Taking the SAT can cause a lot of stress, especially if you’re unprepared. Here are some simple do’s and don’ts to make test day go a lot smoother.
Do create a College Board account early
I had several friends who waited to sign up the night before the deadline for regular registration and found themselves only halfway through creating their profile by midnight. Sign up at least a week before the deadline—that way if something stops you from being able to finish signing up, you can complete it later without worrying.
Also give yourself around 45 minutes to sign up. The last thing you want is to be rushed when entering important information and end up putting in something incorrect.
Do pick a test date that works for you
If you know you’re going to be on vacation all summer, don’t sign up for the August SAT. If you’re planning on applying Early Decision or Early Action, don’t put off taking the SAT until November or December, because you’ll miss your deadline.
If you like to get things done early, take the SAT in May or June of your junior year. I took mine in May, and getting it over with felt like an enormous weight had been lifted. If you want to wait and focus on other things first, take the SAT in October or November.
If you know there’s a possibility you’ll want to take the SAT multiple times, don’t wait to take it. You’ll be busy with school and college applications at the beginning of senior year, so don’t add to your stress by putting off the SAT. If you want to take SAT Subject Tests, you need to factor those in as well. Plan to take those in May or June after you take a class in the subject—so the information is fresh in your mind—but before your applications are due.
Do take at least one practice test
The SAT is already stressful enough, why would you want to walk in completely unprepared? Khan Academy offers free personalized SAT preparation, including essay questions. After taking my PSAT in October, I only practiced using Khan Academy, and I walked into the SAT feeling completely prepared.
While I took more than one practice test and practiced for more than 30 minutes, you don’t have to. But feeling confident while taking your test can help you make good choices and not second guess your answer choices that are most likely right.
Do prepare the night before
The night before your test, you should make a checklist of everything you need to bring. You’ll need:
- Your printed admission ticket
- A valid ID (if you’re using your school ID, remember it needs to have your date of birth and picture on it)
- A College Board–approved calculator (replace the batteries or charge it beforehand)
- No. 2 pencils (not mechanical pencils)
- A water bottle and a snack
This can prevent last-minute stress or rushing the next morning. The last thing you want is to be late. Once the doors close, you’re not getting in.
Related: Top SAT Prep Do’s and Don’ts
Do take a guess
There is no guessing penalty on the SAT. If you’re running out time and still have five questions to go, make sure you fill in those bubbles! Worst-case scenario, you get them wrong, which has the same effect as not guessing. Best-case scenario, you get them right and get a higher score.
Don't lie when creating your student profile
When you register for the SAT, you have the option of filling out a personal profile with info that can be sent to colleges. In this section, it’s not to your advantage to lie about your grades or what classes you’ve taken. This also includes stretching the truth, such as playing football at home but claiming you play a varsity sport. We all know it’s wrong, and the consequences could outweigh any potential benefit.
Don’t assume you can drop the Essay
I had multiple people in my testing room ask if they could take just the SAT without the Essay. If you registered to take the test with Essay, you can cancel the Essay before test day without a fee, but don’t expect to be able to at the test center. Once you walk into your room, you can either cancel your whole SAT and Essay or just stick it out and write the Essay. (I recommend sticking it out.)
Don’t spend too much time on difficult questions
If you’re stuck on a difficult question, skip it and come back. The easy questions are worth the same amount of points as the hard questions.
Don’t use your cellphone during the test
The exam proctor will collect everyone's phones before the test to ensure there’s no cheating. Don’t hide it, because if you’re found with one during the exam, your scores will be canceled. Also, when you’re told to silence your phone and turn it all the way off, actually turn it off. If your phone makes a noise, your scores will be canceled. It’s also a major distraction for everyone in the room.
Don’t take the SAT as a freshman or sophomore
Unless you have some other circumstance that requires you to take the SAT early, you shouldn’t take it earlier than your junior year. You most likely won’t have the math skills necessary for the test, which will bring down your score. Freshman and sophomore year should be when you focus on doing well in your classes and get involved in clubs, sports, volunteering, or getting a job. The last thing you want on your college application is you taking the SAT your sophomore year and neglecting to do anything outside of studying.
Find more helpful SAT tips in our Test Prep section.