the power of mindfulness. Given any amount of time, but especially if you start well ahead of test day, you can harness the power of your own inner strength using mindfulness to get your best possible score.

What can mindfulness do for me?

Life is stressful, especially for teenagers. There’s school, sports, extracurriculars, social life, family time, and--on top of it all--test prep. Mindfulness is a scientifically proven, thoroughly researched way to reduce stress and provide a calm state of mind that can help you get through any situation, especially one as potentially anxiety-producing as the SAT. Read on for details of what exactly this means.

Practice: how and when?

Meditation, or mindfulness practice, is nothing but sitting, standing, laying or even walking while focusing only on the present moment--what you see, hear, and feel right now. There are a million websites and books that discuss when, where and how to do it.

But the great thing about mindfulness practice is that, while 30 minutes or an hour of daily practice can do wonders, even 5 minutes of intentional mindfulness every day (or even every few days, or every week) can seriously improve your ability to stay calm, focus, and perform better. If you follow our recommendation to do 100 hours of focused online SAT prep (it’s not as bad as it sounds!), you’ll end up with 250-500 minutes, or 4-8 hours, of mindfulness practice. That’s more than enough to boost your emotional and psychological readiness for the SAT, as well as the crazy stuff college is going to throw at you.

We recommend that, before you start your SAT prep session, sit (on the floor, ideally) or lay down and focus on nothing but the present moment. Many people find that it helps to focus on the breath moving in and out of their body. Try to do it for 5 minutes, even if it is difficult or frustrating. By associating your mindfulness practice with your SAT practice, you’re training yourself to be mindful on test day.

Discipline & concentration

“Discipline provides a constancy which is independent of what kind of a day you had yesterday and what kind of a day you anticipate today.”

-Jonathan Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are

In addition to its other benefits, regular meditation improves discipline and concentration, which are key for any academic pursuit. You don’t have to do anything to gain this benefit: just do nothing for 5 minutes before every session of SAT prep you do, the more often the better.

Try it out

Right now, just sit cross-legged on the floor, close your eyes, and focus your attention on your breathing. Count the breaths, if that helps. When other thoughts pop up, acknowledge them and let them go, bringing your attention back to your breath. Try it for 5 minutes, and see if you don’t feel calmer and more centered afterward.


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About the Author
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Laura Registrato

Laura has over a decade of teaching experience at leading universities and scored a perfect score on the SAT.

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