Reaching the Finish Line: Why the SAT is like Running a Marathon

Marathon runners

During this span, these men and women made time in the schedule to run almost every day, perhaps sneaking a run in early in the morning before work or dedicating a Saturday for one of their long runs. And as the race neared, they backed off on the distance, giving their bodies the rest it needed to be at its prime on Monday morning.

The SAT is a marathon, not a sprint. Including the optional essay, it’s just over four hours of testing. For comparison, the median marathon finishing time is 4 hours, 19 minutes for men and 4 hours, 44 minutes for women. It’s hard to imagine someone running a marathon without copious amounts of mental and physical prep, and the same applies to the SAT.

In preparation for a marathon, runners make time to run as often as possible, perhaps sneaking a run in early in the morning before work or dedicating a Saturday for one of their long runs. And as the race neared, a knowledgeable runner will shorten their daily distance, giving their bodies the rest it needed to be at its prime on Monday morning.

In many ways, the marathon training regiment mirrors how you should study for the SAT. While you don’t need to start prepping a year out nor gorge yourself on carbs, there are many marathon principles you can apply to your prep to help you perform your best on test day.

 

Set a date and have a plan

No one begins training a week before a marathon and no one trains without a plan. Runners will start training in earnest between 12 to 20 weeks before the race and follow a dedicated running schedule during this timespan to ensure they’re ready.

Similarly, many students begin their SAT prep an entire year in advance. Setting a date for your test and establishing a study plan can keep you on track and focused. If you study sporadically, you’ll find yourself backtracking and relearning the same information.

 

Keep the end in mind and commit

Running a marathon is grueling. Cramps, exhaustion, nausea, burning muscles — there’s no end to the varieties of pain runners encounter over the course of what’s often a three-to five-hour race. But that doesn’t keep runners from signing up for a race, nor what keeps them from getting up in the morning for another training run. What motivates them is crossing the finish line, running a personal best, or feeling empowered by accomplishing something difficult.

Similarly, remember why you’re taking the SAT and where a great score could help take you. Few people enjoy studying for a standardized test. But this sacrifice isn’t for nothing. When you don’t feel like sticking to your study plan, think of how every bit of studying is bringing you closer to your dream school.

 

Run your own race

When you’re running in a pack, it’s easy to push or fall off your pace. Running too fast early on may set you up for trouble during the last 12 miles of the race. Instead, seasoned runners know how to run their own race and not get distracted by those around them.

Every learner is different, so don’t feel intimidated if other students are working toward different goals or excelling in different subjects. When you’re sitting in the testing room with forty other test-takers, concentrate on your own pacing, not the pace of the people around you. Focus on the section in front of you and keep your cool.

 


Pace yourself

You can master every single topic on the exam, but if you can’t complete questions in your allotted time, you’ll be scrambling through the second half of each section. The more your practice, the better you’ll be able to keep yourself on track.

Know where you should be after 15 minutes, 30 minutes, and so on. For example, the Evidence Reading section includes 5 passages with about 10-11 questions per passage. Given that you have 65 minutes for that particular selection, you should aim to spend about 11-12 minutes on each passage, leaving you 5-10 minutes to check your answers.

 

Hydrate and fuel your body for performance

Nutrition and hydration are an integral part of marathon training and running. To perform at their best, runners fuel their bodies properly before the race and rehydrate throughout.

Thinking isn’t commonly considered a physical task, but your brain gobbles up 20 percent of your caloric intake, and for it to fire at peak efficiency, your brain needs a sufficiently hydrated body. Dehydration has been shown to shrink brain tissue — something you’ll want to avoid on test day. Bring water and a few healthy snacks to the test center. While you won’t be allowed to stuff energy chews in your mouth and dump water on yourself marathon-style during the test, you will have designated breaks during which you can refuel. Take advantage of them.

 

Relax after you finish

No runner in her right mind (excluding ultra-marathoners) finishes a marathon and then immediately starts training for the next one. Similarly, take some time off after you finish the SAT. Though you’ll have to wait around three weeks to get your score, celebrate the fact that you set a goal, committed to a study plan, and got through an exhausting four hours of testing. Even if you think you’ll take it again, you haven’t come out empty handed. You set for yourself a difficult task and followed through — this is valuable experience you can draw upon throughout your life.

The SAT is a marathon, not a sprint. Including the optional essay, it’s just over four hours of testing. For comparison, the median marathon finishing time is 4 hours, 19 minutes for men and 4 hours, 44 minutes for women. It’s hard to imagine someone running a marathon without copious amounts of mental and physical prep, and the same applies to the SAT.