You've taken the ACT...now what?
So, you’ve just put yourself through the immeasurable pain and suffering that is the ACT test. You spent almost four hours of one of your precious Saturdays in a crowded, stuffy room—probably in the last place you want to be on a weekend in September, your school—and you are wondering what’s next. The answer is not the same for everyone and certainly depends a little bit on the circumstances in which you find yourself.
First of all, are you a junior or a senior? If you are a junior, it is almost certain that this was your first-ever official, full-length ACT that can be submitted to colleges. Congratulations on getting ahead of the game! You have a LOT of time and MANY opportunities over the course of the next 15 months to get the score you would like. There are five more opportunities between now and June for you to take the ACT so, theoretically, you COULD take the test six times this year and three more times in the fall before all of your applications are due. I am not sure why you’d do that to yourself, but you could…
For you seniors taking the ACT, this is one of your final opportunities. The next ACT will be administered on October 24th and there will be another on December 12th, the results of which can still be sent to colleges to go along with your already-completed applications. If you took the September ACT as insurance even though you already had a score with which you were happy, you don’t really have to worry about October or December. If, on the other hand, you’re taking the ACT now because you didn’t take it last year or because you’ve got a target score you haven’t yet hit, hopefully you’re already registered for the October ACT. It would probably be a good idea to register for the December ACT as well if you’re fairly far off from your target.
The bottom line is that, as a Junior, you have a lot more flexibility because you have far more opportunities to take the ACT—or the SAT—and to hit whatever your target is for whichever universities you’d like to attend. This is why I strongly advise all of my sophomores to prepare for the ACT during the summer between sophomore and junior year; you want to have the flexibility that more opportunities provides because you never know until you sit down and take a real ACT or SAT how it’s going to turn out. If you’re a junior, you don’t HAVE to plan to take another ACT right away—that said, it think it would be prudent to take another test in the near future so you make the most of your preparation and current ACT knowledge. Hopefully, you’re very happy with your score on the September test and you can just operate from the position of trying to do your absolute best to get into very competitive schools or gain access to scholarships.
As a senior, the situation can be a little more dire. You don’t have a number of opportunities left and you’re certainly hoping that at this point, you’re at least in the range of a score that you want to get into your ideal, first-choice school. If you’re not close to where you want to be yet, I would plan to take both the October and December tests and really put your nose to the grindstone and prepare heartily. You don’t have to stress out as much about your grades this year and if you get a few B’s, that really won’t affect which schools decide to accept you. I say this to point out that you can shift your focus a little from school to the ACT because the test will have a greater affect on your applications than will your senior grades. You don’t want to ignore school of course, because possibly C’s and very definitely D’s and F’s WILL negatively affect your admittance to colleges. However, given the powerful pull of ACT and SAT scores, I think that a few weeks of intense effort into preparing for the tests is a good investment of your time. You can relax NEXT semester seniors! Now is the time to make one last intense push to ensure that you get some great news in the spring!
"Don't worry class. These tests will have no effect on your grades. They merely determine your future social status and financial success."
-The bad voice in your head you should NOT listen to!
OK guys, its the night before the ACT. The MOST important thing is to put this episode in your lives in the proper context: do not panic. There is no reason to panic and it isn't helpful to do so.
Remember, at the end of the day, this is just a test. You will have other opportunities to take it and as with everything, experience always helps. If you're not feeling great right now, or even as you are taking the test, the best thing you can do for yourself is RELAX. Close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing; maybe even count your breaths as you breath in and out. It's a very old, very common form of meditation designed to calm you down and bring you back to the moment in a healthy frame of mind.
I'm not saying you shouldn't be nervous or that it's wrong or weird if you are. Being nervous before something like the ACT is totally normal and understandable. But worrying about something or being in a state of anxiety about it won't help you at all. Always remind yourself that you will do your best and whatever happens is up to more than just you...it is a curved test after all!
Even if it goes poorly, there will be other opportunities-this fall in fact. So put it in perspective, calm down and get a good night's sleep. Put the study materials away and try to make yourself laugh or just rest. It will all unfold as it is meant to unfold!
Some Other Test-Taking Tips
I found this article that I also thought brings up some good points about how to prepare before the SAT or ACT. Just click this link for what I think is another helpful read. Good luck to all of you!
The Day Before The Test
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.
A blog about educational developments in California and throughout the country