Student taking a test

Do These 5 Things the Night Before the SAT or ACT

The night before the SAT or ACT, you’re probably feeling the pressure.

Maybe you’ve been preparing diligently for the past 2 or 3 months, and you want to see your hard work pay off. Maybe you know you haven’t prepared as much as you should have, and you’re searching the web for some last minute tips. Or maybe you’re somewhere in between.

No matter your situation, we’ve listed 5 easy but essential tips you can use to help you perform your best in the morning.

Tip #1. Put yourself in the right mindset.

Although listed as our first tip, really #1 is the principle from which the other 4 tips spring.

The night before the official SAT/ACT is not the time to start cramming information into your head. It’s not the time to furiously complete a million practice questions.

There’s nothing you can do the night before a test that will magically boost your score 100 points. For the most part, whatever test knowledge or skills you have is set. You can’t learn the test or fix all your weaknesses in one night.

So your objective is simple: You want to ensure that you perform at your best.

For instance, if it’s the night before you run a 5k, and your fastest time thus far has been 18 minutes, your goal is to run the race in 18 minutes again or maybe achieve a personal best of 17:45. Your goal should not be to suddenly run it in 15 minutes.

The same is true for a test.

If you’re 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 help yourself earn the highest possible score given your lack of preparation.

By keeping this idea in mind, you will avoid mistakes and set yourself up for optimal performance by following the other 4 tips. You will also sleep well, knowing that you have high but realistic expectations of what you will score.

Tip #2. Prepare everything you’ll need for tomorrow’s test.

An hour spent locating your student id, looking up test center directions, and gathering items you’ll need for the test tomorrow will actually have a much more positive impact on your test score than an hour of studying.

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 your driver’s license or student, you need CURRENT identification to take the test.
  • Look up directions: Make sure you have directions of the test center and an idea of how long it will take you to get there. Add time to your estimate, if you’ve never driven there before.
  • Fill up the gas tank – if your’re driving yourself.
  • Put all test items in your backpack or purse: You should have a 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.

You can prepare for months and then tank your test score if you are in a harried or upset mental state. That’s why you don’t want to arrive at the test center late after frantically looking for your student ID, filling up your empty gas tank, and getting lost 3 times.

You also can’t perform at your best if your 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 score. Test centers are supposed to have 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.

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 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 some suggestions:

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 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.

Simply by becoming  familiar with the way the test looks, you will be more prepared and boost your performance on test day. Remember, DO NOT cram.

Scenario 2: You’ve prepared 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.

The night before a test 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 and careless 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.

Also, 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.

Make sure to set multiple alarms, and plan to wake up a couple of hours before the actual test. Not only do you want to have plenty of time in the morning to get ready and arrive punctually, but 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:

  • 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.
  • 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!
  • If you don’t normally drink coffee or energy drinks, don’t start the night before or morning of the test. It will upset your stomach and most likely make you feel jittery, not alert.
  • If you don’t usually eat a huge breakfast, then eat something in the morning, but make it light and healthy. You want to have something in your stomach, but you don’t want to have indigestion the day of a timed test!
  • Dress comfortably. Don’t pick today to premiere you new skinny jeans.
  • If you habitually sleep 7 hours, and 8 hours makes you feel groggy, then sleep 7 hours.
  • If you usually watch 30 minutes of TV before bed to unwind, don’t swap that half hour for 30 minutes of intense studying.

You don’t want to cause unexpected problems by changing up your habits the night before or morning of a big test. Remember, you goal is to show up to the test center prepared, relaxed, and confident.

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 want to dramatically boost your score, check out our SAT Prep and ACT Prep page. 

Also, check out our monthly free test events to sign up for a free full-length SAT or ACT test that stimulates a test day environment.

Call 855-346-1410 or contact us here for more information.

We can’t wait to hear from  you!




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