With the last ACT and SAT administrations of the year rapidly approaching, it’s time to remind you about game-day strategies. Learning the content covered on the exams and test-taking strategies for each exam is obviously important, but the soft factors involved in managing your focus and concentration on game day can translate to HUGE increases in your bottom-line scores! Hopefully you’ve been taking practice tests, reviewing items you’ve gotten wrong or left blank (only on SAT, since you NEVER leave an ACT question blank :-)), and studying the material you need to learn. If you haven’t been, stop what you’re doing and call CollegePrepExpress at 860-519-1000: do not pass go, do not collect $200, do not even finish this blog.
But seriously, as Game Day approaches, here are some valuable tips, including two FANTASTIC NEW ONES for squeezing out your maximum score on whichever exam you’re taking:
- Get plenty of sleep, nutrition, and exercise. This is NOT simply pat advice mom and dad dole out because they don’t know how else to advise you. Studies show that better-rested students learn more and get better scores on exams. Period. If you don’t believe me, see, for example, “Go to bed! say experts at pajama party panel” in the Harvard Gazette. 8-hrs of good sleep the night before the test won’t cut it either. Get as much sleep as you can the whole week before your test, especially the last three nights. Ask for extensions if you need to. Try to exercise and eat low-carb and low-fat foods, too; your body and your mind are, duh, part of the same organism, so don’t kid yourself that you can neglect one without impacting the other.
- Spend more time studying material, less time taking practice tests. As game day approaches, you will likely have taken enough practices to have reached a point of diminishing returns. Remember that the SATs, PSATs, and ACTs all test your knowledge of a finite body of material. You are well advised to spend the final days of preparation reviewing and, okay, cramming in as much of that material as you can—vocab, math facts, and the seven big grammar rules (ten for the ACTs). If you are aCollegePrepExpress student, you should be focusing on memorizing all the support materials, which you can always grab off the private downloads section of our site.
- Practice deep breathing and relaxation at each study session. Whether you’re about to take a practice section, review some vocab, or do some difficult SAT/ACT math problems, begin each study session by closing your eyes and taking several deep, slow, full breaths of air. Train yourself to breathe deeply to relax your body and oxygenate your brain. Really do practice this so that on Game Day, when you do the same thing—for example, when the bubble sheets and test booklets are being distributed and filled out—you will automatically snap into a relaxed and focused state of being. Just as in sports, you will perform on Game Day the same way you practice, so practice with good intention and clear focus.
- Don’t set an alarm with music (with words). If you wake up to music with lyrics, you run the risk of having those lyrics echoing between your ears all through the test. Aerosmith is awesome, but you don’t want Steven Tyler screaming “Dude Looks Like a Lady” throughout a reading compression passage! Set your alarm to a classical music station or use the buzzer (parents make for good alarms, too ;-)).
- Do your normal morning routine on game day. Don’t be one of those idiots who gulp down three extra cups of coffee during breakfast. Instead, be smart and do what you always do (unless you typically skip breakfast—and quit doing that, btw). Breakfast IS the most important meal, especially on Game Day. Eat a low-carb, high-protein meal. Do NOT eat sugared cereal or anything with syrup (you can do that the day after). Oatmeal and eggs are the best choices.This will be enough nutrition to carry you through the first 2 1/2 hours of the marathon.
- Write Out Your Worries and Nervousness. Based on solid research conducted by Dr. Sian Beilock, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, and reported in her great book, Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To, spend about 10 minutes right before you leave the house WRITING DOWN everything you’re nervous and worried about surrounding the exam you’re about to take. You might think this would heighten your anxiety, but clinical research has shown that it actually has the effect of off-loading your nervousness and test-anxiety, so that when you’re actually taking the test, you can harness more of your brain power (mostly in your pre-frontal cortex) to get questions right. Try it! You have nothing to lose, and lots of points to gain!
- Bring ID, pencils, a calculator (with fresh batteries), your own watch, and a snack (see #11 below) to the test center. I hate to insult your intelligence by mentioning these things, but, alas, history has shown…. As for the calculator, bring the same one that you use for practice tests: the last thing you want is anxiety over finding the bleeping square root key! Also, don’t rely on the clock in the room (it might be inconveniently positioned relative to your seat). Best to have your own watch to set on your desk.
- Listen to Mozart or nothing in the car on the way to the test. For the same reason you don’t want to wake up to music with words (#4 above), don’t listen to music with words on the way to the test center. Classical music, especially Mozart, has been shown to stimulate alpha brainwaves and help put you in a quiet, meditative space. My personal preference on game day would be Mozart’s 40th Symphony. Haydn is perfect, too. NO ROCK (sorry); save that for the party.
- Reaffirm Your Self-Worth. While you’re sitting in the car listening to Mozart or Haydn or nothing at all, calmly think about all the things you really like about yourself. Maybe you’re a great friend or sister or son. Maybe you’re grateful to be a member of your family or soccer team or jazz band. Maybe you’re happy you’re healthy and safe and have a whole life ahead of you. Maybe you know in your heart you’re a good person, kind, honest, and generous of spirit. Thinking about all the facets of your identity, which may have nothing to do with school or success on tests, will put you in the best psychological state to achieve your potential on the exam!
- Be in your own space at the test center before the test and between sections. Do not consort with your friends. Don’t talk to anyone. You don’t have to be rude; you can wave, smile, nod, and otherwise gesticulate, but refrain from hanging out in groups and de-focusing your attention. Politely tell your friends you’ll catch up AFTER the test to find out who said or did what to whom the night before. Breathe deeply and oxygenate your brain. Remind yourself of all the preparation you have put into the test and look forward with confidence to the opportunity to show what you know! Be quiet, calm, cool, and collected. Think of your sports and performing arts heros (except for rock stars ;-)) and imagine how focused they would be before an important event.
- Eat a source of sugar before the last hour. During one of the breaks before the last two or three sections, eat a chocolate bar or an apple or something like that. The sugar will lift you up during your dash to the finish line. Do NOT eat it too soon, though, or you might crash before it’s over. One hour or so before the end, scarf it down. If you get a cantankerous proctor who won’t let you eat anything in the testing room, run to the bathroom and scarf it down there! Wash your hands first ;-).
- Celebrate when it’s over. Like I need to tell you that. But really, you should reward yourself after such a long, arduous journey. Here’s something fun to do as you’re leaving the test center: listen to all the morons who say how easy it was and that it was no big deal. Yeah, right. Concentrating as hard as you can for 3 1/2 hours is really easy. Students who claim it was “easy” typically fell into all the traps and just don’t know it yet. Mwwwaaaaaaa. You will likely feel as though you’ve had a sizable chunk of your brain removed immediately following the test.That’s normal. Go home and take a nap, and then later on go out and celebrate responsibly with your friends.