For many students, the SAT represents the most nerve-racking day of their young lives. Fortunately, this short list of tips covers everything you’ll need to do to get in and out and score your highest.
Some readers may be excited to know, however, that once test day is over, you pretty much never think about it again. So the goal is to get in and out with as little stress as possible, in order to give your brain the chance to work its magic on those little bubbles.
Bring These Things...Or Else!
In order to get into your seat, you’ll need your Admission Ticket (printable from the College Board website once you register and pay) and a photo ID. In order to take the test, you’ll need to bring your own #2 pencils and an SAT-approved calculator.
Be on Time or a Little Early (But Only a Little)
The test starts at 8 a.m., so be there at 8 a.m. or a bit earlier. If the test center is your high school and you go there every day, you know exactly how long it’s going to take to get there and when to set your alarm. If you’ve never been to the test center, you might want to give yourself a 15-minute cushion on top of your estimate of the travel time. Here in Boston and other high-traffic places, depending on how far you have to go, you might want an even larger cushion.
You don’t want to be late, of course, but if you get there at 8:05, they’ll probably let you take the test. Being an hour early, on the other hand, cuts into your extremely valuable sleep time—and can result in you sitting in the car for 45 minutes working yourself into a nervous frenzy.
Keep Yourself Comfortable
Each person has his or her own little things that create individual comfort. Some students can’t think straight if they’re hungry, while others might not be able to concentrate if their underwear doesn’t fit right or their socks are itchy. You know what makes you comfortable (and uncomfortable), so plan ahead! Some things that typically affect students’ test-taking comfort are:
Height and size of desk: you may have no choice in the matter, but if there are more than one kind of desk in the room, try to grab one that looks the most comfortable for you. Keep in mind that some desk-and-chair combinations are for left-handed people, with support for your writing arm only on the left. Righties, beware!
Clothes: you probably already know to dress in layers to be able to adjust to the temperature in the room. But you might not be thinking about other things: how those boots you like so much hurt your feet when you’re sitting down for too long, for instance, or how your jeans fit when you’re hunched over a desk. It’s not fun for anyone to sit in one place for four hours, much less in the wrong clothes.
Don’t bother trying to look cute if it compromises your comfort. In five years, when you’re graduating from college on the Dean’s List with a great job waiting for you, nobody’s going to know or care what you wore to the SAT.
Time: Some of us really, really like to know what time it is during tests. There will most likely be a working clock in the room where you’re testing, but it never hurts to have a backup. If you like to keep an eye on the time, bring a watch (phones aren’t allowed to be turned on).
Food & Water: You get two breaks during the test, and most people use this to get a snack. Your brain uses about 20% of the energy your body creates, so it’s important to make sure that energy keeps flowing through the whole test. Especially if you’ve been drinking coffee, make sure to get a little water during the break.
The only thing not to do, besides starve, is bring a snack made entirely of sugar and refined carbohydrates (say, a doughnut or a chocolate chip muffin) because the energy those provide is short-term, followed by a crash. If you eat some protein or complex carbohydrates in your snack, you’re much more likely to get sustained, consistent energy for the whole test.
Most Importantly: Trust Yourself
The nature of a huge test like the SAT is that it makes you nervous, unsure of yourself, and inevitably worried about failure. But excessive worrying is counterproductive—it makes your reasoning shaky and messes with the calm that is crucial to acing the SAT.
The best way to avoid excessive worry on test day? Prepare thoroughly and trust yourself. If you’re interested, check out our article on Mindfulness and the SAT. The human mind is an amazing, powerful tool, and you’ve got your very own brain with only 16 or 17 years on it. Train it to jump through the SAT hoops with solid SAT prep (PrepScholar, for example), and on test day just relax and let it do its thing.
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Laura has over a decade of teaching experience at leading universities and scored a perfect score on the SAT.