What Should You Do the Night Before the SAT or ACT?

Night before SAT checklist

Guest blog post by Pierre F.

Think back to the classic cartoons, where an unlucky antagonist gets caught in an avalanche before plunging downhill as a colossal snowball accrues around him. It might be fitting to compare this hilarious moment to the stress that many students feel the night before their big test. Months of preparation coalesce into one giant snowball — a culmination that can seem overwhelming as many students, ever-conscious of the pressures awaiting them on test day, struggle to fall asleep.

This post seeks to mitigate those worries by providing some simple steps to answer that sometimes-neglected question: what should you do the night before the SAT or ACT?

Step 1: Take care of business
You don’t want to rush around on test morning. It’s best to prepare the various materials you’ll need to enter your testing center before you hit the hay. So, what might those materials be?

Firstly, you should confirm the time and location of your test center. Those can be found on your admission ticket, which you should also have already printed (in color, if possible). You’ll need a valid ID — school IDs are sufficient — to doubly-verify your identity.

Secondly, be sure to take stock of all the testing materials you’ll need. Pack two #2 pencils, some extra erasers, and an approved calculator. You should consider taking backup batteries if your calculator is battery-powered. Owners of solar-powered calculators aren’t off the hook. Please be sure to pack an extra sun, should the sun stop working during the test.

If possible, you might want to bring a watch. Although your proctor will call out the time at various intervals, your test center is not guaranteed to have a clock. We’d recommend a digital watch without an alarm. Both the SAT and ACT prohibit watches with alarms, and that constant ticking can be distracting.

You might want to store all of these materials in a clear, plastic bag. Break out some of those Ziploc bags; they work just fine!

To save time in the morning, lay out your clothes the night before. Please remember that what you wear to the testing center will not be the highlight of Paris Fashion Week. Dress comfortably, with breathable fabrics and perhaps an embracing hoodie. And if you show up to the test center with pants made of pudding, wake up. That’s a dream.

Step 2: Feed the machine
Food is essential. Harvard psychiatrists have argued that “what you eat directly affects the structure of your brain,” so let’s explore some healthy — and scrumptious — options.

On the night before the exam, be sure to eat a healthy, nutritious meal, full of carbohydrates, vegetables, and proteins. You might feel tempted to scarf down tons of what dubious scientific magazines call the “healthiest foods,” but that probably won’t help you. The benefits of healthy eating accumulate over time and eating edamame one night won’t immediately transform you into a super-genius. Even carb-loading, the supposedly-helpful ritual where runners scarf down carbohydrates the night before their big race, doesn’t always work.

It’s perhaps best to eat a full meal of healthy foods, rather than give into unfounded myths. Turn down the Doritos for some pasta and vegetables!

On the morning of the exam, be sure to continue eating healthily. A meal full of proteins (eggs, for instance) is essential to supporting your brain through its difficult work. Consider, furthermore, shaking off the morning grogginess with some light reading, crosswords, or Sudoku.

Step 3: Hey, chillax.
Try not to study the night before the exam. Cramming in extra information during the wee hours of the morning likely won’t really help. If you feel stressed, looking over your notes or a few complicated formulae can help calm your nerves — but try to not exceed a quick review. Trust in your prior preparation and ability to recall knowledge!

So, how to relax? Well, it’s different for everyone. In case you’re stuck, we’ve provided links to the best 40 comedies on Netflix and Spotify’s relaxation playlist.

Sleep is crucial to success on test day. Many studies suggest that poor sleep habits — especially prolonged ones — can reduce students’ abilities to both understand material and perform well on exams. Try to sleep a little more than you normally do; 30-60 extra minutes can be helpful. Make sure to set plenty of alarms, too!

Some scientists argue that phone usage is linked to insomnia; they recommend that you stay off of your phone for 2-3 hours before sleeping. Given those ideas, maybe consider limiting your fervent Instagram scrolling a bit on the night before your exam. Trust me, the World Record Egg can wait.

Ultimately, you should remain calm on the night before the SAT or ACT. Prepare for the day ahead, but don’t forget to relax. To get a little philosophical, the piling snowball is only as dangerous as the mountain will allow. Armed with a helpful night-before routine, your ample preparation and agile thinking will help you navigate whatever question comes your way.