Standardized tests like the SAT and ACT are long… really long. These exams feel far more like marathons than sprints. The marathon comparison may actually be unfair to the famous run, as elite race winners finish their 26.2 in less than 2.5 hours. At 3.5 hours each (without the essay, of course) the SAT and ACT demand much more, at least mentally. Like marathons, these long tests challenge a participant’s body, mind, and will. So what do marathoners know that test takers can learn from?
Mimic the Course
Runner’s World suggests that, when possible, you start doing training runs on the same topography as the marathon. “For example, go up and down lots of hills if you’re running New York City, and get used to several hours of pancake flatness if you’re running a course like Chicago.” The benefits of simulating your race day challenge in training matches up well to test prep, where timed practice tests under simulated test conditions are absolutely essential to success.
Don’t Just Run
This may sound counter-intuitive, but running alone is not enough preparation for a lot of running. Trainer Samantha Clayton suggests a more balanced approach: “Cross train at least two days a week with low-impact workouts. This will improve your overall fitness level and give your bones and joints a rest from all the miles.” In the same vein, test takers cannot just rely on practice testing to propel them to their loftiest goals. Curriculum work and targeted test review with coaches promotes greater gains in less time than testing alone.
Practice Your Fuel and Hydration Strategy
When you’re pounding the pavement at distances most sane people drive, you need to pay attention to fuel. What and when you eat and drink impacts your performance on profound levels. Testing doesn’t take as much out of you physically, but maintaining peak levels of energy and focus requires a strategy. You should definitely drink non-caffeinated beverages during a big tests. Also eat an excellent breakfast and bring performance snacks delivering both protein and sugar for breaks. Nuts, fruit, and maybe a little bit of chocolate can make a massive difference on test day.
Grueling physical challenges require tremendous mental toughness. Most marathoners talk themselves across the finish line with strong words and positive affirmations. Research assessing the effectiveness of self-talk interventions on endurance performance found performance increases across the board. Positive self talk can be equally powerful on test day. Instructional self-direction works really well on tasks involving focus, strategy and technique.
Some marathon success strategies are more applicable to test success than others; you can, for example, get away with new sneakers on test day without fear of blisters. But marathon races and marathon tests require the same levels of training, planning, commitment, and will for those seeking their best results. Put the work in and you’ll feel like a winner when your marathon is over!