If exam day is approaching faster than you expected, don’t panic! Here is a timeline with strategies and everything you need to know regarding the days leading up to the SAT or ACT Exam and exam day itself!
The Week Before/ the Days Leading Up
The SAT and ACT each take place on a Saturday morning, but the actions you take the week before can have a significant impact on your performance. Most likely, you will have already studied for weeks, maybe even months, so you will not need to do that much content-based preparation in the days leading up to the exam. One of my tips is to make sure you sleep enough in the days leading up to the exam. When I took the November SAT (my first test), I barely slept the week before, since I had been busy with schoolwork. Although I went to bed early the night before, I still felt groggy from all of my sleep debt from the previous nights. Even with a busy schedule, do your best to finish your schoolwork and go to sleep at a reasonable time in the days leading up to the exam.
The Night Before
I struggled to listen to this advice myself, but trust me, on the night before, do not spend time studying! If you feel that not studying is impossible, maybe do one passage from each section and a few math questions just to keep the material fresh. Chances are you have been studying for a significant amount of time, and cramming will not help you in any way. Also, I would make sure to locate all of the items that you will need beforehand--number 2 pencils, calculators, a silent watch with a “chrono” feature, your admissions ticket, your photo ID, and anything else you think you might need. Put all of the items neatly in a bag--this way, when you wake up in the morning, you will have one less thing to worry about. Once you have organized all of your items for the next day, relax! Trying to do questions or learn new vocabulary the night before will stress you out unnecessarily, so instead, go for a walk or go out to dinner with friends!
The Morning Of
On the morning of the exam, I would recommend waking up early to allow yourself enough time to get ready, especially if the testing center is far away. For me, the earlier I wake up, the more awake I feel around 8 o’clock. Although you will be nervous and your stomach will most likely hurt, try to have a nutritious breakfast with protein because the test will last for a few hours, and you will need energy. I would recommend leaving yourself enough time and arriving at the school a little early--between 7:30 and 7:45. When you arrive, people will most likely be huddled around the entrance panicking, but take a deep breath and relax. Don’t let the masses of people stress you out--you have studied and prepared to your best ability! Have your ticket and photo ID ready to show as you will need to present them to enter the school. Once the security guards let you in, there will be a wall with names and room assignments and people to give directions if you are unfamiliar with the school.
Before the exam begins, the proctors will read the instructions, and you will need to bubble in your name, birthday, and other pieces of information. Some proctors will adhere strictly to the script, while others will gloss over certain sections. Regardless, you will probably not begin the actual test until after 8:30 by the time everyone else finishes bubbling in all the questions. When the exam finally starts, the most important thing is not to panic. If you become too nervous, the strategies that you have learned will begin to slip away. When I took the November SAT, the moment that time started, I panicked--I skimmed over the passages, and then I nearly ran out of time because I did not have a thorough understanding of anything I read. Had I slowed down and taken more time (while still moving quickly), I probably would have performed better. Once you finish the first two sections of the SAT or ACT, you will have a break at the halfway point. I suggest walking around and getting your blood flowing since you will still have two more sections--two down, two to go. Finally, once you finish the last two sections (a pair of Math sections for the SAT; Reading and Science for the ACT) you will probably leave around 12:30, and you should expect to find out your score in the next few weeks.
Retaking the Test
Depending on how you score on the exam, you might want to retake the test. When the College Board or ACT sends the score reports, you will have access to a breakdown to see the types of questions you performed well on and the types of questions you struggled on. This information is not as detailed as the Peak item analyses you’ve been receiving, but it’s still helpful. Although you may feel uncomfortable addressing your errors, tailor your studying to focus on your weaknesses so that you can perform better on those sections on the next test. On test day the second time around, you will probably feel more confident because you have already taken the exam once and have experience--or at least I did. When I sat for the December SAT, I took a deep breath before beginning the Reading section and took each passage slowly, and I avoided many of the mistakes that I made the last time on the November SAT. (My score on the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing improved by 90 points.) Once you have one test under your belt, you will recognize the mistakes you made and should be able to avoid repeating them.
Test day can appear overwhelming, but as long as you prepare in advance and have everything you need set out before, you can minimize the stress! Remember that you have studied, and stick to your strategies to the best of your abilities, even though you may feel pressure while taking the exam. Finally, even if you don’t do as well as you would have hoped, you will have the chance to retake the exam and the opportunity to learn from your mistakes--in order to be successful, remember to take control of the process and hone in on your weaknesses so that you can improve your score.