Alright, you heard the proctor. He said something like, “put any snacks or drinks under your desk,” and now the race is on. You look down and are comforted by the sight of the soda can sweating at your feet. Just a few more sections and you’ll get to your snacks.
But wait, what’s in that bag of snacks that you packed?
Let’s go back to the beginning.
In an ideal world, you went to bed at a reasonable time, woke up refreshed, had a hearty breakfast, went to your test, and didn’t get test anxiety. In the real world, that may not always be the case. The good news is, these are factors that you can control and learn to deal with. When you’re armed with a little bit of knowledge, you can make sure you’re ready for test day.
First things first, let’s talk about what should be your two new BFFs: protein and fiber. You’ve likely heard of both, one from the people at the gym telling you that protein is good cuz liftin’, brah, and the other from your mom telling you that fiber is good for you just ‘cause. But you’re older now, and you want real explanations to things. So here’s one. Protein and fiber make you feel full and comfortable because they stay in your stomach longer. They also balance your blood-sugar levels by decreasing the absorption rate of sugar, which, for laymen like us, means that rather than a quick sugar high and then crash, sugar slowly enters your system and keeps you going longer.
With us so far? Okay, great! Now, let’s talk a little bit about complex versus simple carbohydrates. For simplicity’s sake, let’s take a cup of diced pears and a cup of Fruit Loops. The diced pears are high in complex carbs and the Fruit Loops are high in simple carbs. The pears are delicious and will give you energy over a longer period of time. The Fruit Loops are also delicious, but they’ll only give you a concentrated boost of energy before you burn out in a sugar crash. When you eat simple carbs, insulin spikes to return the body to homeostasis (balance), which can lead to headaches, fatigue, and general anxiety…things you don’t need during your test.
Which leads us to our next point – EAT YOUR BREAKFAST, but be careful about what goes into your system. If you don’t eat breakfast or are nursing the crash from a high-sugar bowl of Frosted Flakes, your thought processes will be split between the Scantron and thinking about how hungry you are (something the guys in the white robes call “cognitive load” Woo! Science!). When you don’t eat breakfast, your body has been fasting for 12+ hours by test time, which triggers something called ketosis. At this point your body is burning your muscle tissue for energy, which malnourishes your brain, kidneys, and heart, three organs that rely on the energy derived from carbohydrates. So, before you gear up for that test, consider the following: a hearty breakfast is not a McGriddle or a full stack of IHOP pancakes. Remember that blood sugar thing? It’s quite the challenge trying to think about the properties and relations of plane figures when your eyelids feel like Ronald McDonald’s hanging on them. All things considered, a bad breakfast is better than no breakfast, but for the best results, on test day, eat something light and then pack your test-day snack. Here at Cram Crew, we have collected a list of our top 7 test-day snacks.
(Recommended: ¼ cup of nuts, ½ cup of dried fruit)
Try this. Grab a small handful of almonds or peanuts and eat it. Your stomach kind of swells, doesn’t it? That’s what makes these a great and healthy snack to consume during your snack break. Now, add a few raisins to that mix and bam, you’re good to go. Having trail mix on hand provides a lightweight, tasty stomach-soother. Almonds and other nuts are also filled with the heart-healthy kind of fat. It is not advisable to eat these if you suffer from allergies, though.
Bananas, Oranges, Apples, and Grapes
Easy to eat? Check.
Not only do fruits include complex carbs, but they also provide your body with a healthy dose of fiber. Fiber plays a role in reducing the absorption rate of sugar, which keep your blood sugar from spiking (and crashing afterwards) and also helps your digestive system. Both types of fiber (soluble and insoluble) are good for you. The type of fiber found in oranges, for instance, is soluble, which means that it can make you feel full and also help lower LDL cholesterol, which collects in the walls of blood vessels. The type of fiber found in grapes is insoluble, which means that it’s more geared toward helping your digestion. A healthy stomach is a stomach that won’t make a painful GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRL sound (scientifically known as a borborygmi) during your test.
Having a few protein-rich, low-fat string cheese bars can provide a good mental break and physical snack during your test. If you’re not a fan of the bland taste, feel free to carry a little cup of salsa to dip it in. If people look at you strangely, let them. They probably don’t have a good snack.
When buying yogurt, be sure to look for yogurt that is lower in sugar but not specifically “low-sugar” because that implies that it contains artificial sweeteners like sucralose or aspartame. (The jury is still out on the safety of these chemical compounds.) These two artificial sweeteners, which can be hundreds of times sweeter than cane sugar, can cause uncomfortable bloating and gas, which is not that pleasant to deal with during a test.
This is like the “low-fat” phenomenon. A team of brilliant marketers at one point not too long ago decided that food that was otherwise high in sodium, sugar, or whatever else could be sold by the truckload if it was branded as “low-fat” (much like people will ignore the high sodium levels of Coke Zero because it has zero calories). Low-fat is just code for high-sugar, so before you reach for yogurt as a healthy snack, be sure that it’s low in sugar, or at least has similar grams of sugar and protein, in order to keep your sugar levels balanced.
Celery and Hummus
(recommended: ¼ cup of hummus)
It’s almost like celery was designed to be used to scoop this nutrient- and fiber-rich food into your stressed out system. What’s even better is that there are so many varieties of hummus that you have lots of options to choose from.
Raw Veggies and Ranch
Yes, ranch in and of itself is not entirely “healthy” but you won’t be lugging the entire bottle of ranch (we hope) into the test room. Take one of the clear plastic to-go cups from a random restaurant and munch on fiber-laden raw veggies on your test break.
Whole Grain Crackers and Turkey
(recommended: get low-nitrate turkey)
We’re not going to get through this list without some mention of good, old-fashioned lean meat (the lean meats are lower in fat but high in protein). Pack it with about 6-8 whole grain crackers and eat during breaks.
Water. Due to the mental strain and stress involved in test-taking, you will be using more water than usual, especially if your test date falls between the months of April-October in Texas. When you stay hydrated, you stay refreshed. Water use is even more important if you drank caffeine, which acts as a diuretic, before or during the test.
Which leads us to…
Coffee. I mean, it’s great, but by itself, is just an empty stimulant. Caffeine before or during tests is a bad idea because of the sharp crash. Anytime 3-7 hours after intake, your body can experience a caffeine crash. Sure, your body might be able to resist the crash until the test is over and you stumble out for a nice nap in the parking lot, but why risk it? You could do well in Section 3, bubbling A, B, D, E, C, A like it’s no one’s business, and then in Section 4 your hand will suddenly become incredibly heavy. Now you can’t move beyond the A bubble and you end up bubbling in A, A, A, A, A, A, A and what appears to be a disjointed hyphen between the last two rows of letters.
If you’re a regular coffee drinker, on your test day, limit your caffeine intake to one cup and get some food to go along with it. A higher intake of caffeine (or worse, energy drinks) could trigger anxiety in an otherwise calm person.
So there you have it! As you prepare for tests, it’s important to plan ahead, both for the night before (when you should be getting a good night’s rest) and for your meal before and the snacks during the test. Don’t let all your hard prep work for the SAT, ACT, or other tests go to waste because of something as silly as not eating properly or often enough.
– Hugo R. and Nicole W.