When you take the SAT, you’re really taking two tests in one. The first is the test you know (and probably strongly dislike). The second test is an internal challenge: you have to manage your mind, stress, and emotions. You might know everything about math, reading, and writing—but if you can’t master the inner test, you won’t get that score you want.
That inner stuff — the anxiety, stress, feelings of inadequacy — saps the energy and focus you need for answering questions correctly. With all that noise, it can be challenging to think clearly and do well.
Fortunately, there’s something you can do about it: it’s called mindfulness meditation. By now, there’s a bunch of research that’s been done on the positive effects of meditation. These benefits include reduced stress, reduced anxiety, greater self-awareness, greater emotional regulation, and better sleep.
Obviously, any one of those positive effects can help you on the SAT. I’ve started introducing mindfulness meditation to my own tutees, and they’ve responded really well. One has described how he feels “sharper,” calmer, and more confident while completing problems, and he’s been getting far fewer wrong answers. Even more importantly, he’s shared with me how the practice has helped him in other areas of life too. This brings us to an even more interesting point...
If you’re a normal high schooler — or a normal human being for that matter — you’re probably quite familiar with stress, anxiety, and the challenges of regulating all those crazy emotions. We all have that little hamster of anxiety and worry inside of us running a mile a minute (or one that is ready to do so). The SAT, then, is an awesome opportunity to confront that crazy hamster in us and help the furball learn how to calm down. You can use the SAT as a self-contained “training ground” for learning how to manage your stress and anxiety—and you can transfer the lessons you learn from the SAT to all the other areas of your life. Seen this way, the SAT isn’t just some boring, stressful thing you have to slog through on the long road to a college acceptance. Rather, you can turn it into an opportunity for serious and important personal growth that will serve you long after you fill in your last bubble.
Here’s one way to guide you through mindfulness meditation.
Step 1: Find a quiet, comfortable, private space. You can sit on a pillow on the floor or in a chair (whatever’s comfortable). Find a position that’s relaxed, but alert. When you’re ready, set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes. Pro-tip: silence your phone!
Step 2: If you like, close your eyes. Begin to breathe, deeply at first, but then let yourself breathe naturally. Bring your attention to your breathing, and work to really notice how it feels: the coolness of air entering your nose and going down your throat; how your chest expands with air and your shoulders rise; the warm air of the exhale; the pause between breaths…Do your best to pay attention only to these sensations.
Step 3: Inevitably, your mind is going to think of other things. The email you need to send. The math problem you think you got wrong on the quiz. The friend who’s mad at you. All that. Practice noticing when your mind goes to these places, and kindly catching it and bringing it back to the breath. You can “say” to your mind: “Back to the breath, buddy.” Or: “I’ll worry about that later.” Or: “This is meditation time.” Or just: “I notice that.”
The point is to observe. Don’t judge anything as “good” or “bad.” You don’t have to do anything about those thoughts; meditation is the special space where you can step away from those things and not get wrapped up in them. Also, don’t beat yourself up when your mind wanders: that’s simply what minds do. The whole point of the exercise is to notice when it does and bring it back to your breathing. Over time, you’ll get quicker and better at noticing this wandering. You’re building up the “gap” between you and all the things you think about and get worried about. That’s precisely what will help you keep your cool on the SAT.
Step 4: Once your timer goes off, slowly come back to the room and ease back to a waking state.
Here’s a key point: it doesn’t really matter how “good” you were at meditating that day. This is a judgement-free zone. It’s okay if your mind wandered wildly the whole time, despite your best efforts to observe it. Your meditation was “successful” if you sat down to do it.
Step 5: Repeat! I suggest doing a little bit of this every day (it only takes 5-10 minutes). I like to meditate before bed and when I wake up. Regularly meditating totally changes my days: I sleep well, and I’m a lot more focused, energetic, and aligned with my best self.
For more detailed instructions — and for really helpful guided meditations — I suggest you check out some meditation apps like Calm, Headspace, or Insight Timer, or their associated YouTube channels. There’s a lot of free resources out there — find what works for you!
We understand that every student is different - that’s why we emphasize structure and customization in our approach to the SAT. Instead of offering a one-size-fits-all curriculum, we’ve created a highly structured yet flexible SAT program that offers everything you need to succeed on test day. Before you even meet with your tutor, we assess your strengths and weaknesses with a diagnostic SAT exam. Then, we input these first results into our adaptive SAT software. With this baseline, you’ll be ready to start practicing with the help of your tutor. Rather than rolling out a generic program, your tutor will know exactly what content you need to cover in session, what homework will be most useful for you, and the most appropriate times for practice tests. Add our verbal game plan into this program, and you have the most highly customized approach to the SAT available anywhere.