For students who have always feared math class, preparing for a standardized test is the stuff of nightmares.

“It’s something we hear about all the time talking with students and their families,” says Cailin Papszycki, Kaplan Test Prep’s New York area director of SAT and ACT programs. “A lot of students will say ‘I’m a great student, but I’m not a great test taker.’”

We asked Papszycki to share what students should do to shake those math-related jitters.

Create a plan of attack

“We always tell students that studying for the SAT is a marathon, not a sprint,” says Papszycki. “We then ask, ‘What is your study plan going to look like?’”

While students today have to balance a full class load and extracurriculars along with test prep, Papszycki warns that going into the SAT or ACT cold can lead to disaster. Students should begin to create a study plan that tackles the type of math problems they’ll encounter on the test a couple of months before they’re scheduled to take their exam. 

According to Papszycki, students often have questions about algebra prep, geometry and getting used to SAT-style word problems the most.

Practice, practice, practice

Once you have a plan mapped out, it’s time to figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are. Because the SAT underwent a major revamp earlier this year, some students may be surprised by the new format.

“Students have told us the new math section feels totally different,” says Papszycki. “It’s important to get familiar with the test. Know what the questions look like and ask yourself, what are the concepts being tested? Go in prepared.”

Break up with your calculator

Because most of us always have a smartphone on hand, students today are losing their ability to do equations in their heads. “If they are shopping and there is a discount, everyone just reaches for their phones,” notes Papszycki. “They are not used to doing mental math.”

Because students aren’t permitted to use calculators while taking one of the SAT’s two math sections, it’s important to brush up on doing equations by hand.

Do a run through

Once you’ve gone through as many prep questions as you can, it’s a good idea to take a practice test or two. “A lot of parents ask us if their student should take the SAT or the ACT,” says Papszycki. “Either is fine.”

On Nov. 12, Kaplan is holding a free National Test Day where students can take a practice test for free. “One half of the questions will be from the SAT and the other half from the ACT, so students can get a feel for each.”

Have everything you need on hand

Cramming the night before the SAT will only stress you out (and may lead to more harm than good). Instead, Papszycki suggests making sure you have everything you need on hand and heading to bed early.

“Are your pencils sharpened? Does your calculator have fresh batteries? You’ll also need a photo ID and your test ticket to get into the center,” says Papszycki. “Also, make sure you know where your testing center is and what traffic may look like that morning. You don’t want to be taken off-guard if your subway line is going to be down that day.”