Testing season is almost here. If you’re planning on taking the ACT in February or the SAT in March, you should be well into your test prep by now (if you think you might be behind schedule, check out our post onwhen to start preparing for either test). Even if you’re on track for success now, how you handle those anxiety-filled days right before the exam can have a major effect on your score. You’ve put months into preparing for the ACT or SAT, so why would you want to throw away all that hard work the day before? Here are our pro-tips on how to put the finishing touch on your test prep so you can walk into the exam 100% ready.
1. Develop a plan for last-minute studying
Studies have shown that cramming right before a test doesn’t work. Instead, you should plan out a few time slots to study the day before the test and focus on those areas you struggle with the most. Planning to study for short periods throughout the day, say an hour at a time, can help improve your focus and, in turn, how well you retain the information. You can designate each time slot to a different area you feel less confident about. If you struggle with timing, try timing yourself on a few practice questions. You should be aware of the timing per question for each section of the test (we talk about this in our post on the5 Biggest Differences Between the SAT and ACT).
2. Set your mind and body up for success
This is one of the main reasons why cramming doesn’t work — your body needs rest! Staying up all night studying and only getting 4 hours of sleep before exam day is a great way to shoot yourself in the foot. 8 hours is the minimum recommended amount of sleep you should get the night before (and every night, if you can). Countless studies have shown that a good night’s rest can be beneficial to test-taking in more ways than one. The best thing you can do for yourself before the test, besides getting enough sleep, is to eat a nutritious meal (this means more than a Pop-Tart on your way out the door). It’s important to know your body so you don’t over or under eat, but aim for something high in protein like an omelet or yogurt. You can also bring a snack with you to eat during any testing breaks. Granola bars are a great option for staving off those midday hunger pains.
3. Know what to expect
First and foremost, you should know exactly what time you need to be there, NOT just what time the test starts. For example, the SAT begins between 8:30 and 9 am, but the doors close promptly at 8. So you might think arriving at 8:15 would be early but you’d actually be late! Knowing what to expect comes, in large part, from preparing for the test months in advance. Being familiar with the sections, question types, and timing are all keys to success. If you’ve never taken a practice test, you may want to rethink your strategy and put off taking the official exam for a few months. Taking practice tests with trackable, detail-driven results is a great way to improve your score and walk into the exam with confidence.
4. Make sure you have all the materials you need
You should also know what to bring with you (and what you should leave at home). Both the SAT and ACT provide helpful checklists on their websiteshere andhere. Both tests require you to bring a photo ID and leave electronic devices at home. Though you can bring a watch or a timer, you should plan ahead to make sure that it follows all rules (you obviously won’t be able to use the stopwatch on your iPhone). You are also required to bring sharpened No. 2 pencils (not mechanical or pens). I would recommend bringing more than the suggested two, just in case. Even if you think you’re the master of standardized test taking, make sure your pencils have good erasers — you could still make a mistake!
5. Go in with the right mindset
I know you’ve all heard this before, and I hate to be corny, but this really is the biggest part of testing and it can make or break a student’s score. Low self-esteem is something most of us struggle with at some point in our lives and we see it all the time with students who don’t believe they can get that high score. A 36 on the ACT may seem unattainable, but if you encourage yourself you may be surprised by what you can achieve! Regardless of how lofty your goals are, going in with a positive attitude will make the test feel like less of a drag (which we all know it definitely can be).
Taking the SAT or ACT can feel like one of the biggest moments of your life. This would make anyone anxious! Being prepared when you walk into the exam is the best way to reduce stress. I know not everyone is a Type A organization-lover, but I promise you that knowing you’ve covered all your bases will pay off in the long run. You shouldn’t spend the morning of the test worrying about whether or not you know where the testing center is or if your calculator will be allowed. If you get all of that out of the way beforehand, you’ll have the peace of mind necessary to bring home a top score.
By: Emily Sahli, Staff Writer, Curvebreakers