SAT Nightmares? Tips on How to Prepare (and Relax)

I never studied once for the SAT. I didn’t even open an SAT prep book just to see what the format would be like or how the scoring worked. Then again, being recruited for tennis meant I only had to apply to one school, and achieve the bare minimum score on the SAT to be accepted.

For me, nerves weren’t an issue. Sure I worried about blanking out at times while taking the test or the possible brain farts I might get from total boredom, but since I clearly was not aiming for a perfect score, I was at least ten degrees calmer than my peers.

I was proud of my score of 1810. Without even attending one SAT prep class, I achieved a score above my original goal. I thought what was pretty darn impressive.

That being said, it takes a lot of strategy and studying to get a great score on the SAT.  The test has a certain format that is unlike any exam you have ever taken in your high school courses. Some of the questions are very vague (such as the reading and comprehension section), while others are more explicit (such as the math and vocabulary section). And you have to be proficient in all areas to achieve a high score.

Then there’s the essay.

Before you bubble in, you have to scribble in. For me, the essay portion was the easiest part of the SAT. The question is typically open-ended, leaving room for plenty of detailed explanations for your statements. Essay questions also tend to be relevant to your personal life. This makes it easier to come up with examples to support your arguments.

If you understand the format before you see the question itself, the essay will be a near piece of cake. Once you complete the essay, you will still have enough brain power left to complete the rest of the exam.


If you have taken a Latin course in high school, you are good to go with the vocabulary section. Otherwise, you should crack open a vocabulary test prep book. Most of the words in this section have Latin roots, making them easy to define if you know just a portion of the word (the Latin part). The vocab section will be relatively difficult if you have never seen any of the words before.

Exam Royalty Free Stock PhotoIf you really want to prepare well for the SAT, take multiple practice tests to get a feel for the types of questions asked. The reading portion, for example, asks unique questions involving critical thinking and analyzing. Math, on the other hand, is very straightforward. You have to review all mathematical concepts up to trigonometry in order to ensure success with the math portion.

SAT Classes

If you decide to attend an SAT class (which I advise you do in order to relieve potential SAT anxiety), you will automatically gain a boost of confidence in your test-taking skills. Studying on your own with an SAT prep book is riskier, but it is still better than going into the test ill-prepared. SAT classes are offered through certain academic programs and can even be taken at your high school campus.

If you take the test and don’t get the score you hoped for…GOOD NEWS! You can take it over and over again until you receive that 2400!

Physical Preparation

Make sure you eat a substantial breakfast before you take the exam. You are allowed a break in the middle of the test, but your stomach may be upset about that. Hunger signals and stomach growling can hinder your performance, so make sure you eat well beforehand and bring a snack with you for the break. A good breakfast will also give you more energy to help you focus longer during the test.

Don’t Freak Out!

Trust me… the SAT is nothing to pull out your hair for. As long as you focus on the questions and the time limit instead of your stomach, you will be just fine.

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Megan Heneghan

Megan Heneghan

Megan Heneghan is a junior at the University of California, Davis pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Communication, as well as a Spanish minor. She is originally from Orange County, where she grew up playing tennis. She is currently a member of the UC Davis Women’s Tennis Team. When she is not studying, she enjoys singing, reading, and cooking all different kinds of food. She also loves spending time with friends and family.
Megan Heneghan

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