5 Ways to Help Your Child the Night Before the SAT

My 11th grader recently took the SAT for a second time. Her older sister, a college sophomore, took the test four times in high school.

As a frequent proctor for the Saturday-morning exam, I view the SAT with an unusual, trifold perspective: as the mother of test-takers with very different learning styles; as a teacher interested in seeing students perform well; and as a proctor hoping to provide a comfortable testing environment for nervous teenagers who are often stressed out about the test.

Getting your high schooler ready for the SAT can easily feel overwhelming for a parent. Many of us haven’t engaged with algebra in decades. And for some of us, the SAT is a not-so-fond memory. In addition, as this NerdyTeacherMom can attest, even when you know a thing or two about grammar, test-taking or academics, chances are your teenagers won’t want to listen to your advice.

I’m here to tell you that you are NOT helpless when it comes to preparing your child for the SAT! I tell my daughters frequently: I am your biggest fan. It’s true.

YOU are your child’s biggest fan. Your role as facilitator, motivator and cheerleader is vital. Thankfully, this position requires zero algebra skills.

Here are five things you can do the night before the SAT to improve your child’s chances of kicking butt on the test.


Remind your children that it’s just a test. Tell them that you believe in them. Text and tell them how awesome you think they are. Tell them you’ll be proud of them for simply doing their best. (And mean it!)


Briefly discuss some of the strategies your child plans to use on the test. (Note the emphasis on "briefly." Avoid lecturing and droning on and on.) Ask them a few questions, such as the following:

  • What will you do if you feel yourself falling asleep during the SAT?

  • What’s your plan if you have 5 minutes left but seven questions still to answer?


Help them collect the items they’ll need the night before, so there’s no scrambling in the morning. If possible, place the small items in a clear storage bag, page protector or pencil case. Remember the following:

  • Admission ticket (Print it out.)

  • Identification (School IDs, driver’s permits, or driver’s licenses are all suitable.)

  • #2 pencils, sharpened (Your child will need old-fashioned, wooden pencils, not the fancy mechanical ones. Make sure they have at least two pencils. Don’t rely on the testing center/school to provide these. If possible, also include a small, manual pencil sharpener.)

  • Eraser

  • Calculator (Charge it, and add fresh batteries, if needed.)

  • Water bottle (See-through is best.)

  • Snack (Pack something quick and easy-to-eat that won't be stinky or make a mess.)

  • Sanitary and personal hygiene products (If it’s that time of the month, pack sanitary products in a small purse. Don’t rely on the school/testing facility to have feminine products. I’ve never seen a school bathroom stocked with feminine products. Because the test is usually administered on weekends, resources may be locked away and unavailable to proctors.


Encourage your child to get a good night’s sleep. Create a calm, stress-free environment at home. 

I’ve seen students fall asleep during the test. Some students have shared stories of studying until 1 o’clock in the morning and not being able to sleep at all due to anxiety. One student said he stayed up until 4 a.m. playing video games. He had forgotten that he’d signed up to take the SAT in the morning. 

Let your child know that you, too, will set your alarm and will get up in the morning to help things go smoothly. Also, plan a breakfast that your child likes. The testing room will be quiet, and your child’s stomach growling might be distracting to the other students.


The SAT is a long exam. The test starts before 8 a.m. and typically dismisses well past noon. That’s more than four hours of phone-free, brain-busting intensity. Something to look forward to -- like a yummy lunch or fun activity -- may be uplifting and motivating. Whatever treat you decide to offer, it will undoubtedly be an appreciated and deserved reward for a job well done.

Comment below to share what has worked with your test taker or to ask a question.


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