— A Week Before Your Test: What to Do —Starting a week before your test, you need to focus on only three things:
You need to get on a regular sleep, hydration, and eating schedule as soon as possible. By getting your mind and body optimally fueled and rested, you’ll be setting yourself up for test day success.
Following are all my recommendations for this extremely important week:
1. Figure out exactly what time you’ll need to wake up for your SAT/ACT.
Use the ACT.org or College Board website to do so. In fact, print out a copy of your ticket now and double check exactly where you’re taking the test, how to get there, when you need to be there, and what time it starts.
2. Start waking up exactly two hours before the time of your test every morning.
If your SAT is at 8am, start waking up at 6am every morning for at least a week before you begin. As I’ll explain later, it takes at least 90 minutes for your brain to toggle from sleep to full awareness, so you want to give yourself time to snap out of it.
If you’re waking up at 6am every morning for 7-9 days straight, you’ll naturally jump out of bed at 6am on the morning of the test. If not, you’ll have a wretched time getting out of bed the morning of your test, even if you’ve been getting plenty of sleep. Your body is a machine of cycles.
3. Get at least 8, and preferably 9, hours of sleep every single night.
If you’re waking up at 6am, you need to be in bed, lights off, phone off, alarm set, teeth brushed, by 10pm every night, Preferably earlier.
This is not optional. Sleep is, without question, the biggest factor in your overall mental capacity. And you need to build up your reserves. One or two good nights of rest isn’t nearly enough.
I don’t care if you have school work, social obligations, whatever – get to bed eight hours before your scheduled wakeup time. Make sacrifices. Schedule your obligations and homework in advance. Just make sure to make it happens.
If you want to complain about how hard it is to get sleep, and ignore this advice – that’s fine! You’ll just get a much lower SAT or ACT score than you otherwise would have. Up to you!
4. If possible, take a full-length, timed, graded practice test the Saturday or Sunday before your test day.
Wake up at 6 or 7am, follow my test-night and test-day routine (outlined below) and go through the entire testing process. Take a full-length, timed, graded exam in absolute silence – no phones, TV, computers, etc. anywhere in sight.
Doing so will give you additional “sitting power,” excellent practice, and get your mind and body in gear for the process ahead of you.
If you absolutely can’t do this, it’s not the end of the world – but going through this process makes a big difference. It puts your mind in the zone, reduces anxiety, enhances endurance, and makes for a much smoother testing experience. Also, replicating the full experience of test day, including wakeup times and routines, will be very helpful for your rhythms and alertness cycles.
5. Drink way more water than you normally do.
Hydration is important for four key reasons:
A) It keeps you from getting sick. You can’t be sick the week of your test.
B) It enhances your mental clarity. Without getting into the details, just know this: even a moderate state of dehydration has as negative an impact on your mental clarity as do numerous alcoholic drinks or a concussion.
C) It maintains and enhances your bodily functions. As goes your body, so goes your mind. The list of physiological side effects of dehydration is like a list of everything that could possibly be wrong with you. If your body falls apart, so will your mind.
D) It reduces your levels of stress. Years ago, I read an amazing article by a hero of mine, Tim Ferriss, who had a simple trick: if you ever feel stressed or depressed, go to the sink and drink two enormous glasses of water. Wait five minutes and see how you feel. This trick has literally changed my life. Dehydration causes us internal distress (one of our few genetic imperatives is being ignored, and our body goes haywire as a result). You want to limit your stress the week of your test. This helps in a big way.
Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day, every single day. No exceptions. Preferably twice that much.
6. Eat plenty of healthy food on a regular schedule.
Cut the junk food. Start focusing on getting healthy proteins, fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals at every single meal. Fuel your body properly. Stuff yourself with lean meats, fruits and vegetables, eggs, legumes, nuts, lean dairy, and all the other good stuff that keeps your body running at full capacity.
Just as importantly, eat at regular times. Act like you’re in the military this week. No skipping breakfast. No skipping lunch. Maintain a regular fueling schedule and stick to it.
Again: your body is a machine of cycles. It abhors irregularity. If you want to maintain your health and enhance your energy, stick with a routine. You’ll be much better off on test day (and for the week as a whole).
That’s all there is to it.
So long as you follow these guidelines for the week before your test, you’ll be setting yourself up for success! Just keep this pattern going until the day before your test. Then we get a bit more tactical.
Next up, we’ll get a bit more specific. Let’s figure out what to do in the 24 hours leading up to your SAT or ACT: