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Self-care Tips for a Stress-free SAT/ACT: Sleep On It

Resist the urge to cram before a test — a whole night’s sleep will be more beneficial

Most students think that reading and memorizing all night and into the morning before an exam is the best way to ace a test, a practice known as cramming. Cramming is trying to jam in a bunch of information into your short-term memory right before an exam. While cramming does work, it only works compared to not studying.

This article will look at cramming versus getting a good night’s rest before a test, how much sleep you need, why you should head to bed instead of cramming the night before a test like the SAT or ACT.


Cramming before a test is something many nervous test-takers have done, but there is little benefit to studying as hard as possible. While trying to remember every little detail of the subject you will be tested on seems like a good idea; cramming is not the best solution. Stuffing information into your short-term memory doesn’t mean you have learned what you’ve read. Learning material is how we recall information in times of need, such as when taking a test.

Studies have shown that many students can’t recall information they have crammed. When you cram, you are not developing an understanding of the material. Instead, you are training your brain to recite it. Also, cramming increases your stress levels, inhibiting concentration and making test-taking more difficult.

Cramming will also deprive you of something else that will actually help you when you take a test: sleep. “Pulling an all-nighter” is another term well known to students. With cramming comes staying up all night, drinking caffeinated beverages, and pouring over notes until the wee hours of the morning. Moreover, cramming seems to be part of our societal framework now, valuing studying all night over a good night’s sleep.

A Full Night's Sleep

However, getting eight hours of sleep rather than memorizing a few key points produces better results. For one thing, a whole night’s sleep will leave you feeling relaxed and alert for your test as opposed to exhausted, anxious and wired from caffeine. When you get enough sleep, your mind can process information more efficiently.

One study found that students who met an “8-hour sleep challenge,” where they slept for a full eight hours the night before a test, did better than students who crammed. Thirty-four students were given the option to take the challenge, and their sleep was monitored by a wrist device that recorded their activity levels. Eight-hour sleepers scored five points higher on their exams, not counting extra credit points.

Sleep is widely underappreciated, especially in our fast-paced, coffee-to-go, 14-hour-workday society. The pressures of paying bills, building wealth and getting promoted are eroding one of humans' most basic needs. While students don’t have these pressures yet, they have different pressures. Getting into the best school, pleasing parents, and scoring high on the SAT or ACT are still significant pressure points for students.

At InHouse Test Prep, we know the value of sleep before tests and its importance in general. We go through many different aspects of test preparation, not just the learning aspects. Click the link below to learn more about how InHouse Test Prep fully prepares students for the SAT, ACT, SSAT, and ISEE.

Sleep Is Better, if Not Equal, To Cramming

Studies show that cramming provides little to no significant advantages over sleeping. According to, a study published in the Journal of Interior Design studied 44 design students, half who took the eight-hour challenge and half who didn’t. The half that got eight hours sleep did just as well as the half who crammed all night. However, the good sleep group was much more well-rested, averaging over 98 minutes of sleep than their counterparts.

Regular Sleep Is Key

The essential aspect of sleep is regularity. Getting a good night’s sleep once in a while will not benefit students in the long run. Try to make a regular sleep schedule. Here are some tips for straightening out your sleep schedule in advance of a test:

  • Be patient, adjust your bedtime by 15 minutes earlier every 2 to 3 days

  • Don’t nap, save your sleep for nighttime

  • Get up at the same time every day and be strict about your sleep schedule

  • Avoid screens, eating and exercise close to bedtime

Once students are in college, their lives and schedules become much more chaotic, unpredictable and unbalanced. Put the phone away, close the laptop, and get some sleep.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

The Sleep Foundation recommends adults need seven to nine hours of sleep to feel rested in the morning. Teenagers are still growing and require eight to ten hours per night. Many students get less than the recommended sleep time around exams. Additionally, the stress surrounding exams causes the sleep they do get to be suboptimal.

Final Thoughts

Get to bed rather than staying up all night cramming. Evidence suggests that adequate sleep every day is vital for learning and memory, two essential aspects of testing. REM sleep also appears to help strengthen critical thinking and problem-solving skills, valuable skills for test-taking.

At InHouse Test Prep, we teach more than just facts and numbers. We dive into all critical aspects of test preparation, including setting an optimal sleep schedule, to ensure students are fully prepared for taking the SAT, ACT, SSAT, or the ISEE. Click the link below to see how else InHouse Test Prep can help your child meet their full potential.

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