Zen and the Art of Test Prep

SAT and ACT prep without the stress

Girl Exercising YogaYou’ve been preparing for your upcoming SAT or ACT exam like crazy. You spend hours with your SAT tutor or ACT tutor reviewing vocabulary words, practicing your math skills and taking practice tests. But all that intellectual preparation alone won’t save you if you aren’t feeling relaxed and ready to go when test day arrives. Most students are juggling busy lives with school, homework, activities, friends, jobs…and now throw in the upcoming ACT or SAT or other exam, and your stress level rises. Add to that test anxiety, which plagues many good students, and you have a recipe for less than ideal test results, not because you don’t know the material, but because your brain isn’t working at its best.

If you’ve ever been sleep deprived, you know how that affects your brain. You already know that you need a good night’s sleep before test day. And of course, hunger – or being too full – will impact your ability to concentrate, so eat a light but nutritious breakfast on test day so you are comfortable and energized. Studies support the brain body connection, so pay attention to your physical health in the days and weeks before the exam and be well rested when you show up for your exam.

But what about your mental state? How does your mood affect your performance? Being stressed can really impair your ability to learn and, of course, it can affect your test performance. Let’s go over a few ways you can reduce your stress both during your test prep study sessions and on test day:

Deep breathing

Deep breathing is a fast way to reduce your heart rate and instill a sense of calm and control. Practice this before you begin your next study session: Sit with your back straight, and take slow, deep breaths 5 or 6 seconds long. Repeat several times until you feel your heart rate slow and your mind relax: breathe in, breathe out, inhale, exhale.

Controlling your breathing will help gain a sense of calm. And you can use this on test day. When you find yourself facing a challenging question, take a deep breath, hold, release, repeat, clearing your mind to tackle that problem again.


For a deeper relaxation, this exercise is great to practice at home for a few minutes before each study session. Get comfortable in your chair, relax your entire body and empty your mind. Feel each part of your body relaxing, starting at your toes and moving slowly up to your knees, hips, back, shoulders, neck and so on. Practice your deep breathing. Now begin some “visualization” exercises. Visualize yourself taking the test, make an image in your mind’s eye of yourself sitting in the chair and writing the correct answers. This exercise helps clear your mind and give you a sense of well-being, so you feel more in control and confident.

Write about it

Ever have angry or worried thoughts racing around in your head? Though it may seem like an odd notion, writing about your fears and anxiety about the exam can have a therapeutic effect. Getting things down on paper tells your brain it no longer needs to keep them front and center and it can let them go. Practice expressive writing at home if you have trouble getting started on a study session. Then, if you need to, plan to write for ten minutes before the test to help clear your mind so you can now focus freely on the exam material.

Have a good study plan

A good study plan that is well executed is essential to getting your mind in the right place. Start your test prep early, well before the exam date. Avoid waiting too late to start your program. Organize and manage your time well. Set up a schedule and goals for yourself and stick to it. Seek help from a good tutor if you have weak areas that you can’t tackle on your own.

Most importantly, relax and enjoy the challenge.  With all your hard work in school, you have prepared a long time for this experience. And, with your solid study plan and your stress-reduction plan, you are going to be well-prepared and ready to go on test day!

For a less stressful test prep experience, remember Z! Prep offers one-on-one tutoring for test prep and your program is customized just for you to tackle whatever you need help with most.