Lost in the whirlwind of test-taking strategies and practice problems that make up the bulk of test prep is the simple fact that there is an immense psychological component to any test as critical as the SAT, GMAT, GRE, LSAT, or MCAT.
As a public service, we will propose some pearls of psychic wisdom designed to put you in the optimal test-taking frame of mind in a new section entitled, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Test.
What to Wear on Test Day
What to wear on Test Day, I hear you ask? What kind of stupid question is that? When did a website dedicated to test prep suddenly decide to begin dabbling in sartorial advice? And moreover what on earth could clothing have to do with taking standardized tests?”
I'm glad you asked. The answer is: quite a lot, if you do it right.
In college, I had a friend who resolutely came to every final exam dressed in a full three-piece suit, replete with polished shoes and a resplendent tie. It seemed to work awfully well for him; his GPA was majestic. So one semester, I decided to give it a shot. Only I didn't own a three-piece suit, and I account ties more or less colorful nooses. Dressing up was out, so I did the opposite, and spent the entire week of finals in an old beloved green bathrobe.
I didn't come out of it except to sleep. I went to get coffee in it, wrote essays in it, and studied in the library wrapped in it. Then I started showing up to finals in it, and discovered something remarkable: however pessimistic I hadfelt about my chances on an exam, however certain I was that I knew nothing, had no business taking the class, or even being in college, and should have just fled the campus and the city and gone to live a life of quiet but dignified failure somewhere in the foothills of Jersey—wearing the robe made me feel infinitely sunnier toward the whole situation. I'd look around the room at everyone else wrapped in scarves and peacoats and mittens and boots, and there I'd be, tromping in, taking off my boots, putting on my slippers, and waltzing around in my dirty old green bathrobe, feeling very imperial indeed.
The point? I did better on my finals that semester than I'd ever done before. No, I can't say for sure if it was the robe. But what I do know is that the robe put me in a frame of mind that primed me for success.
For most of us—and here comes the point of this whole thing—a testing room of any kind is a hostile environment. Everything in it, from the silence to the thickness of the test booklet, from the harsh lighting to the mercenary tick-tock of the clock, conspires against us, and makes us feel small, powerless, vulnerable. And when an environment presses down upon us, we have a choice—we can either put up with it, or we can push back.
There are not many things you can do in a testing room to push back. You can't listen to music, talk, read, or have a one-minute all-alone dance party to “Call Me Maybe.” At the same time there is so little in that room that you can control—time, the questions, the other test-takers, and so on. What you can do, however, is wear something that is outlandish enough that you not only feel good while wearing it, you also manage to colonize this hostile environment, and create a space around yourself where you are in control—plant your own personal freak flag on the beach of your testing desk. “This is my house,” is what you are telling the test. Naturally, you can't wear anything too outlandish—cowboy chaps, for example, are probably out of the question, as is a full mariachi outfit—but there's nothing to stop you from showing up on Test Day wearing a Snuggie.