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9 ACT Tips for Test Day


This post originally appeared on the Magoosh high school blog.

ACT test taking classroom

After all this time, ACT test day is finally looming. Here are some tips to make sure it goes as smoothly as you hope.

ACT Tip #1: Pack the day before.

The last thing you want to worry about as you shake yourself awake on test day is what you need to bring. Here’s a complete list so you can gear up the night before:

  • Admissions ticket
  • Photo identification (Crucial! You will not be admitted without it. Check acceptable forms of identification first.)
  • Several sharpened soft lead No. 2 pencils (The old fashioned wooden kind; NOT mechanical.)
  • A permitted calculator (Did you know that using a TI-89 is the most common reason students are dismissed from the ACT? Check the list of prohibited calculators.)
  • Extra batteries
  • A watch to pace yourself (You can’t rely on the fact that the test room will have a clock.)
  • Eraser
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Healthy snacks (See below.)
  • A water bottle
  • Gum (Did you know chewing gum improves accuracy and reaction times?)
  • An outfit with layers (Your test room may be too hot or too cold. It is rarely just right, Goldilocks.)

ACT Tip #2: Go to bed early.

Make sure you are giving yourself a solid night of sleep. For most teenagers, this is 8-9 hours.

Figure out when you need to get up to be completely ready and at the test center stress-free, and work backwards from this time to figure out when you need to go to bed. If you can’t sleep, though, don’t force it. Get up and do something else and try again in a half hour. Don’t lie there agonizing.

ACT Tip #3: Wake up early and do some physical and mental exercise.

Go for a jog; do some jumping jacks. Waking your body and mind up is crucial. Read some articles from the newspaper and focus on finding the main idea. Try a couple math problems.

Avoid the urge to do any last-minute ACT prep, but it is important that your brain is warmed up for the test.

ACT Tip #4: Eat a healthy, long-sustaining breakfast.

I like granola, fruit, eggs and veggies. Drink coffee only if you are used to it. Don’t try it now if it’s new. If you’re like me, you will get crazy jitters.

ACT Tip #5: Bring a cheat sheet.

Not THAT kind of cheat sheet. But I recommend bringing an “ACT strategy cheat sheet” that you can review before the test and then tuck safely away in a bag.

Compile this during your studies in the days leading up to the test while working through an ACT Study Guide. This should include the most important reminders you’ve learned from your test prep such as “Don’t forget to watch out for comma splices!” and “Make sure to stick to a pace of 5 minutes per passage on the Science.”

Having a last-minute review list can help you remember that you are, in fact, prepared and you do, in fact, got this.

ACT Tip #6: Don’t lose your cool before the test.

Libraries or cafeterias full of arriving test-takers are generally not good places. You could cut the nervous energy with a knife.

So many anxious students fretting about whether or not there will be a comparison reading passage or quizzing each other on logarithms. Or even worse, the kid leaning up against the wall who looks like he could care less.

Of course, eventually you need to check in, but if you get to the test center early, by all means, pull out your headphones, blast your favorite pump-me-up music and hang out outside. You’ve done too much preparation to let these other students shake your confidence.

ACT Tip #7: Keep your focus during the test.

A surefire way to not get the score you want is to constantly pay attention to the test-takers around you. How does that girl in front of you answer math problems so fast? Why can’t that kid stop tapping his foot?

Try to stay in the zone and focus on your particular strategies. Everyone is different, and what these other students are doing is irrelevant. Practice keeping your cool before the test by taking a ACT Practice Test. Time yourself and notice when your attention falters.

And it should go without saying that you should avoid any temptation to peer at your neighbor’s answer sheet. Cheating is not a risk you want to run here. And he’s probably wrong anyway.

ACT Tip #8: Eat on your breaks even if you aren’t hungry.

Your brain needs fuel just like the rest of your body, even if your nervous stomach doesn’t think so. And the last thing you want is to let a perfectly good snack break go to waste only to regret it later when your stomach is howling halfway through the Science section.

Fruit is great test fuel: the natural sugars help give you energy. Make sure to have something with protein too, like a handful of nuts. Many of my students swear by peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or trail mix with chocolate for the perfect combo of sugar and sustenance. Don’t forget the water!

ACT Tip #9: Reward yourself.

You worked hard for this, and no matter how you think the test went, afterwards treat yourself to something you enjoy. You need the mental break and relaxation. But as important as an after-test reward is, I think that what is even more important is rewarding yourself during the exam.

No, you can’t whip out a cookie in the middle of the English section, but give yourself mental pats on the back when you catch yourself doing something right. So many students beat themselves up during a test for what they think they are doing wrong.

Put a stop to this destructive mentality and instead congratulate yourself when you find yourself doing something right: sticking to your pacing or recognizing a grammar error you’ve missed before. It’s a long test and a positive attitude is crucial!

Cheers to a fantastic test day!



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