ACT Test Mojo
Some test advice applies to all standardized tests. Other advice is test-specific. So for those of you taking the ACT in April, this is a redux of our SAT post from a few weeks ago – this time tailored specifically to the ACT. These are our favorite tips for things to do during the week to maximize your performance.
Important: That assumes you’re taking the test at all. If you can’t take the test because of lack of availability, or taking the test would jeopardize your health, it’s OK to hold off. There are plenty of great test-optional colleges out there, or you can take it this summer. So take the test if you’re feeling good about it. If you can’t, don’t lose sleep.
WEEK 15 TIPS & TRICKS
- Get a good night’s sleep every night, but especially the night before the test. Studies show 7 hours is the optimal amount of sleep for a teenager.
A FEW DAYS BEFORE
- Make your plan for getting to the test location. Confirm where you are taking the test and how you are going to get there in advance so you don’t have added stress before the test. For most of you, the test center will be your own high school. But if you are taking the test at another high school, find the test center and check out the parking situation ahead of time.
Once you know where you are going, make your plan and determine when you need to leave in order to arrive at the test center no later than 7:30am on Saturday. Communicate your plan to everyone who needs to know. Be sure that if you are going with a friend or parent, everyone agrees to the plan and knows when you have to leave.
- Check for test center closings and rescheduling. Some test locations have already been cancelled, but even for those that haven’t, check updated test center closings on Friday night and on Saturday morning before leaving for the test center. You can check their list of cancelled and rescheduled test centers on their website.
Here is what the ACT currently has posted on their website about notifications:
It’s clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is still with us. Unfortunately, this means continued limitations in test center capacity and inevitable cancellations and unexpected changes for upcoming test date(s).
Whether your test center must make a change due to COVID-19, inclement weather or other unexpected reasons, ACT sends email updates Monday through Friday by 6:00 p.m. CT to notify you of changes in your registration, so you can take action.
- Make sure you have a test-approved calculator and know how to use it. The ACT allows you to use a calculator throughout the Math section, but not all calculators are okay. Check that your calculator is test-approved and then make sure you know how to use it. You need to be calculator-proficient to answer all the questions on the Math section in the time allotted.
THE DAY BEFORE
- If you are driving yourself, fill up your gas tank. You don’t want to have to stop for gasoline in the morning. If someone is driving you, then ask them to make sure they have a full tank of gas.
- Pack up everything you need to take to the test in a “go bag.” The folks at the ACT have a checklist for you to use, but in our humble opinion, there are a few “must haves” that they don’t list: at least three No. 2 pencils, an eraser, a handheld sharpener, and extra batteries for your calculator. Also remember to bring your mask. Do yourself a huge favor and leave out all electronic devices. They are absolutely banned at the test center, so make your go bag an electronics-free zone.
- Plan for a quiet relaxing evening at home. Last minute cramming will not help you on the ACT. So you don’t need to block out the evening to study, although 30-45 minutes of review of test-taking strategies is not a bad idea. Once you’ve done that, chill out and do something to keep your anxiety at bay. Don’t stay up too late.
- Have a healthy dinner. Drink lots of water and eat a meal with protein, vegetables, and a few good complex carbohydrates. In other words, tonight is not the night to order in your favorite fast food, nor is it the time to binge on a few pints of ice cream.
- Get one more good night’s sleep. Your brain will perform best on the day of the test if it is well rested. One mistake students often make is trying to turn in super early on the night before the test. That usually doesn’t work well – you end up tossing and turning and get less than 7 hours OR you sleep 10 or more hours – both will make you feel sluggish in the morning.
- Set the alarm and have a back-up. You don’t want to oversleep on test day, so make sure you will wake up on time.
MORNING OF THE TEST
- Wake up and turn on your brain with a little exercise, a shower, and a healthy breakfast. Today is not the day to roll out of bed and go straight to the test. You need to turn on your brain. Get started with a little exercise – 10 or 15 minutes of anything that will increase your heart rate and start oxygen going to the brain. Run in place, dance, do push-ups, whatever. Then take a shower and have a healthy breakfast. Reach for a bowl of oatmeal or have an omelet instead of a doughnut or sugary cereal. You need something that will sustain you through the morning until early afternoon.
- Stick to your routine when it comes to caffeine or other stimulants. If you usually have a Red Bull before school, then have one today. But if you don’t, then don’t try it out today. Unfamiliar stimulants can turn you into a jittery mess.
- Dress in layers. The temperature of the room is unpredictable and if you are too hot or too cold, you may have trouble concentrating. If you dress in layers, you can be comfortable no matter the room’s temperature.
- Leave on time (or better yet, a little early). There are no “late arrivals” on test day. Doors will close and you will not be admitted to the testing center after 8:00 a.m. Usually the doors open at 7:45 a.m., but do yourself a favor and arrive by 7:30 a.m. Then you don’t have to worry about being late – and it can be a bit of a zoo getting in and getting to your test room. Double check your admission ticket to make sure that your test center is observing these standard times: it will say when doors open and close.
- Don’t forget your pre-packed go bag!
- Give yourself a pep talk on the way. Corny as it may sound, your inner dialogue can shape your mindset at the test. So say encouraging things to yourself on the way. “You’re going to kill it” is always a good mantra!
DURING THE TEST
- Breathe. Believe it or not, you may discover that you are holding your breath — often when people are concentrating, they hold their breath. Doing so deprives your brain of much-needed oxygen and it heightens anxiety. So breathe. Here are some other tricks to help you relax if you feel yourself starting to stress out during the test.
- Use your break effectively. You only get one break during the ACT and it is only 10 minutes long. So don’t miss out on this opportunity to refresh yourself. Leave the room, stretch your legs, go to the restroom, and eat your snacks. One important note – take your ID and admission ticket with you so you can get back into your room!!!
AFTER THE TEST
- Celebrate your accomplishment. You’ve earned it!
Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.