The Importance of Sleep in Test Prep

When it comes to SAT and ACT prep, everyone likes to focus on their “tangibles” – math formulas, grammar facts, vocabulary, etc.  However, as important as these fundamentals are, no amount of material knowledge will help you to beat your test if you’re sleep deprived.

With the SAT and ACT approaching, it’s very tempting to “cram,” sleeping less and studying more in an attempt to get better scores.  Unfortunately, nothing could be less effective when it comes to test prep.  Ironically, countless students each year sabotage their own performance by trying to gain an edge,

I’d like to make an analogy:

Imagine that you need to chop a tree in half by next week, but you’re working with a dull axe.  The more you swing the axe, the duller it gets.  Part of you knows that you need to sharpen the thing – but there’s no time!  You only have a week!  So rather than sharpening the axe, you just keep swinging harder and harder – the more you swing, the more slowly you progress.  Eventually, the tree isn’t getting cut at all – it’s like you’re smacking the trunk with a baseball bat.  The cycle keeps repeating.

Think of your mind as the axe – right now, all you’ve been doing is swinging.  You need to sharpen your mind, and the ONLY way to do that is with REST.  The more you’ve been studying, the more you need to allow your brain to rest, reset, and assimilate all the information you’ve been learning.  If you try to “just cram for a little bit longer,” you’re accomplishing nothing – except, maybe, for wearing down your own brain even further,

If you want to do exceptionally well on your SATs or ACTs, you need the fundamentals – no doubt about it.  But all the fundamentals in the world are useless if your brain isn’t able to make use of them.  The longer you go without rest, and the more you try to pile on, the less your brain will absorb, the less sense everything will make while you study, and the less effective your brain will be when you actually take your exam.

How do you keep your axe as sharp as possible?  Easily:

1. Get 8 hours of sleep a night, every night.  From now until your test, get enough sleep – no ifs, ands, or buts about it.  Think you don’t have time? Are you too busy studying? Just remember: if you study while you’re sleep deprived, you’re smacking a tree with a dull wooden handle.  Get your rest.  Teenagers are supposed to get at least eight hours of sleep a night – very few of them do.  In fact, they get less and less sleep by the year – and our nation’s test scores keep slipping and slipping.  Ever wonder why?

2. Do not ignore your body.  Stay hydrated.  Get at least 25 minutes of exercise every day.  Eat some fruits and vegetables, and stay away from the junk food.  Hollywood romanticizes the genius programmer surviving off of pizza and Red Bull, but Hollywood is also sponsored by Dominos and Red Bull.  If you actually want your brain to work, try eating some actual food, try drinking water instead of Diet Coke, and try to get up from your desk and move around a bit.  Lack of exercise is one of the leading causes of depression, obesity, and, most important for our purposes, lethargy.  The less you move, the more tired you become – which leads directly to a dull axr.

The more you push yourself right now, the more you’ll see diminishing returns.  As you start to relax, take things a bit easier, and get more rest, you’ll be surprised: in slowing down, you’ll find that your performance starts speeding up.  You’ll be sharpening your axe.

Your homework, and your mission: take it easy, and do not get less than 8 hours of sleep from now until your test.  You might just be blown away by how quickly you start improving.

Cheers, good luck with your prep, and remember to take it easy!


Anthony-James Green is world-renowned SAT and ACT tutor with over 10,000 hours of experience teaching these tests, crafting curriculum, and training other tutors to teach their own students. He is also the founder of CNN recently named Anthony: “The SAT tutor to the 1%

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