Updated 8/25/2021 in light of COVID-related changes.
On the night before the official SAT or ACT, you’re likely feeling the pressure.
Maybe you’ve been preparing diligently for your admissions exam over the past 2 or 3 months, and you want to see your hard work pay off. Maybe you’re worrying that you haven’t prepared as much as you should have, and you’re now searching the web for last-minute tips. Perhaps you’re even somewhere in between.
No matter your situation, we have 5 easy but essential tips for you to perform your best on the morning of your big exam!
Tip #1. Get yourself into the right mindset.
This first tip is the principle from which our other 4 tips spring.
The night before the official SAT/ACT is not the time to begin cramming information into your head. Nor is it the time to furiously complete a million practice questions.
There’s nothing you can do the night before the SAT or ACT test that will magically boost your score by 100 points. For the most part, you’re set at your level of knowledge or skills. You can’t learn key test areas or fix all your test-taking weaknesses in a single night.
So your objective is simple: you want to ensure that you perform at your best.
For instance, if it’s the night before your 5k, and your fastest time thus far has been 18 minutes, your goal is to run the race in 18 minutes or hopefully, achieve a personal best of 17:45. Your goal should not be to suddenly run the 5K in 15 minutes for the first time in your life.
The exact situation is true for a test!
If your highest practice score for the SAT has been a 1430, your goal is to earn that score again or maybe slightly higher. If you haven’t prepared for the ACT at all, your goal is to earn the highest possible score, given your lack of preparation.
With this idea in mind, you will avoid mistakes and set yourself up for optimal performance by successfully following the other 4 tips. You will also sleep well, knowing that you may have high yet realistic expectations for your SAT or ACT test score.
To better prepare mentally for the big day, read some expert tips on tackling the SAT/ACT!
Tip #2. Prepare everything you’ll need for tomorrow’s test.
If you spend an entire hour locating your student ID, looking up test center directions, and gathering items you’ll need for your test tomorrow, guess what? That hour will actually have a much more positive impact on your test score than an hour of studying!
You can prepare for months but then devastate your SAT or ACT test score if you are in a hurried or upset mental state. That’s why you don’t want to arrive at the test center late and stressed after frantically looking for your student ID, filling up your empty gas tank, and getting lost 3 times.
So make sure to complete the following practical items:
- Print out your test ticket. You can’t take the test without this, so this is VERY important.
- Locate your ID. Whether it’s your driver’s license or student ID, you need CURRENT identification to take the test.
- Look up directions. Make sure you have directions to the test center and an idea of how long it will take you to get there. Add buffer time to your estimate, especially if you’ve never driven there before.
- Fill up the gas tank. Do this, especially if you’re driving yourself.
- Put all test items in your backpack or purse. You should have your test ticket, multiple no. 2 pencils, erasers, calculator, water, snacks, ID, money, and directions.
- Pick out a light sweater or jacket.
- Plan to eat a good breakfast tomorrow.
- Try to bring your own wristwatch.
- Make sure that you’re ready to spend at least 4 hours taking the test masked! This will potentially be one of the more uncomfortable changes in the testing environment. One way to make sure that you are ready is by taking practice tests masked and in a testing environment. MEK has resources for this, so contact us if you want more information!
Don’t forget, you can’t perform at your best if you feel hungry or uncomfortable. That’s why it’s important to eat breakfast, pack snacks, and be prepared for notoriously cold classrooms.
Finally, if you can’t monitor the time, this can impair your time management skills and hurt your SAT or ACT score. Test centers are supposed to feature clocks in each room, but unfortunately, not all test centers are created equal. Our students have reported back to us stories of testing centers with tiny clocks, no clocks, or clocks in a position that is difficult to see. So try to bring your own wristwatch just in case.
Lastly, if you want to perform at your best, you need to come to the test center calm, early, and alert. Set yourself up for success by preparing the night before.
Tip #3. Complete a light review.
No matter how panicked you might feel, do not cram! Staying up all night or half the night, will not help. In fact, it will hurt your SAT or ACT score!
Instead, do a light review of past practice tests, notes, or study materials. Try to do a very purposeful, short review so you don’t feel like you are aimlessly staring at a lot of papers.
Here are our suggestions, depending on your situation.
Scenario 1: You’ve done very little preparation.
We never recommend taking an official test for which you haven’t prepared. However, we know it does happen. If you find yourself in this situation the best thing you can do is familiarize yourself with the SAT or ACT test format.
There are free practice tests available online that you can use to acquaint yourself with the sections, topics, length, and layout of the test. If you are seeking a more accurate environment, at MEK Review, we also regularly offer paper-and-pencil full-length practice SAT or ACT exams virtually or in-person that are professionally proctored and timed.
By becoming familiar with the way the test is structured, you will be more prepared, which will boost your performance on test day. Remember, DO NOT cram.
Scenario 2: You’ve prepared plenty for the test.
Review your old practice tests and try to reflect on your wrong answers. Try to get to the bottom of why you got the answer wrong. Were you running out of time? Did you make a silly mistake? Did you not understand the question or a word in the answer choice? By getting to the root of your wrong answer, you can feel more confident about getting it right tomorrow.
Tip #4. Get plenty of sleep.
On the night before your SAT or ACT exam, it’s crucial that you get a good night’s rest. Be sure to give yourself a full 8 hours of sleep!
Staying up late to study will only make you tired the next day. Without sleep, your judgement is impaired, and you will end up making silly mistakes or taking longer to understand a question than normal.
Additionally, when we sleep, our brains process new information and integrate it with the rest of our stores of knowledge. This makes it easier for us to recall and use newer concepts the following day. Learn other ways you can maximize your brain power for the exam.
Make sure to set multiple alarms, and plan to wake up a couple of hours before your actual SAT or ACT test. Not only do you want plenty of time in the morning to get ready and arrive punctually, you also want to be fully awake by the time you are taking the test.
Tip #5. Make no big changes to your routine.
The night or morning before a big test is not the time to try out a new routine. It could – and usually does – end up backfiring in a major way. This rule applies to almost all of your habits:
- Test-Taking Techniques: If you haven’t used a new method or solving technique before, don’t decide the night before a test to change the way you take the test.
- Calculator: If you’ve been using a specific calculator, don’t change the night before for a new one – no matter how many more functions it has!
- Drinks: If you don’t normally drink coffee or energy drinks, don’t start. It will upset your stomach and most likely make you feel jittery, not alert.
- Food: If you don’t usually eat a huge breakfast, you can eat something in the morning, but make it light and healthy. You want to have something in your stomach, but to avoid indigestion the day of a timed test.
- Clothing: Dress comfortably. Don’t pick today to premiere your new skinny jeans!
- Sleep: If you habitually sleep 7 hours, and 8 hours makes you feel groggy, then sleep 7 hours.
- Relaxation: If you usually watch 30 minutes of TV before bed to unwind, don’t swap that half hour for 30 minutes of intense studying.
Don’t cause unexpected problems by changing up your habits the night before or morning of a big test. Remember: your goal is to show up to the test center prepared, relaxed, and confident – your best self!
Good Night and Good Luck!
By following these 5 tips, you will ensure that you perform your best on test day.
So do some light studying, gather needed items, and get some good sleep. Believe in yourself and feel confident!
If you’re seeking guidance to significantly boost your scores, explore our SAT Prep courses! Our teachers have years of experience leading students to mastering test-taking techniques and tough, challenging test questions.