The night before my SAT, I questioned why I signed up for the test a month prior to the majority of my peers, and felt overwhelmed by the idea of getting a bad score. Yet somehow, I managed to walk into the testing room radiating confidence and walked out with just as much!
I want to share a few things I kept in mind during a time that otherwise would have easily frazzled me.
Here’s how I prepared myself for AP exams and standardized tests alike! It takes more dedication than cramming the night before. Although, if you are running out of time to prepare, it’s key that you get in the right mindset and review your broad concepts.
The good news? This doesn’t have to take too long if you can compose yourself and your resources.
Tip 1 – Manage your time well
If you’re reading this the night before your big exam, sorry, but I can’t help your scores go up overnight. Instead, I can help you condense your thoughts and organize them before walking into the testing room.
Having good test-taking skills takes more than nonstop studying the week before your exam. Taking extra time out of your day to study a little bit each day is actually proven to help people retain information better. Plus, it helps you keep your stress under control instead of feeling swamped by reviews the week before.
Personally, I use Google Calendar on my phone to map out my assignments and events, including setting aside time to study. I am a visual learner and prefer to see the chunks of time color-coded and labeled. I recommend you keep your calendar view on a weekly basis so you can see several days at once and have a sense of development throughout the week.
I started studying for the SAT about a month ahead of time. When considering finals and other large tests, I give a few days to a week for extra studying. The key is to divide the concepts you need to work on into bite-size pieces that are easier to retain.
Trust me, cramming is NOT the way to go.
If you feel the need to cram because you truly waited too long, I recommend you still take mental breaks between difficult concepts and in intervals of about 20-30 minutes. Even a few minutes of rest can help to prevent feeling overwhelmed.
Tip 2 – Review your materials
Studying by yourself can be helpful to really crack down on the topics you have been feeling uneasy about. It’s also a good idea to consider group studies as it will push you to review the concepts your peers are asking questions about.
If any of your classes offer group study with your professor, I highly recommend you drop in, even if it’s just to ask a single question. Chances are you won’t be the first person to be called on and you can review what other people ask. You may also come up with more questions while bouncing ideas off your classmates.
Keeping your notes organized together will help you start off well. If you have notes on topics you struggled with in the lecture, consider grouping them together to review more often than your other notes.
This may not help with classes that work chronologically. If necessary, keep a list of topics you need to revisit and make room for questions along the way. Highlighting or adding a tab to the notes that correspond to this list will help make reviewing the materials together.
Reviewing all of your notes may be unrealistic depending on how many course materials you are presented with. The truth is, you and your professor are the only people who know where you need improvement. If you find it difficult to follow along or you didn’t get the answer right the first time, keep practicing. If you are confused or feel you are jumbling up your subjects, ask questions for clarification. When a review session feels meaningless, it probably is, because you are not challenging yourself.
Tip 3 – Shift your mindset
Walking into the testing room with confidence will certainly help more than a stomach full of nerves, no doubt. Though, if ridding of test anxiety was as easy as telling yourself “I can do this,” we’d all be without worry. So, how can we shift our mindset about test-taking to make the process that much easier?
When preparing for the SAT, I used Khan Academy, aka my favorite study tool for standardized tests. They have informative videos and allow you to work on sets of questions that increase in difficulty as you progress through new skills. It’s easier to feel well-prepared when you put in the time to review skills that are expected on these exams.
P.S the base-level math class that I’ve been told to take before embarking on your SAT journey is Algebra 2, so keep that in mind if you’re done with the class and want to take the exam in the future!
Make a list of what you need to know, what you do know, and what you have worked on to gain a better understanding. If you already know or have worked to better understand the majority of what you need for the exam, you are going to feel more confident in your ability to succeed.
Don’t be afraid to ask your professors to be clear about their expectations for tests. It will help you to understand the type of test (multiple choice, essay format, etc.) and the variety of content that will be presented on it. Even if they cannot share specific parts of the chapter to heavily review, they should outline what chapters will be covered and the course materials that you need to be well-prepared.
If you are feeling nervous about the exam or doing well on it, check out my post for test-related anxities.
Preparing the night before
It might seem obvious, but setting out your clothes ahead of time and having your bag together will save you a ton of time while getting ready the day of the test. Plus, who wants to worry about finding an outfit on the day of an important test? Not me. Find something comfortable that makes you feel confident so you walk into test day feeling your best!
Consider making some overnight oats if you’re crunched for time. They’re packed with protein and don’t have to be flavorless! Check out the TUO Oatspiration guide on Instagram if you aren’t sure how to spruce up your next bowl of oats.
It should go without saying that getting plenty of sleep is going to help you focus on your exam. Don’t oversleep though! Remember to set your alarm and give plenty of time to account for traffic or other delays if they apply. I also enjoy a winddown exercise the night before an exam to help ease nerves and calm the mind so that I get meaningful rest. The last thing you want is to go to bed early and end up tossing and turning the whole night.
What to do on the day of
Getting a meal in before you go about your day is crucial. Without food, you are depriving your body of what it needs to be at peak function. If you think you’re going to ace a test with the focus of a hungry caveman, you’re wrong. Besides, you’ll feel better and more awake after eating and you won’t be distracted by hunger halfway through the first section.
If you don’t tend to have a lot in the morning, that’s okay too. Just make sure you are getting enough that your body is fulfilled. If your stomach is growling, you haven’t fed it enough and the rest of your body is affected by that. Yes, even your brain!
My favorite grab-and-go breakfast is muffins, and I have a chocolate chip muffin recipe here on the blog. You can even substitute the chocolate chips with blueberries if you’re more of a berries-in-the-morning person.
You can also find all the breakfast inspiration you need on the TUO Breakfasts page.
Even if you are not a morning person, you can do well on an exam scheduled in the early hours of the day. Don’t psych yourself out because of this by any means. Just focus on what you can control, which is getting your body the rest and fuel it needs alongside familiarity with the subjects.
During the exam
Grab your pencils, water bottle (if allowed), and calculator if applicable, and get ready.
Walk into the testing room with the confidence that you have done everything you can to succeed and you will do well with what you are familiar with. There is no shame in not knowing some of the content covered on the exam, just don’t get hung up on them.
Seriously—Don’t spend too long on one question! I had quite a few instances where I circled the number in the book and came back to it once I finished the rest in the section. This is a great way to stay timely, but I cannot stress how important it is to double and triple-check that you’re bubbling in the right numbers if you skip a question!
There’s nothing to stress out over, even if you don’t feel confident in your answers right away. Just keep your head held high and wait until the results come. If you’d prefer a higher score, you can learn from this experience and have a better understanding of the types of questions you need to be prepared to answer. Take some time to keep practicing and schedule another exam when you feel comfortable.