Ever run a marathon? If you have, you know you can’t just hit the road and expect to run the entire race. You need a training plan that involves building up distance, speed and stamina over an extended period. It incorporates rest, recovery, good nutrition, and an intentional wind-down in the week before the race.
It’s the same when it comes to the SAT, ACT or any other long-form test. It doesn’t matter if you know the material inside and out. If you don’t build your stamina before test day, you’ll find yourself crashing in the middle, and the final sections of the test will suffer.
Building stamina is something that we emphasize here at Tungsten Prep. Here are some suggestions on how you can “get in shape” and make it through test day with energy to spare.
Take Practice Tests
The most important thing you can do to build stamina for your SAT or ACT is to take practice tests. Nothing else gives you the same preparation for what “race day” will feel like. It’s important to take a practice test at the beginning of prep, as well as once or twice during the (ideally) two to four months of study. It will give you not only a baseline score, but also a feel for the endurance you’ll need to finish and where you fatigue, get bored or tune out.
We offer regular free practice tests in our office. You can sign up here.
Fatigue, boredom and panic are a student’s worst enemies on any long exam. Every student is different, so you need to understand when these dragons rear their heads in order to fight them off. Practice tests are the first step in diagnosing how the three-hour exam affects you. For one student, it may come in the form of panic in the second half of a math section, when the questions become increasingly difficult and time-consuming. For another, it will hit during a graph-heavy reading passage that feels impossibly boring.
Battle boredom by identifying your personal areas of disinterest. Sit up straight, yawn or ask yourself active questions to stay engaged. Remind yourself that this is only three hours of your life and create a brief, mental image of why you want to do well on the test.
Tackle panic with good preparation and mindfulness exercises. Knowing the test, its pacing and where you find questions difficult or time-consuming will keep stress at bay. Take a mindful moment to breathe, focus on an object in the room and describe it in your mind in detail but without critical judgements. That 15-second break can re-center you and minimize anxiety.
Learn to Pace Yourself
If you plan to run a marathon at an 8-minute mile pace, you would begin by running one mile at that pace, and then five, and so on… The same applies to test prep. Know the pace and timing for each section of the test. Start with short “time trials” – if the ACT Science section allows 35 minutes for seven passages, tackle one passage in five minutes. Get a feel for that pacing and then slowly build your endurance for a pace that might initially feel rushed.
Invest in an analog watch. Some students find that setting the watch to noon before each section allows one to easily calculate the time remaining and avoid a panicked time crunch.
Fight fatigue by taking several practice tests to build endurance. Focus on good sleep and nutrition in the weeks (not days) before the exam.
Wind Down Before the Big Day
If you’ve prepared strategically, cramming in the final days will make no difference.
What you can do is take care of yourself. Wrap up your prep 48 hours before the test and sleep well. Avoid drama or stress and enjoy a relaxing evening the night before the test.
Plan for Your Ideal Test Day
Even if nothing goes wrong, a high-stakes three-hour test is bound to be stressful and exhausting. So take every precaution to eliminate any unpleasant surprises that could derail your focus.
Pack your “go bag” the night before and make sure it’s stocked with water, a nutritious snack and any other documents required to get into the testing center. Make sure your photo ID is in your wallet and confirm where you are testing and what time you need to be there. If it’s a long drive, plan your route, the time you need to leave the house and when you need to get up. A 6 a.m. scramble for paperwork or the car keys is sure to undermine your cool.
Avoid caffeine or energy drinks and enjoy a protein-heavy breakfast. Drink water, but don’t overhydrate! No one wants to be sidetracked waiting for the one-and-only bathroom break.
Optimize the Break
Take advantage of the short break you’ll get halfway through the test. Stand up, stretch, drink water and enjoy your snack. Dried fruit, a protein bar or jerky will fuel you for the final push. Go to the bathroom. Appreciate the change in your field of vision and give your eyes a rest. You may want to close your eyes for a few minutes to focus on your breath. Avoid your phone at all costs – it can only distract you or introduce drama when you least need it.
Ultimately, every student is different. We can help you figure out exactly what you need to be successful and how to build stamina to sail through test day. Feel free to contact Tungsten Prep to schedule a practice test or a phone consultation.
And if you want a little more help figuring out which test is best for you, the SAT or ACT, sign up for our newsletter for our free breakdown of both tests!