No one thinks of the SAT as an athletic event, but for your brain, the test is a 3 hour and 45 minute mental marathon. And just as muscles need proper rest and nutrition to perform their best, your brain also has physiological needs to function at a high capacity.
While you can’t do your best on the SAT without studying, you can improve your test day performance by adopting a few habits to help your brain perform optimally. Though the following tips sound simple, and perhaps obvious, don’t underestimate them. Even small changes can have impact on this grueling test.
You may wonder how drinking water is going to help you achieve a higher SAT score. If you have any doubts, let these scientific facts wash them away.
Water makes up approximately 60 percent of the brain, and your hydration level can have a profound effect on your neurological functioning. When your body lacks water, brain cells shrink, and the communication among brain cells slows — exactly what you don’t want to happen in the middle of the SAT. In fact, just a 1 to 2 percent drop in fluid levels can lead to decreased attention and slower thinking.
Traditionally, experts have recommended drinking eight glasses of water a day, but this benchmark is debated. For starters, make sure you are drinking water throughout the day in the days leading up to the test, especially if you have a habit of drinking sodas or caffeinated beverages, which can dehydrate the body.
On test day, be sure to take in fluids before the test and bring a water bottle, which you’ll be allowed to drink from during your breaks. Hydrating properly does not mean pounding as much water as you can, which is actually unhealthy, so don’t overdue it, and don’t worry, you’ll be able to use the bathroom during your breaks.
2. Eat healthy carbs
Why carbs? It turns out that the brain is a picky eater. The brain’s mitochondria rely on the glucose obtained from carbohydrates, and since it cannot store its own energy, the brain needs a constant supply of glucose from the blood stream to fuel its processes.
Taking a test on an empty stomach is a terrible idea, but loading up on sugary snacks to spike your energy level is not wise either. You want to sustain your energy and focus throughout the entire test, so you want to keep your blood sugar level steady. Make sure you eat a hearty meal a few hours before the test and avoid candy or sugary drinks for bursts of energy as they cause a spike in insulin and an inevitable “crash.”
In terms of what you should eat, make sure your pre-test meal is loaded with healthy, complex carbohydrates, such as the carbs found in dense grains like steel cut oats, brown rice, or quinoa, and bring low-glycemic snacks with you like trail mix or healthy energy bars to snack on during your breaks.
3. Sit up and move around on breaks
It turns out that practicing good posture does more than just please your mother; it may also lead to a higher SAT score. Research continues to illuminate the reciprocal mind-body relationship, showing how the mind can actually take cues from how we physically hold ourselves. In particular, studies have demonstrated how posture significantly affects attention and mood.
When you feel tired or you mind feels muddled during the test, check your posture. If you’re slouching or hunched over, straighten up. You’ll not only feel more alert, you’ll be more alert, and it will be easier to focus on the question in front of you.
Movement also affects energy levels. Sitting at a desk for hours drains your energy. Getting up and moving, making the blood flow through your body by stretching or walking a little, will subsequently recharge your energy and rejuvenate your focus, decreasing your chances of making careless errors when you return to the test. While you won’t be able to leave your desk during the test, you will be free to get up and move around during your test breaks, so don’t hesitate to stand up and move around to ensure your return to the test with focus.
While these tips alone won’t guarantee you’ll get a killer score on the SAT, they will help ensure that your brain is primed for peak performance.