Most of the students I see often wonder what they should be doing the day before they take an SAT or ACT test. As is the case with most big, important assignments or exams, the default tendency on the part of most students is to cram. “I need to jam as much information in my brain as possible in the next 5 or so hours…I’m sure I can raise my composite score by 5 points tonight!” I’m sure some of you reading this are silently, begrudgingly nodding your heads in agreement. You’ve had this thought or something like it before.
Let me assure you, as reasonable as the idea that cramming the night before might sound as you are doing it, it’s not just unproductive, it’s counter-productive. If you’ve invested some significant time preparing for the ACT or SAT, a few extra hours isn’t going to add a great deal to your performance. In fact, the process of staying up late, studying like crazy and probably filling yourself with anxiety with every practice question you answer incorrectly is going to hurt your performance the following day.
Instead of studying intensely, obsessively trying to pack as much information into your brain as possible, what you should be doing is relaxing. Watch a movie. Read a book you enjoy. Binge watch one of your new favorite or old favorite TV shows. Do some yoga or meditate or go for a run. ANYTHING that calms you and refreshes your mind and your body is a good way to spend your time the night before the test.
If you’d like to spend a little time studying, that’s OK, but definitely cut yourself off no later than 8:00. If you want to do something to prepare yourself for the test on the following day, a good way to spend your time would be to get organized for going to the test. Lay out all of the items you will need for the test:
ID (school ID or driver’s license)
Bottle of Water
Possibly a small snack
You should gather all of these items together and place them in one spot before you go to sleep. You will likely sleep better knowing that everything is ready to go for the morning and is some disaster should befall you—your alarm doesn’t go off, power goes out—you will be able to grab your things and get out the door quickly. Also, it would be a good idea to get up early so that you can eat a slightly-larger-than-usual breakfast and take your time getting ready to leave. Lastly, you’ll want to dress in layers. You’ll never know how hot or cold it might be in the room where the test is being administered and you do not want to be distracted by how hot or cold you are feeling as you are taking the test.
This whole approach, in fact, is designed with the idea that you want to be as focused on the test as possible. Concentration is probably the most important element of good test taking and if you are well-fed, relaxed, well-rested and not uncomfortable you will likely be paying attention only to the test. If you follow my advice, you should be in great shape to do your best on the big day.