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 Nov 27, 2020
Dos and Don’ts for Before the ACT or SAT

It’s fall, and that means that testing season is underway. One of the most common questions we receive is, “What are some things that I should (and shouldn’t) do the night before and the morning of the ACT, SAT, or PSAT in order to ensure the best possible testing experience?” In this blog, we’ll explore some of the simplest dos and don’ts to preparing for these essential exams. 

The Dos

1) DO print your admissions ticket ahead of time. It’s best to print your admissions ticket the day (or the week) before the test rather than the morning of. That way, if your printer stops working, you won’t be scrambling to find a working one shortly before the test begins.

2) DO go to bed early. Many students stay up late into the night watching TV or studying, despite that their exam is only a few hours away. This, however, can cause them to feel sleep-deprived and lethargic during the test. After all the time and effort that you have put into preparing for these exams, wouldn’t you want to be at your best on test day? Getting at least seven hours of sleep the night before can dramatically enhance your concentration — and even better, your score!

3) DO pack your “testing bag” the night before. Make sure to pack pencils and an eraser, your admission ticket, a snack, a water bottle, a calculator, and of course, a spare mask! For a comprehensive list of everything you need (and don’t need) for the SAT and ACT, check out The College Board’s SAT Day Checklist and the ACT Checklist.  

4) DO wake up a few hours before the test so that you have plenty of time to eat breakfast, get ready, and drive to the testing center. If you wake up too late, then you may end up having to frantically fumble through your morning routine, and you may even forget to bring something you need with you to the testing center. 

5) DO eat a hearty breakfast. Many students neglect to eat a healthy breakfast before a big exam, but what they don’t realize is that they’re depriving themselves of energy needed to fuel them through five hours of testing. You don’t have to eat a full-blown meal; even a slice of toast or a cup of yogurt can fill up your stomach for the long hours ahead. 

6) DO read a chapter of a book the morning of the test. Reading is an easy yet highly effective way to engage the mind. Even reading a few pages of a book you enjoy once you wake up can get your verbal wheels turning prior to an exam!

7) DO arrive at the testing center earlier than the call time. If your testing center’s call time is 8:00, try to arrive at 7:30 or 7:45 so that you can be at the front of the line of students. Although you may need to wake up and leave your house a couple minutes earlier than usual, an early arrival at the testing center will give you plenty of time to get checked in, use the restroom, and situate yourself in the testing room. 

The Don’ts 

1) DON’T study too much the night before! Many students try to cram all of their studying for the SAT or ACT into the evening before the exams. However, cramming does not in any way help students retain information; in fact, its most striking snag is that it increases stress and has minimal effect on performance. If you really feel like you need to study, do so for only around an hour. After that, take a breather!

2) DON’T drink coffee (or any other stimulant drink). While we all love a good cup of joe, coffee only energizes the mind and prevents you from sleeping soundly at night. And because sleep is so vital to your testing performance, you should hold off on drinking coffee until after the test is over.

3) DON’T eat a drastically different diet. If you suddenly change your diet the night before the test, you may experience hunger or feel unwell during testing. As a rule of thumb, eat what you always eat, and try to have a healthy dinner so that you will feel sustained through the night.

While test day can certainly be stressful for all of us, following these guidelines can help alleviate the all-too-familiar pre-exam jitters and enhance performance. Even turning off the TV, getting into bed, and leaving your house a few hours earlier can have drastic effects on both your concentration and your relaxation. So, the next time you are about to take a major exam, keep these tips in mind as you approach yet another milestone of your high school journey. 

Trisha Bhujle is a former Brilliant Prep student with the goal of answering your questions about high school, standardized tests, and everything in between. Having received a 36 on her ACT and a 1560 on her SAT, she now actively works to inform students and parents alike of how to prepare for not only these tests, but also other high school hurdles. In her spare time, she likes to experiment in her kitchen, conquer DIY projects, and most of all, write!