By Kate Kula
The week of the test…
The #1 test-week “do” is a straightforward one: get plenty of sleep! Research has proven time and time again that a lack of sleep raises the level of the stress hormone cortisol, impairs cognitive functioning, and even negatively impacts our physical health. Still, too many students with a backpack full of homework and agile texting fingers trade a solid eight to ten hours of sleep for a fitful five or six.
Prioritizing sleep in the week before the test – or, better yet, prioritizing sleep EVERY week – is crucial to every student’s academic performance and overall health. Why not sit down with your student to create a sleep plan that will work just for them? Our President Ned Johnson provides some helpful advice on planning for sleep in a recent blog post.
Eat (and drink!) well.
In a world where even elementary- and middle-school students are rushing between piano lessons and swim practice, Model UN and math tutoring, it’s increasingly easy to grab a quick, convenient, and not necessarily healthy dinner – or to simply forget to eat dinner at all! In the week before the test, be sure to slow down and sit down to a well-balanced breakfast, lunch, AND dinner.
Just as important as eating well is drinking plenty of water (and not the flavored, sparkling kind in the kitschy cans that we all love so much.) A recent study showed that dehydration can hinder brain functioning. So drink up! This is the perfect opportunity to pick out one of those fun reusable water bottles that you’ve been seeing everywhere lately.
Limit your screen time.
Social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram are fun, for sure, but they can also be stressful! The last thing you want in your life in the week before the test is more stress. So, give yourself a challenge: can you put your phone out of sight for half an hour when you get home from school? For an hour? Two hours? While no one is suggesting you go cold turkey on YouTube forever, try to see if you can break the habit of absentmindedly reaching for your phone whenever you have a free moment.
Give it your all on the soccer field or the basketball court, knowing that physical activity helps our bodies and brains manage stress, combat anxiety, and stay sharp for mental tasks like conquering standardized tests.
Doing some review of all the tips and tricks you’ve learned while preparing for the test is a great plan for the week before the test. However, don’t feel like you need to cram. Aim for 20-30 minutes per day (but not at the expense of sleep!) of reviewing your practice tests or binder. Don’t panic and try to learn new material. Think of all you’ve learned since you started preparing and give yourself credit for your hard work.
The night before the test…
Pack your bag.
You know what’s not calming the morning of the SSAT? Rushing around the house trying to find a sharpened pencil or your study binder. To minimize day-of-the-test anxiety, gather the items you’ll need for Saturday morning on Friday afternoon or evening. What will you need?
- Pencils – at least two, and sharpened, please! (Avoid mechanical pencils.)
- A good eraser – nothing that will leave those pesky marks on the bubble sheet when you change an answer!
- Your printed test registration confirmation or “admission ticket”
- A bottle of water
- Snacks – at least two, and more substantial than you might think. Yogurt and a piece of fruit; vegetables and hummus; a hearty, protein-packed granola bar; even a turkey sandwich – all will help refuel your brain (and can be scarfed down during the test break!)
- A sweater or sweatshirt – testing rooms can vary in temperature, so be sure to dress in layers.
If you love to veg out at home, the night before the test is the perfect time to do so. Listen to music, read the book you haven’t been able to put down, or chill out on the couch and watch a movie. Texting your friends a bit is fine, but put your phone away an hour before bedtime.
The morning of the test…
Move your body.
Just 15 or 20 minutes of exercise can lower your body’s cortisol levels and calm some of those test-day nerves. So get moving! Jump rope, take a jog around the block or do some jumping jacks. By the time you get to the test, your body and brain will be better prepared to tackle the task ahead.
And not just a sad apple in the car on the way to the test center! Choose a breakfast with protein, carbohydrates, and fiber that will help power your brain and keep your body satisfied for the next several hours. Few things are more distracting to you and your fellow test-takers than a rumbling stomach!
Is there a song or artist that never fails to pump you up or put you in a good mood? The car ride to the test is the perfect time to pull up Spotify and introduce your parents to Ariana Grande’s latest.
Don’t forget to breathe!
You’ve found your classroom, said hi to a friend or two, and now it’s time for the test to begin. Take a deep breath. You’ve got this!