When Debbie Stier was in her mid-40s, she decided to do something most people have nightmares about: She took the SATs again for the first time in 30 years.
“I know! People ask, ‘Why would anybody take them again?’” Stier laughs. “Originally, when I went back it was to figure out how to best study for my son,” she explains.
Stier went on to take the exam a stunning seven times total over the course of a year, becoming something of an expert on the exam in the process. Stier was having so much fun delving into the test that she decided to start The Perfect Score Project, a blog devoted to decoding the SATs that eventually became a book of the same name.
“I really thought it was possible to get a perfect score,” Stier explains. “And I thought, ‘I love the SAT and everyone hates the SAT; I’ll look at what works, what doesn’t.”
As she walked into a New York high school to take the exam for the first time, Stier at first wondered how she’d be received by her fellow test-takers.
There was, however, one person who did notice Stier that one day in the testing center. “The proctor at the end came to me and whispered, ‘So are you going back to college?’”
Stier stresses that both parents and students have more control over the process than many may realize. She offers these tips to students who are preparing to take the SAT this fall.
Try to make studying a family affair
“As long as your kid has to take the test, it could be a shared experience,” says Stier. “This is a really stressful time in a kid’s life, and they might resist you, but any level of engagement is good.”
With her two children, Stier developed a couple of different approaches. “My daughter and I would have arguments using SAT words,” she explains. “And I loved reading my son’s essays for the writing section.”
She also encourages students to read books and newspapers. “Most kids don’t read nonfiction,” she notes. “I’d start integrating it into the home. ... I started small, [having my children read] one New York Times story every day, and then we would discuss it.
Bring energy boosting snacks
Stier says she has perfected her list of test day snacks, all of which she claims helped her focus and maintain energy. “Always bring a bottle of water, super dark chocolate [she recommends 70 percent cocoa content or higher] and apple slices fill the belly really well.” Listerine strips, Stier says, also provide a refreshing jolt of energy. “It’s like taking a shower,” she says.
Don’t cram the night or week before
“There’s not much studying you can do that week before,” Stier points out. “Cramming is the worst thing that you can do.” Instead, she recommends trying to relax and not get too anxious about the exam. Parents should also note that the days before the test are extremely stressful for high schoolers and they should avoid unnecessary tensions.
Stay calm the day of the exam
“Get yourself into the zone and don’t get ruffled,” she says. Anxious students may also want to practice breathing exercises and other relaxation techniques.
Research potential testing sites well before the exam
While many students take the exam at the test site located closest to their homes, Stier says that is a mistake. Big test centers are much busier and have more distractions.
Here’s what test takers should look for:
• Make sure you will be taking the test in a classroom rather than a school auditorium or gym.
• Ask about the size of the desks, and avoid test locations that only have smaller, porkchop desks.
Follow Lakshmi Gandhi on Twitter @LakshmiGandhi.