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Tips for test day

The big day is finally here: you’ve studied, you’ve practiced, and you’ve gotten a good night’s sleep. The last hurdle is just to take the test! One key to overcoming Test Day anxiety is to have a plan.
The Night Before:
  • Relax! There are a lot of good reasons NOT to study the night before Test Day. Marathoners don't go for a run before Race Day, and mental marathoners like you shouldn't study for more than an hour on the day before you take the SAT. Your brain needs to rest in order to do its best. Read a book or hang out with a friend or two.
  • Avoid screen time. You're going to need to get a good night's sleep, and bright screens (televisions, phones, movies) will wake up your brain and make it more difficult to drift off at an early hour. 
  • Have a healthy dinner. Drink lots of water and load up with complex carbohydrates, just like marathon runners do: potatoes, pasta, and rice are good choices here, as well as protein and vegetables.
  • Organize your bag for Test Day. The night before is the time to put your ID, admission ticket, pencils, calculator, batteries and other gear in a bag by the door.
  • Make a plan to get to the testing site. Before you go to sleep, make sure you know exactly how you're going to get to the testing site. If you are going to need to find parking, make a plan for that. If you are relying on public transportation, check the schedule and make sure your subway/bus/train is running. Check for road closures. If a friend or parent is going with you, make sure they know what they need to do, too.
Test Morning:
  • Wake up early and have a healthy breakfast. Here are a few good choices: eggs, toast, cereal, bagel, fruit, juice, cheese, milk.
  • If you drink coffee or tea, then stick to your routine. If you don't drink a caffeinated beverage every day, though, Test Day isn't the time to start. You need calm, slow-burning, consistent energy today.
  • Get to the test site early.
  • When you get to the test site, try to steer clear of nervous people. You don't need their anxious energy rubbing off on you!
Here are some things you can do that might make you more confident and comfortable on Test Day. Keep in mind that everyone is different, and all of these don't work for everyone, so it’s always better to try them out before you actually use them on Test Day.
For the Math Test:
  • Underline key parts of the problem. “I was making silly mistakes because I didn’t read carefully what the questions were asking. For example, instead of solving for 2x, I might have solved for x. When I started underlining the part of the prompt that was the actual question, I dramatically decreased my number of silly mistakes!" 
  • Make sure you are answering the question being asked. "Always double check to make sure you're answering the right question!”
  • Understand order of difficulty. “Sections in the Math Test increase in difficulty as you go along: the questions start out easier, then slowly get harder, with the hardest questions at the end of the section. Also - the Math sections always have a few grid-ins (student-produced response questions) after the multiple choice questions, and the first few grid-ins are always easier than the last few multiple choice ones, so don't waste time on the hardest multiple choice before picking up some easier points in the grid-ins.” 
  • Every question on the SAT is worth the same. "Focus on getting the easy and medium questions correct first before taking a crack at harder questions." 
  • If you don't know how to do a question, skip it. "Sometimes, things don't "click," and that's alright. Just keep going and go back to the question later. Most of the time you'll realize that it was actually super easy, and your brain just needed to reset!”
For the Reading Test:
  • Read the questions quickly before reading the passage. "I like to circle and underline names and weird words in the questions before reading the passage. I don't try to actively remember them while I read, but my brain seems to pay more attention to those things anyway." 
  • Don't over-annotate. “I used to spend all this time writing notes in the margins that would end up not being helpful for any of the questions. Now I like to circle or underline the most important parts of each paragraph, and maybe jot a + or a - or a check. Sometimes a word or two, maybe a ! or a ?, but that's it."
  • Read actively. "I always ask myself what the point of each paragraph is after I read it, and I challenge myself to answer that question before I start reading the next paragraph. That way, I keep checking my understanding and I keep myself engaged."
For the Writing & Language Test:
  • Simplify complicated sentences. "Some sentences are so long and confusing! I find it really helpful to identify the subject and the verb of more complicated sentences and cross out extra stuff like prepositional clauses beginning with of, for, about, with, etc..."
For the whole test:
  • Don't leave anything blank. "There is no penalty for guessing, so if you don’t know an answer, go ahead and guess – you might get lucky!”
  • Use process of elimination. “Crossing out choices as you go along really helps when you get that feeling that you might need to guess. Every time you confidently eliminate an option, your chance of selecting the correct answer out of the remaining options is higher. Even if you have no idea how to answer a question, try to eliminate any obviously wrong choices – and then guess from the remaining ones.”
  • Cover up the choices. "I always try to come up with an answer on my own before I even look at the choices. This helps me make sure that I don’t get distracted by answer choices that look good before I have a chance to figure it out for myself.”
  • Pace yourself. “It can be hard to get through each section in the limited time that you have, much less get the right answers and double check everything! Skip questions that are going to take longer and come back to them if you have time. Don't spend more than 1.5 minutes on any question on your first pass through.”
  • Trust yourself. “When I was taking practice tests, I had no problem getting the sections done in time, but then I’d spend the extra minutes reviewing and second-guessing my first answers. I found I often would switch from the right answer to a wrong one just because I doubted myself!" 
  • Bubble in batches. “I use a system that helps me avoid accidentally bubbling in the wrong answers. I complete five questions (circling my answer choices on the test itself), and then I bubble the answers in on the answer sheet. I think it also saves time. It’s inefficient to bubble in answers after every question – think of all that hand movement! But don't wait until the end of the test to bubble in everything, or you might panic – or even run out of time before you have a chance to enter all your answers!”
  • Use any extra time wisely. "If you find yourself with extra time at the end of a section, make good use of it. No, it isn't fun to re-read all of those questions, but you’ll be so glad if you catch any mistakes. The same goes for the answer grid - make sure your answer choices are in the right bubbles!”

Want to join the conversation?

  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user David Gou
    This isn't a question, but the "recent" on the tips and thanks page is full of unrelated conversation, so I don't think anybody will see it there.

    This is for all of you October 5th testers.

    I don't know who you are. You might be fifth year, you might be a grade 9 prodigy, or somewhere in between. You might be looking for a perfect 1600, a 1400, a 1200, or a 1000. It doesn't matter. We all have nerves for tomorrow. What's important for you to know is that the SAT is not measuring how smart you are, or how good you'll be in life. It's simply a tool for post-secondary institutions to evaluate you, but you can make up for a below-par SAT score through other parts of your application.

    If you're not feeling like you're ready, please don't cram tonight. It just doesn't work (for the most of us). Have a nice sleep, and eat a good breakfast. Relax.

    You can score however you like on the SAT, but it's only a test. That's right: it's ONLY a test. Many of you are worried about it; it might be the biggest test you've taken so far. But face it like any other test. Do what you can. Come back to what you can't.

    If you have an opportunity to retake the SAT, I recommend practicing with "SAT Prep Black Book" (Mike and Patrick Barrett), which teaches you so many essential strategies. I promise that I'm not endorsed or affiliated with them, but the book really brought my SAT to the next level (1400 to start, three months later, I'm at a solid 1540).

    Best of luck to all of you tomorrow!
    (150 votes)
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  • winston default style avatar for user Matthew Hernandez
    I will be taking the NEW SAT w/ Essay tomorrow, Saturday 24th, 2019. Wish me luck! Even though every single comment here is from three to four years ago...
    (39 votes)
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  • piceratops seedling style avatar for user ridge oneal
    is there any help that can be given about during the test about hard questions?
    (16 votes)
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  • duskpin sapling style avatar for user Riane
    My SAT is tomorrow and I keep rushing on the no calculator section. What do I do to prevent not finishing? Also, what snacks or food should I pack?
    (18 votes)
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Cozmo
      Hi, MusicMaker13. I am also taking the test tomorrow. The no calculator section can be harder without the calculator. I would recommend to try to practice some math questions with no calculator with the time you have, but don't try to over practice because the test is tomorrow. If you think you cannot finish all the questions tomorrow, it's okay to leave the questions blank. It seems better to do a good job on the questions you can do rather than skimming through the whole thing. The snacks you bring should be very light. I would recommend granola bars or a chocolate bar, which always helps me feel less nervous and calms me down. Good luck!
      (26 votes)
  • starky sapling style avatar for user Eagan.Rider
    What is the difference between the ACT and the SAT?
    (13 votes)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user Emily Singleton
    I'm here and my test is tomorrow, it will be pi day 2020, and this past week there has been so much stress/anxiety/worry-filled news in social media with updates on the COVID-19: schools shutting down, events canceled, economy suffering, temporary unemployment, businesses being forced to close, etc. Hang in there everyone.
    (19 votes)
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  • marcimus red style avatar for user Camila
    WAIT so it is my first time doing the SAT tomorrow and I'm from Australia, and I heard that you are not given any scratch paper? is this true bc if it is I am honestly screwed bc scratch paper is my life!
    (4 votes)
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  • marcimus purple style avatar for user riverogue
    december 7th gang wya?! We've (collectively) got this!
    (12 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user rl107571
    I have a hard time getting to the last questions in the Math section. For the practice test that I have done I always end up guessing, so I do not know if it would be a good idea to start with the last questions and then jump into the multiple choice?
    (5 votes)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Homeskool99
      I've heard it go both ways. Most people struggle with the last questions (the "Student-Produced Responses"). Some decide to tackle them first, because then they're home free to attack the rest. Others go from front to back.
      So which is better? Kind of depends on you. I've tried both on practice tests, and turns out that, for me, going front to back produces a better score.
      Why? Fairly simple reasoning, it turns out.
      To get the best score, you have to get as many correct answers as you can in the smallest amount of time possible, right? Let's test this out on both strategies.
      Student-Produced Responses first: This is when you take care of the last problems first. These are typically harder than the Multiple Choice questions, because you don't have any hints at around what the answer might be. (The "hints" are the answer choices). When you do these first, you're taking up time to get them done, right, because they require a little extra thinking. What could you be doing, instead, with that extra time?
      Front to Back - Multiple Choice first: It's pretty well-known that in this section, the questions are presented from easiest to hardest. When you go first to last, you're wizzing through the easy ones before attempting the harder ones. Easy questions take less time than harder questions, right, so you can get more of these ones done in the time it takes you to do a smaller amount of the harder ones.
      If your goal is to get as many questions right in the smallest amount of time, which technique is going to benefit you more?
      The Multiple Choice first.
      Even though it's tempting to go for the harder ones before the easier ones (I mean, who hasn't done this in their homework, amirite??), it's more to your benefit to work first to last.
      To be sure, try out both strategies on practice tests. Which technique got you the higher score? Use that on test day.
      Best of luck to you!!
      (15 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Poojavishnuprashad
    Hi, i am giving my test tomorrow and i am really tensed about the maths section because i am not a maths liking person and i still got problems with it.....things just don't enter in my head! i dont know wt i should do?
    (2 votes)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Dung Dao Minh
      Keep calm and don't be panic!! There is not much time left, so I think the best thing you can do is to look over the maths section again and make sure that you can do all the problems that you're familiar with. If you still have time, then I suggest you should look for your weak areas and practice them (with Khan Academy!). Just don't cram to much before the exam, go to sleep early.... Good luck!!
      P/s: I also have the test tomorrow!!
      (9 votes)