Tips for Peak Performance on Test Day

How to maximize your performance when taking the SAT or ACT!

As you enter the final stretch of your SAT or ACT preparation, make sure to review what you should be doing the week before, the night before and the day of the final exam.  Don’t let a forgotten admission ticket or a late photo upload sabotage the big day! Sometimes circumstances on test day are beyond a student’s control (such as when a testing center begins the exam late). However, there are plenty of variables that students can control to make sure their testing experience goes as smoothly as possible.  With that in mind, please review the following tips to maximize your performance on the SAT or ACT.

Two Weeks Before taking the ACT or SAT

Check the photo submission requirements for your test. The ACT generally requires that photo ID be uploaded eight days before exam day.  If you miss that deadline, ACT will cancel your registration and you will NOT be able to take the test. Make sure to review the ACT photo submission requirements. The College Board also requires you to upload a photo when you register for the SAT.  Although the photo will not appear on your admission ticket, proctors will be able to check your uploaded photo against your ID on test day.  You can review the College Board’s photo requirements here.

Complete homework assignments due the week of the test ahead of time if possible so that you can prioritize sleep in the week before your SAT or ACT.  If you can get ahead on long reading assignments for history or English, for example, perhaps you can avoid too many late nights the week of the test.

The Week Before taking the SAT or ACT

Get eight hours of sleep each night. Remember, sleep makes you smart. Studies have shown strong links between quality of sleep and important aspects of test taking such as attention span, emotional intelligence, attention to detail and oral recall.

Visualize the test you are about to take. Top performers (including athletes, actors, and dancers) often use visualization to create a mental image of success. In your mind, create a detailed picture of the test from section to section. Visualize yourself achieving your targets in each part of the test. As you do this, try to anticipate potential distractions (stress, a loud classmate, an overly watchful proctor) and then visualize yourself proceeding calmly and confidently through all such distractions.

Continue to incorporate deep breathing and mediation routines if you have been working on those with your tutor.

The Night Before the Test

No studying past 9:00 PM. Last-minute cramming leads to last-minute jitters, and it can keep your brain whirring long past the time you stop studying, which will keep you from falling asleep. Read a relaxing book or magazine, go for a run, or watch a movie. Do something fun that doesn’t keep you up late. The idea is to be completely relaxed on test day.

No texting or emailing past 9:00 PM.  Studies show that blue light from cell phones, tablets and laptops suppresses the release of melatonin (the hormone that makes you sleepy).

Lay out your pencils, appropriate calculator, ID, admission ticket, watch (with no beeps!). If you receive accommodations, take a copy of your accommodations letter. Check the batteries on your calculator.

Pack a snack. Both the SAT and ACT give students a mid-test break. It’s a good idea to eat a snack during the break to fortify yourself for the last part of the test when you will start to feel fatigued. Sometimes testing centers begin tests late so that students have eaten breakfast several hours before a test even begins! Snacks are then extra important. Granola bars, protein bars, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich are all good, protein-rich options. Bring your own water in case the school’s water fountains are not available.

Lay out your mask or two if you want to change masks halfway through the test.

Go to bed! If you can’t fall asleep, don’t worry. Simply lying in bed can be very restful. If you like, read a boring book that might help you to fall asleep.

On ACT or SAT Test Day

Wake up early! Studies show that it takes the average person about three hours (after waking up) to function at peak capacity. The ACT and SAT begin around 8:00 in the morning. Try to wake up at least 2 or 2.5 hours before the test.

Consider getting some aerobic exercise. Because of the length of the test (including filling out forms and breaks, standardized tests can last up to 4.5–5 hours), so you can end up feeling quite brain-dead toward the end of the exam. Aerobic exercise oxygenates your blood and can help you to focus for longer amounts of time. Try some jumping jacks or a quick run around your neighborhood.

Get a big, healthy breakfast with some protein. Try not to eat heavy foods that can be difficult to digest. Eggs and toast or bagels with cheese or peanut butter generally work well.

Dress in layers. Test centers can be very warm or very cool. If you wear several layers, you can adjust your clothing according to the temperature of the room.

Fifteen minutes of Reading or Math in the morning. Students often find that they are not completely awake for the first section of the test. Doing part of a reading passage or ten math problems on the morning of the test can help you to feel awake and alert before the test begins.

Breathe. Deep breathing is a great relaxation technique. It also helps in blood circulation. During the test, remember to stretch between sections and breathe deeply often.

Review your test-day checklist:

  • Snack
  • Pencils
  • Photo ID
  • Watch (no beeps)
  • Admission ticket
  • Appropriate Calculator (e.g. a TI–84)
  • Mask
  • Official letter stating testing accommodations

Remember, while you can’t control all the variables that go into test day, there are many aspects of the testing experience that you can control.  Focus on those and go CRUSH the test!

With planning and preparation, test taking doesn’t have to have stressful!  If you would like to schedule a free consultation with a tutor at Marks Education, please contact us!


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