a male teenage student sitting at a desk with a concerned look as other students rush past him

Extra Credit

The SAT is a Workout—And Not Just for Your Brain

High-stress brain work can have a surprising impact on the rest of your body

If you’ve taken the SAT, you know how you feel at the end: wiped out! Turns out that’s not just because you took a test at 8 a.m. A recent story about chess grandmasters, published by ESPN, revealed that brain work is body work—especially when stakes are high.

The weight loss—which can amount to 2 pounds per day during a tournament—likely comes from the enhanced stress of the situation and poor eating habits during the tournament. Competitors in high-level chess tournaments can burn hundreds of calories sitting in a chair, as much as professional tennis players burn in an hour of playing singles. ESPN reporter Aishwarya Kumar writes that in 1984 the “World Chess Championship was called off after 5 months and 48 games because defending champion Anatoly Karpov had lost 22 pounds.”

two men play chess, with one of them holding his head in his hands as he concentrates on making a move

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Erwin l'Ami of Netherlands competes against Pavel Eljanov of Ukraine during the 82nd Tata Steel Chess Tournament held in Dorpshuis De Moriaan on January 26, 2020 in Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands.

There are probably (OK, definitely) better exercise plans than playing chess or taking the SAT. But it’s probably not a bad idea to follow the example of how chess masters get ready for their big day: eat well, exercise, and rest. That’s good advice for anyone. Get a good night’s sleep for at least three nights before the test. Another suggestion: instead of studying the day before the test, do something fun, relaxing, and safe. (So—not a good day to go rock climbing.) And bring something to eat for the break. Your brain wants the calories.

And when you’re at the test center, you might even emulate the sitting style of Magnus Carlsen, the best chess player in the world. He plants his “lower back against the chair so it retains a natural curve, his knees slightly apart at the edge of the seat, feet firmly on the ground, and leans forward at about a 75-degree angle.”

Checkmate, bubble sheet.