Tips for Taking the SAT in 2021

2020 was surely an interesting year for standardized tests. Many schools went test-optional and allowed students to apply without the daunting task of taking the SAT. However, as we return to some sort of normalcy, the importance of the SAT rises once again. While some things are definitely different regarding coronavirus, some things remain the same. So, let’s review the most important tips for taking the SAT in 2021. 

1. Study, study, study

Shifting to test-optional has become the trend for institutions to follow this admissions cycle. Schools like the University of Chicago, Bowdoin College, and Bryn Mawr College, however, were test-optional before the COVID-19 pandemic. For the 2020-21 admissions cycle, every Ivy League and almost all top 20 schools are test-optional. 

In a test run by Robert Schaeffer of FairTest, 1,070 schools were test-optional pre-COVID-19. Today, 1,686 schools have migrated to test-optional for the current admissions cycle, 68 of those being completely test-blind.

The University of Pennsylvania is the only test-optional school to report its test-specific stats for this admissions cycle. They recorded that nearly 75% of their applicants submitted their test scores with their applications for this cycle.

Test-optional means that students will have to work a little harder to earn a spot at their dream schools. This change allows students to showcase their strengths and dilute their weaknesses on their college applications.

The importance of a well-rounded applicant

This remains the same. Regardless of new regulations in the testing center or the fact that many schools went test optional next year, the SAT is still a very important aspect of the holistic admissions review process. Therefore, you should do everything you can to study for the test. You may want to create a study schedule for yourself. For example, you may choose to study three hours every day after school for the two months leading up to your exam date. To get a strong understanding of the SAT material, you should begin studying at least one month before your exam date. 

There are many ways to study for the SAT. One of the best ways to study is to use your most recent PSAT score report. Your PSAT score report can provide key insights on how you would perform on the SAT at that time. If you studied for the exam, it can tell you what your best score would be at this current level. The great thing about your PSAT report is that it provides in-depth information about how you did on each topic in each subject matter.

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 For example, the PSAT report will tell what questions you got wrong, what level of difficulty the question was, and what subject the question covered. So while you may have excelled in the math section of the PSAT, you may have consistently struggled with harder geometry questions. In this way, you can pinpoint the areas you struggled with and create a robust study plan moving forward. The College Board has also partnered with Khan Academy to create personalized study plans based on your PSAT score. These tools can significantly improve your scores for free. 

In addition to these resources, you can also consult local tutoring services, SAT college prep books, or online programs that provide tons of practice quizzes. While studying may not be the most exciting thing, it is necessary to bolster your scores. In fact, studying is more important now than ever as SAT dates are still tentative. Many students need to take the SAT for college admissions, and the College Board prioritizes students who need an SAT score the most. Therefore, you may find it more difficult than it once was to take multiple tests over the course of a few months. As such, every test counts. You never know how many opportunities you will have to take the test so you want to make sure you put your best foot forward for every test.  

2. Get a good amount of sleep the night before and eat breakfast the day of

Many students get so nervous about the test, they feel the need to cram even if they have studied regularly over the past few months. This is never a good idea. Your body needs rest. Harvard University states you need seven to eight hours of sleep before every exam to ensure you are awake and alert. A good night’s sleep can help us decompress; it also helps our brains sort out what we learned in the day. Trying to study when you’re tired means you’re working twice as hard to learn, and it usually isn’t very successful. According to Cornell University, if you must study more before the exam, try to study in the morning before the test instead. 

Studies also show that eating a healthy breakfast before your exam can improve your exam scores. As you can imagine, it is hard to focus on your exam when your stomach is grumbling and your body feels fatigued. The BBC suggests eating slow-release carbohydrates, such as whole-grain bread or porridge. They also recommend eating a protein to help you feel full for longer. For a little extra luck, you can add an Omega-3 fat as it has brain-boosting properties. Walnuts, salmon, chia seeds, and soybeans are rich in Omega-3 fat

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3. It’s okay to be nervous

Some degree of nervousness can be helpful when taking an exam. The Mayo Clinic reports that a little bit of nerves can sharpen your mind and help you maintain focus. Think of it like a baseball player before a big game. A little bit of nerves will help his heart beat faster. A faster heart rate sends blood pumping through the body more quickly than before. Such adrenaline can result in faster reaction times and a speedy run across the baseball diamond. If you have a bit of nerves, there is nothing to freak out about. However, test anxiety may be harmful to your performance. Try to mitigate such crippling feelings by working out before taking your test, avoiding foods or drinks that make you jittery such as coffee or energy drinks, and utilizing breathing techniques. The SAT is just one part of your college application. While testing again may be difficult, it is possible. Be a little nervous, but try to put things in perspective.

4. Be prepared for new regulations

Due to the ongoing pandemic, students should mentally prepare for new changes to their testing environment. Once you arrive at the testing site, you will likely see signs reminding you to social distance. Take those signs seriously, even if you are outside. You will also be required to confirm a series of statements that ensure you do not have nor have you been exposed to coronavirus. Remain calm and answer the questions honestly. The College Board reports that failure to comply with COVID rules and regulations will result in cancelled scores without a refund. 

5. Don’t forget a mask

According to the College Board, masks are required for all students and staff. You will not be allowed into the testing center without one. Select a mask that you feel comfortable wearing for many hours. The last thing you need is a mask that will distract you or make you feel like you can’t breathe. Choose a mask you are familiar with or have worn before and pack it in your car the night before. You should also pack an additional mask in case yours breaks or you lose it. The more you prepare beforehand, the more prepared you will be.

6. Bring cleaning supplies

In an abundance of caution, you may want to bring a few cleaning supplies to ensure your area is clean. This may help soothe your nerves about exposure to COVID, while testing. Additionally, these measures can keep you safe. You may want to bring wipes to clean your desk and chair before and after testing. It may also be wise to have hand sanitizer in your backpack so you can regularly disinfect your hands after touching desks, pencils, or door handles touched by others. 

7. Regularly check your testing center’s status

Closures due to coronavirus outbreaks and social distancing measures may occur. Ensure that your testing center still plans to host the test the night before your exam. You wouldn’t want to go through the anxieties of waking up on testing day and driving the testing center to find out the test has been cancelled. If your test is cancelled, you can take another test on another date or at a similar location. While these changes may be stressful, try to remain calm. You will still have an opportunity to take your SAT test. You may even look at it as a positive—it gives you more time to study! 

8. Think critically about sending scores

After you take the SAT, think about whether or not your scores are competitive for the schools you’re applying, especially if they are test-optional. Check college’s average accepted students page to compare your scores to average students. For example, you may have earned at 1510 on your SAT and the school you’re applying to has an average score of 1490. In this case, you will want to send in your scores. Your score proves you are more than capable of the academic rigor at that institution. If you are a poor test taker and your average score is less than the average acceptance students’ SAT score, but the rest of your application matches the type of student they accept, don’t send scores. Sending lower than average scores to a test-optional school will likely hurt your chances more than help. Think critically about what makes the most sense for the schools you’re applying to and send scores strategically. 

While the test-optional route opens many doors for avoiding the SAT, be sure to consider graduation and scholarship requirements as well. Some scholarships require a certain SAT score for eligibility. Consider all factors when deciding whether or not to send scores.  

Good luck on your SAT in 2021 and think positively! You got this!

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