SAT and ACT Week: The Ultimate Mind and Body Prep Ritual
Tutoring students for the SAT an ACT isn’t just a random assortment of meetings – it’s a process. I need to take every facet of their prep into account if I want them to get the best scores possible. No matter how well-prepared my students are in terms of material and strategy, there’s another factor that makes even more of a difference: their level of mental and physical preparation before test day.
If a student is on track to get a 2200, but gets an 1800 on his SAT, I can be sure of only one thing:
Your SAT and ACT scores are a direct result of your physical and mental “highest possible performance.”
If you’re tired, or hungry, or dehydrated, or stressed, your “highest possible performance” level drops significantly. On the other hand, when you’re well-fed, rested, relaxed, and prepared, and you combine all these positive attributes with tons of practice and material knowledge, you’re going to get a fantastic score!
Even if you’re not taking your SAT or ACT for a month, it is essential that you know my “pre-test-week system” as far in advance as possible. If you follow all these rules and live up to them the week before your test, you’ll get a better score. If you follow all these rules every day from now until your test, you will get an even better score!
Your body is the temple of your mind – if you treat your body and your mind well, you’ll remember more of what you learn and show a remarkable rate of progress. With that in mind, here’s my test-week system, taken directly from an email I send to my students the week before they walk into test day:
The Ultimate Test Week Plan:
1. SLEEP. You need to get insane amounts of sleep every night from now until the test. No cramming allowed. You can’t cram for the SAT or ACT, so don’t try. Try to get 8-9 hours every single night with no exceptions.
This week, it is ESSENTIAL that you sleep with a regular rhythm! If you’re taking the test at 9am, try to sleep from 10pm-7am every night from now until test day. Your level of energy isn’t just a function of how many hours of sleep you get – it’s also a function of how regularly you’re getting that sleep. If you go into your test tired, you WILL NOT DO WELL.
Sleeping for 8 hours a night is not enough – you need to do it at the same time every night. If you reset your clocks so that you’re used to waking up at 7, you’ll feel fantastic on test-day. If you sleep until noon every day, and then wake up at 7am on test day, you’ll feel like death. Get yourself on a consistent schedule and stick with it.
I also want to make something very clear: there is no school assignment, work assignment, or social obligation that is 1/50th as important as your SAT or ACT score. Do not let your social life, your schoolwork, or your job interfere with your test performance. You need to be well rested and establish a good sleep schedule. Blowing months of preparation to edit a PowerPoint, write a slightly better essay, or hang out with Jimmy is a really, really bad move.
1.5. No partying. Let me make something clear: if you party in the next seven days, kiss your chances of a good test score goodbye. Just don’t do it. I’m not saying you can’t hang out with your friends (and you should – it’s very relaxing), but do it during the day or early evening, and do it sober and healthy. Enough said.
2. From now until the test, focus only on your weakest areas. Review only the specific things you have the most anxiety about or feel the least comfortable with. Focus on these and nothing else. You’ll feel better and you’ll score better. Look at your past homework assignments and figure out everything that’s still bothering you the most. Focus exclusively on those things, and don’t worry as much about “overall review.”
3. The weekend before your SAT or ACT, take your last full-length, timed diagnostic test under realistic conditions. Treat this test like it’s the real thing. Observe yourself – take note of what is and isn’t causing you problems when you’re in the act of taking the test. Then spend this week preparing for these problems. You want to acclimate your body and mind to test-taking conditions as thoroughly as possible, and this is the time to do it.
4. Don’t study for more than 90 minutes a day this week, and break your studying up into small chunks of ~30 minutes each. Once you’ve taken your pre-test diagnostic, you shouldn’t be spending more than 90 minutes a day studying. You want to stay “in gear,” but you don’t want to burn yourself out. Mix brief bouts of studying with longer bouts of rest and relaxation. You can’t cram for standardized tests, so there isn’t any point in trying. If you’ve been following a consistent schedule for the last few months, your brain has been fully saturated with information. Now is the time to let it settle.
5. Eat like a sumo wrestler. Proper nutrition is essential for mental performance. You need to start fueling your body for the mental marathon as soon as possible. That means proper hydration and nutrition. You should be eating a big, healthy breakfast every single morning. Eat tons of complex carbs, proteins, and healthy fats. Limit your junk-food. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Make sure to get lots of healthy proteins and fats – lean meats, olive oil, nuts, legumes, etc. Your body is the temple of your mind – treat it that way. Good food = good mental performance. Bad food…
6. Exercise (lightly) every day this week. Try getting 20-30 minutes of light cardiovascular exercise every single day. It’ll improve oxygenation to your brain and help you to relax. Do NOT do intense weightlifting, sprints, etc., especially if you’re not used to exercising. Being physically exhausted can take a huge toll on your brain. Just do enough to get your blood flowing lightly. Take a walk with friends, go on a brief jog, play a bit of basketball, etc. – just keep your blood flowing throughout the week without exhausting yourself.
7. Treat yourself. You should treat yourself like a king/queen this week. First of all, make sure to spend as much time as possible around the people you love; being around other people will decrease your stress and keep you calm. You should also try to eat your favorite foods, do your favorite things, watch your favorite shows, etc. You’ve worked hard, so start rewarding yourself now – I promise that treating yourself well will put you into an incredible mindset when you walk into the testing center.
Stay On Track
The longer you can stick to this schedule, the more effective your ACT and SAT prep program will be. However, at the very least, you should be following this program religiously in the week leading up to your test. I’ve seen students scores drop by over 900 points due purely to lack of rest, lack of proper nutrition, and lack of proper test-day preparation.
Do yourself the world’s biggest favor and follow the steps above – you won’t just do better on your tests – you’ll feel a lot better, too.
If you want more test-week tips, along with my full, step-by-step test-night and test-day plan, you can learn more by visiting my free ACT and SAT prep website at http://www.TestPrepAuthority.com
Cheers, and thanks for reading!