SparkNotes Blog

SAT Advice From a Student Who Just Took It

lalasunshine took the SAT last November. After a couple of months spent in recovery, she’s finally pulled herself together enough to share what she learned from the experience.

Like every other high school student in the U.S., I had to undergo the torturous, arduous, strenuous, onerous, grueling four-hour ordeal known as the SAT. For some time after I took it, just thinking of the SAT would bring back a rush of the horrible memories of that November day when all my brainpower was sucked from my skull as I plowed through question after question. But now that the experience is a couple of months behind me, I can look back on that day with peace and clarity, rather than terror and agony. And so, I present to you my hard earned wisdom on how to deal with the SAT:

Get your rest.
Get tons of sleep the night before or else you will find yourself so sleepy that you will have no choice but to lay your head down and rest for a minute…or two… or three…or four… or until the proctor says “Pencils down!” Not that I would know from personal experience.

Get there early.
Really. Don’t ignore the experts’ advice. Get to the test center at 7:45 a.m., no matter how much effort it takes for you to wake at such an obnoxious hour. Getting there at 7:45 instead of 8:00 will give you plenty of time to find the appropriate classroom, get settled, and calm your frazzled nerves. Get there past 8 and you may find yourself scurrying frantically through the halls hoping someone will direct you to the right place. Again, not that I would know from personal experience.

Bring snacks.
No joke. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t had my Milano cookies, goldfish, and bottled water there during the breaks to help re-energize my brain.

Don’t get writer’s block.
You’re probably thinking, “She can’t just tell me to not get writer’s block! I can’t control that!” But seriously, don’t get writer’s block…or else your essay score will go down the toilet bowl, as mine did. If you are writing about how popular culture reflects societal values, don’t make your lone example a story about how your sister bought a magazine on the Atkins diet (I totally made this example up, by the way). [Editor’s Note: Here are some ways to avoid this fate.]

Don’t get a test booklet with several critical reading sections in a row.
You can’t really control this one, but I got a test booklet with several critical readings sections in a row. By the time I was in the middle of the third section, I was half-dead from the boredom of having to read those sleep-inducing, soporific [Editor’s Note: SAT word!] passages. It got to the point where I started to pick the first answers that I happened to see–not a good strategy.

If you think you are about to explode from the restlessness, dance.
Okay, I didn’t actually start dancing in the middle of the test center. But I did almost explode from the restlessness about 2.5 hours into the test. And I did start making up dance moves in my head to prevent spontaneously combustion. I also imagined myself strapping on a jetpack and flying off into the sky. I don’t really think any of this helped, so I suggest you wait for the next break and dance your jitters away with all your might until the proctor calls you back in. Just be prepared for all the stares you’re going to get from all your fellow test-takers…

Try your best!
At the end of the day, if you’ve tried your best…you’ve tried your best. College admissions aren’t based solely on your SAT scores, so you’re not going to die if you don’t do as well as you wanted. (And you can always retake it!) I got a pretty decent SAT score, but I still have to worry about factors like my GPA, extracurriculars, and teacher recommendations, just to name a few. The stress that comes with taking the SAT is only a quarter of the stress you will be experiencing overall, so don’t blow things out of proportion. The only thing I can say now is… I can’t wait for college!

Got your own advice to impart to your fellow test takers? Share in the comments!

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