Countdown to the SAT: Your Guide to Sanity


What are you doing Saturday morning, March 8? If you’re reading this post, chances are that you, like hundreds of thousands of other high school students, will be taking the SAT.

If you’re a human being – and we’re betting you are – it’s only natural to feel a little anxious. Or, okay, a lot.

But fretting and sweating won’t do a thing to spike your SAT scores. Nor will a big bout of last-minute studying. Here’s what to do instead so you sail into the test feeling confident and at the top of your game.


1. Put Your Mind at Rest

Take a page from the playbook of champion athletes, who know they’ll perform better if they relax in the final hours before a competition.

Last year, Diana Nyad became the first person to make the grueling 103-mile swim from Cuba to Florida without the protection of a shark cage. The night before, she ate an early dinner (pasta with garlic and olive oil). Then she put on her pajamas and did crossword puzzles.


And just before Olympic snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg won gold in Sochi last month, he “was chilling really hard,” he told The Boston Globe. “I was eating mad snacks. Chocolate. Onion rings. Chips.” As a grand finale, he “fell asleep watching ‘Fight Club.’”
The takeaway here? Walk into the SAT – more or less the Olympics of high school – feeling relaxed and rested, not frantically digesting info from a last-minute cram. Watch TV. Listen to music. Hang out (but not too late) with friends. Right now, boosting your mood is the best way to boost your scores.

2. Plan Your Morning… Tonight

The devil is in the details, they say. For a smooth, non-Satanic start tomorrow morning, figure this stuff out tonight.
a. What time does the SAT begin?
b. How will you get there?
c. What time will you leave home? Add half an hour to your estimated travel time in case of unexpected delays.
d. Is someone giving you a ride? If so, make sure they are on board for this trip, and know when you need to leave.

3. Schedule a Three-Alarm Morning

Set your alarm clock for a time that allows you to get dressed and eat breakfast without rushing. Set a back-up alarm as well, just in case. And finally, have someone else in your house set their alarm, too. Make them promise they’ll jump on your bed yelling “Time to rise and shine, you fabulous love lump!” if that’s what it takes to get you going.

4. Get Your Wardrobe in Gear


Set out each and every item you will wear to the SAT. Hey, this is the perfect day for your lucky underpants.

5. Prep Your Take-to-SAT Kit

Photo ID
Your SAT admission ticket
Two sharpened No. 2 pencils
A calculator with fresh batteries
It’s not required, but you might also want to bring water and snacks for quick energy during breaks.

6. Do Not Pack

Any electronic device, including phones, tablets, cameras, computers, music players, and recording devices. Also, obviously, no weapons. Except, perhaps, your razor-sharp mind.

7. Get Enough Sleep

A rested brain is an alert brain. Enough said.


1. Breakfast of Champions

The theme of today’s morning meal: normal, normal, normal. Eat whatever you usually eat. Add something high-protein for endurance if you can. Coffee  drinkers, don’t skip the java – your brain is counting on that caffeine. But if you’ve never sipped anything more stimulating than OJ, don’t even think about that king-size energy drink.

2. Reframe Last-Minute Jitters


Being nervous is all about the fear that things will go badly. Excitement is a response to the belief that things will go well. Yet we experience both states in a similar way, with butterflies in the stomach, rapid heartbeat, a sense of distraction, and so on. If our own bodies don’t know the difference, why should our minds? Try telling yourself how “excited” you are, reinforcing a sense of positive anticipation rather than one of dread.

3. Put the Test in Perspective

“The person who scored well on an SAT will not necessarily be the best doctor or the best lawyer or the best businessman,” sociologist William Julius Wilson has noted. “These tests do not measure character, leadership, creativity, perseverance.”

Yes, it’s true: your entire future does not actually depend on your performance on one short test on one brief Saturday morning of your hopefully extremely long, happy, and successful life.

And besides, if you want to, you can take the SAT again in just a couple of months.

4. Do Not Skip This Important Final Step

Once you’ve finished the test, you’re 100 percent entitled to celebrate. Maybe 101 percent. See, there really is something to be excited about.


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