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How To Score Higher on a Test like the SSAT, SAT, or SHSAT: 5 Effective Strategies


Remy reading a play with her costar
Remy Zaken Andersen, owner and head tutor of Andersen Education, studies a play with her costar


Understanding content is an essential ingredient to scoring highly on any test, but if that’s the only step you’re focusing on, you’re missing out. As a professional tutor who uses holistic strategies with my students, I recommend five additional tools you should consider to score higher on a test.


Study Hygiene


Where you study matters! Studying and completing homework should be done in the same place: a table or desk, not a couch or bed. When we are too comfortable while completing a task, our brains associate that task with rest and relaxation which is not the state you should be in while prepping for a high-stress situation (taking a test). Your table or desk should ideally be in a room with low background noise, though some ambient noise is welcome and always present (coughing, sniffling, sighing, shifting around, pencil and eraser sounds, paper turning, etc.). Stay clear of high activity areas, like a kitchen or living room, and keep your table or desk clear of anything other than your study materials, a snack, and a glass of water. 


Yes, that means your study time should be phone-free: not on your desk, in your hand, in your lap, or in your pocket. Put your phone elsewhere with notifications silenced and the screen down to avoid any unwanted distractions. Let your friends and parents know you’ll be studying and won’t be able to respond so you don’t feel tempted and can have as much uninterrupted time as possible. In the age of heavy reliance on technology, this will likely be difficult and you might feel yourself itch for your phone. But stay strong so you can retrain your brain!


Before you give into temptation and call a friend for homework questions, I challenge you to work as independently for as long as you can. Perhaps get through as much material as you possibly can, accumulating a couple of questions, before you reach out. A call to a friend is going to be distracting, so make it worth it.


Screen Time and Focus


There are many benefits of a smartphone, but one of the biggest costs is its affect on your focus and attention. A great way to counteract this is to commit to a maximum of two hours screen time per day. I’ll admit this can be very challenging, but also very worth it. The more time you spend scrolling on social media, the less you’re able to concentrate on a single topic for more than a few minutes.


Another tactic for retraining your focus is to read paper books at night and take time away from devices (even Kindles). Start slowly and commit to reading ten minutes before bed, eventually increasing to a half hour each evening. Again, this will feel challenging at first, but the pay off will be huge.


Nutrition


Nutrition directly affects your performance on tests. If your brain doesn’t have enough fuel, it won’t be able to think clearly and recall the necessary information. I am not a certified nutritionist, so I won’t make specific suggestions, but I do recommend drinking water throughout the day and eating balanced meals. Notice what kinds of food give you energy and put you into good moods. It’s going to be different for everyone!


Sleep


There are countless studies on the benefits of sleep and how it affects our bodies. Sleep is the time our brain uses to detox from the day and categorize information. It is crucial you sleep 7-9 hours per day and at minimum for the three nights before your test to counter any sleep debt you may have accumulated.


Strategic Power/Study Naps


This is a strategic technique I used while studying at Columbia University to help your brain categorize and retain information for a test. A 2019 study concluded that “a 1 hour nap provided comparable improvement to learning as time spent cramming.” This is yet another reason you should not wait until the night before to begin studying! By giving yourself two or three days of studying, you are giving your brain even better tools for retention and essentially doubling your study time. 


Conclusion: Score Higher on a Test Without Studying More!

These are the tools I have found to be most effective as you study and prepare for a test. Give them a try and let me know which work best for you! And share this post with others so they can also improve their study process.

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