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Maddi Lee

How to Stay Focused During the SAT

There are tons of tips on how to prepare for the SAT before test day, but what about when you actually enter the test room? Staying sharp and focused during the exam is an art in itself, and it can make quite a big difference in your score. A clear and concentrated mind is less prone to making mistakes than a distracted one. Check out these 10 amazing tips to maximize your performance on test day!

1) Change the way you’re sitting


Posture affects your mentality! If you sit with good posture, you’ll feel more confident, more relaxed, and ultimately, more focused. Lean back and avoid hunched backs and tightly crossed arms. Loosen up! Not only will you feel more confident, but your body won’t feel so stiff. You’ll feel a lot more comfortable in the long run. Check out this SAT life-hack post for more on posture!

2) Set time limits

This is a lifesaver on the SAT. For each section, it’s convenient to write down start and end times to help with time management. If you’re starting your math section at 9:05 for example, and it’s a 25-minute section, write down 9:30 at the top, so you always know approximately how much time you have. You can also find the halfway mark—around 9:18 in this example—and write it next to the question halfway through the test as another mini “deadline.”

This technique is very helpful in keeping you focused and on track. This also works for the essay and critical reading sections, as well. You can allow yourself a certain amount of time to read each passage and complete its corresponding questions, so that you don’t end up spending too much time on any one article.

When you’re writing your essay, know how much time you should spend on each paragraph, so you don’t waste a lot of time on one. For example, you could decide you want to spend four minutes on the intro, five minutes per body paragraph, three minutes for a conclusion, and two minutes for revision.

3) Interact with the test!

The SAT is the kid who you don’t want to sit at your lunch table…but at least for the four hours of test day, make the SAT your best friend! Seriously, though: try to actively interact with it. When you’re reading, annotate. Draw diagrams to help you comprehend difficult questions. Move your lips when you read long passages (or read it in a funny voice in your head). Underline important details.

If you’re actively engaging with the exam, it’s very hard (or perhaps impossible) to lose focus.

4) Guess!

It’s sounds weird, but it actually holds considerable validity. After you read a question, guess before you look at the answer choices. A lot of times, reading answer choices can be strangely worded and lead you to pick the wrong answer. Don’t get confused! Answer the question mentally, and then pick the closest answer choice.

5) Don’t panic!


When you first enter the test room, your hands may start shaking sporadically. Your eyes might fidget. Your might begin to have a seizure on the floor. You might enter the room and just think:

This sounds like a no-brainer, but for real: don’t panic! It’s normal to feel anxiety before the SAT. Just sit, close your eyes, breathe, and remember that it’s really just a test. If you don’t know the answer to a question during the exam, just move on. Draw a small erasable mark on your scantron so you can return to it later. Stress only makes it harder to focus. Keep yourself from negative thoughts, and stay calm!

6) Picture your idea bank

During the essay section, you’ll need to use literary, historical, or real life examples to support your argument. Before you are allowed to start the section, try focusing on your mental “idea bank.” This is a list of examples that you are familiar with and feel comfortable writing about. You can even write them all down at the top of your page when you’re allowed to begin. It’s easier to choose an example when you have them all before you. This will help you stay focused and prevent the panic of knowing what to write about!

7) Outline your essays

Another essay tip to help you focus: make an outline of your essay before! This will help you organize your ideas, while keeping you relaxed and concentrated. Have a good idea of what you’re going to write before you jump into it. Don’t be in a rush to start the introduction.

8) Converse with people during the break!

Talk! It sounds strange, but talking with other people—before the test and during the break—is a very good way to relax and keep things in perspective. It’s a great way to know that you are not alone, and ultimately, it’ll help you stay calmer and more focused.

9) Stretch!


I would do anything to own that kitten. It knows very well the importance of stretching, which can do wonders for your concentration! It’s hard to focus when your muscles are cramping. Before the test, during the break, and after you complete each section, make sure to stretch if you’re feeling a bit uncomfortable. Take a look at some of these stretches!

10) Don’t think about the others!

DON’T look at the students around you! It’s tempting to see where everyone else is at on the test, but it’ll only waste time, increase your level of stress, and make you lose focus. Keep your eyes on the paper or the clock. It isn’t a race! It doesn’t make you cooler than everybody else if you’re the first to close your booklet; it’ll only make you more anxious and more prone to making mistakes. Take your time and pace yourself. If you’re going to finish early, check your work.


All that SAT prep will be for nothing if you aren’t focused on the day of the test. Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll stay calm, collected, and focused for your exam! If all else fails and you’re having a panic attack, just close your eyes and picture this GIF.


If this GIF does not make you happy, then you do not possess a soul. I recommend that you stop taking the SAT and start working for College Board.


Photo Credit: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4


About Maddi Lee

Maddi is currently a high school junior in southern California. She is an avid freelance writer and has been featured in multiple literary publications and anthologies. When she isn't writing, she loves traveling, doodling, and most of all, sleeping. Through her own experience and passion, she hopes to help guide fellow students through the roller coaster that is SAT and college admissions...that is, as long as she survives the journey herself!

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