SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

Here's Exactly What to Do Before a Test


Whether you're taking the SAT, the ACT, the PSAT, an AP exam, an IB assessment, a final, or any other test for high school, it's essential to know what to do beforehand so you can give yourself the best shot at getting a high score.

In this guide, we introduce our top 11 tips for what to do before a test, from how to study for a test the night before to how to relax before a test using deep breathing.

Feature Image: biologycorner/Flickr


What to Do the Day Before a Test

Your test is tomorrow, but you have no idea what to do or whether you should even do anything at all. Should you study more? Stay up all night cramming? Give up? (Probably not!)

Below, we give you our top tips on what to do the night before your test, including how to study for a test the night before and how to ensure you've got all the materials you'll need for your test.


#1: Lightly Review Any Content You're Still Struggling With

The day before a test isn't the day to do all your studying, but a little light review can be helpful. Otherwise, treat this day mostly as a day to relax.

Get together your textbooks, notes, and other study materials and then find a quiet room to study in, such as your bedroom or the local library. As you review, take time to focus on any last-minute, pesky areas you're still having trouble with. These could be a handful of SAT vocab words or a few math formulas, for example.

Try to spend no more than an hour or two reviewing for your test. You don't want to spend all day studying as it'll wear you out the day of your test. Plus, you're unlikely to remember every piece of information you cram in such a short amount of time!

The most important point to remember is this: don't use this day (or night) as an intense study session. Assuming you've already done the bulk of your studying beforehand (especially if you're taking the SAT or ACT), you should feel pretty prepared by this point and shouldn't need an entire day to review.

Even if you haven't studied as much as you wished you had, avoid cramming since you're unlikely to remember everything you study in one lengthy, exhausting session. Instead, focus on the most difficult concepts and try to get those down pat.


#2: Get Together Everything You'll Need for the Test

Preparation is the key to success—as well as the key to not feeling ridiculously stressed out the morning of your test!

Whether you've got a Saturday morning test (such as the SAT/ACT) or have to get to school for your test, be sure to prepare all the materials you'll need for your test the night before. Get your backpack together with everything you'll need for your test and for your classes (if taking the test on a school day).

Materials you might need to bring for your test include the following:

  • Sharpened #2 pencils
  • Erasers
  • A handheld pencil sharpener
  • A calculator

Getting all these items together the day before will make you feel less stressed out the morning of your test, especially if you're prone to pushing the snooze button one too many times!


body_ipad_map.jpgAh, yes. Looks like the test center is right next to a creepy alley.


#3: Know Where the Test Is and How to Get There

If your test is being held at a test center or a school different from your own, it's critical you know exactly where it is and how you plan to get there. Ideally, you'll have planned this out long before your test date, but if not make sure you figure it out, by latest, the day before your test.

If you're taking the SAT or ACT, you can find your test center information by looking at your admission ticket or by logging on to your College Board or ACT account.

If you're taking a test at your own school, such as a midterm, a final, an AP exam, or the PSAT, know which classroom you'll be heading to and when. For most midterms and finals, you'll take your test in the same classroom as your class.

However, some students might need to take certain exams at a different school if their own school doesn't offer that particular test. (This often happens with the PSAT and AP exams.) If you're in this situation, confirm which school and classroom you need to go to for your test. I suggest calling the school you're taking your test at ahead of time so you can double-check the time and location.

But how should you get to your test center or school? If taking public transportation, it's a good idea to come up with a backup plan in case your bus or train comes late or fails to show up at all. For example, you could talk with a friend about having him or her drive you to your test location if your main choice of transportation falls through on test day.

If you plan to drive yourself, make sure you know where you can park and how much it'll cost (if anything). Consider traffic, too. If you're leaving at a particularly busy time of day (even Saturdays can get busy depending on where you're headed!), give yourself extra time to get to your test location.

When it comes to tests, remember the mantra: it's better to be extremely early than even a tad bit late. Generally, aim to get to your test center at least 30 minutes before your test so you'll have time to check in, get seated, and calm your nerves!


#4: Skip the All-Nighter and Get a Good Night's Sleep

As mentioned above, you shouldn't study a bunch the day before your test—and you should definitely skip the all-nighter!

But why is pulling an all-nighter so bad for you? Let's see what science has to say.

According to a 2014 study conducted by Ghent University and KU Leuven in Belgium, students who slept at least seven hours the night before a test typically scored higher than those who got only six hours of sleep.

Other studies have found that sacrificing sleep for studying is counterproductive and more sleep is strongly correlated with better grades and a higher GPA. As you can see, getting enough sleep isn't just about feeling better on test day—it ensures that your brain will be better equipped to remember the information you've learned.

So what does all of this mean for you? In general, try to aim for at least seven hours of sleep the night before your test. Obviously, what exact amount of sleep feels good can vary depending on your own body and sleeping habits. While some students might need a solid eight or nine hours of sleep, others might do just fine on six hours.

Regardless, the point is to get as much sleep as you need to feel well rested and prepared for your test.


#5: Set an Alarm (or Two or Three)

No matter when your test is—whether it's during a regular school day or on a Saturday morning—it's never a bad idea to set a few alarms (just in case you snooze through your first one!).

Try not to set more than three alarms, and keep them at most 10-15 minutes apart so that you don't end up accidentally oversleeping by too long.

If you're especially worried about getting up, ask someone you know to check that you're awake by a certain time. This way you can greatly reduce the risk of being late for your test. You can get a family member to check on you in your room in the morning or have a friend call or text you.


body_woman_hair_dryer.jpgThe correct way to dry your hair the morning of a big test.


What to Do the Day of a Test

You've woken up (likely after hitting the snooze button a couple of times) and are ready to get out and take the test. What can you do to make sure you do your best on it? Here are our top tips for what to do the day of a test, including what to eat before a test and why you should use the bathroom before leaving home.


#6: Eat a Healthy, Filling Breakfast

A satisfying breakfast can give you ample energy for your test, particularly if you're taking a long one like the SAT or ACT.

According to a 2013 study on the effects of breakfast on academic performance,

"Eating breakfast has a positive effect on children's cognitive performance, particularly in the domains of memory and attention."

Since you'll definitely need these two skills in order to do well on a test, we can see that eating a full breakfast is essential to making you feel energized on test day and thus getting the score you want.

You should also try to eat healthily. A study conducted by the University of Alberta discovered that healthier diets were linked to better test scores and higher grades. Therefore, don't just aim for a filling breakfast but a healthy one, too!

Good brain foods to eat before a test include the following:

  • Whole grains (oatmeal, granola, quinoa, muffins, etc.)
  • Fresh fruit (bananas, apples, pears, etc.)
  • Fresh vegetables (broccoli, celery, carrots, etc.)

Even if you're nervous about your test, don't skip breakfast! Chances are, you'll feel worse and far less energized if you don't eat anything at all.


#7: Confirm You've Got Everything You Need

You should have gotten all your materials together the day before the test, but we advise checking once more right before you leave that you're not forgetting anything important.

Before you head out, make sure you have everything you'll need for your test (and school, too, if you're taking the test on a school day). Here are some things you might need to bring:

  • Sharpened #2 pencils
  • Erasers
  • A handheld pencil sharpener
  • A calculator
  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Other materials for classes such as textbooks, notebooks, homework, etc.
  • Lunch
  • Money (for lunch, public transportation, etc.)
  • Your driver's license (if driving yourself or if photo ID is required for your test)
  • A light sweater or jacket that's easily removable

Try to avoid bringing your cell phone to your test. Any ringing or vibrating during the test could affect your scores. For example, if you were taking the SAT or ACT and your phone went off during it, your scores would be automatically canceled. This is why it's usually better to leave your phone at home.

However, if you must bring your phone or feel weird not taking it with you, be absolutely sure you've turned it off before your test begins.

Finally, be sure to wear appropriate attire to your test. Whether it's hot or cold outside, remember that the school/test center might feel warmer or colder inside. Therefore, try to bring a sweater or light jacket you can remove or put on in case the room gets hot or chilly.


#8: Go to the Bathroom

While this might seem obvious, make sure to use the restroom before you leave for school or your test. Doing this reduces your chances of having to find a restroom at your school/test center and having to use the restroom during the test (which can take critical time away from answering questions).

If your test is later in the school day, try to use the restroom in-between class periods, ideally right before you take your test.

If you don't have time to use the bathroom before your test, don't despair—some tests might offer breaks. If your test has a break, feel free to use the restroom then. Both the SAT and ACT, for example, offer several breaks for test takers, the longest of which is 10 minutes. This should be enough time for you to go to the bathroom and return to your testing room.

That said, most breaks during tests are pretty short. Therefore, by using the restroom before your test, you'll be able to use your break to do other things such as drink water, stretch, or eat a snack.


body_class_cell_phone.jpgI'm sure she's just using her phone to take detailed notes, right? RIGHT?


What to Do Right Before a Test

You've arrived at school or your test center and are now only a few minutes away from taking your test. What can you do at this point to ensure you get the score you want? Read on to learn how to relax before a test and why you should turn off your cell phone.


#9: Turn Off Your Cell Phone

If you brought a cell phone, turn it off and put it in your backpack or give it to a test proctor. SAT/ACT test centers typically have different rules for what to do with cell phones, so make sure you're abiding by your test center's policies. If you're not sure what to do with your phone, ask a teacher or test proctor.

Remember, if your phone rings, vibrates, or makes any sound during your test, you could end up forfeiting your test scores. This for sure happens on the SAT/ACT. If you're taking a final, midterm, or other school test, however, consequences will vary depending on your school's policies.

In addition, don't simply put your phone on silent since alarms and other sounds can still go off!


#10: Stay Calm

Perhaps most importantly, take this short time right before your test to calm your nerves and reduce your anxiety. Yes, you're taking a test. Yes, it'll probably be a little scary. Yes, you might not feel totally prepared for it. But you can do it!

To help relax yourself, take a few deep breaths as you sit at your desk. In particular, focus on deep breathing. This technique is known to quell anxiety and make you feel more relaxed. Don't think about everything you've studied up until this point—just focus on feeling confident and at ease.

If possible, try to stretch your arms and legs a little, too. This will help prepare your body for the upcoming immobility and get your blood flowing.


#11: Be Positive and Do Your Best

Part of doing well on tests is having the confidence that you can do this. So take a few moments to remind yourself that you will do your best on this test and hopefully get the score you want.

Also, know that it's not the end of the world if you don't do as well as you hoped you would. With the SAT/ACT, you can always retake the test. Or if you're taking an AP exam or t, even if you don't get as high a score as your colleges would like, you can still give yourself a solid chance of admission by improving other parts of your college applications.

Tests are important, yes, but they're not usually the only make-or-break factor! Do your best and don't let a low score negatively impact your goals.


Key Takeaways: What to Do Before a Test

Most tests—especially the SAT, the ACT, the PSAT, AP tests, IB exams, midterms, and finals—are undeniably intimidating. But as long as you have a long-term study plan and know exactly what to do before a test, you'll be able to feel confident and get a high score on it.

Above, we gave you 11 essential tips for what to do before a test. Here they are again, briefly:

The Day Before the Test
  • Lightly review any content you're still struggling with
  • Get together everything you'll need for the test
  • Know where the test is and how to get there
  • Skip the all-nighter and get a good night's sleep
  • Set an alarm (or two or three)
The Day of the Test
  • Eat a healthy, filling breakfast
  • Confirm you've got everything you need
  • Go to the bathroom
Immediately Before a Test
  • Turn off your cell phone
  • Stay calm
  • Be positive and do your best

Now get out there and ace that test!

body_100_percent.jpgImagine this is your teacher grading your test!


What's Next?

Need help coming up with a foolproof study plan? Check out our sample SAT plans and our sample ACT schedules to help you get started.

Running out of time before your test? Don't sweat it. With our 10-day cram plans for the SAT and ACT, you'll be able to get a great score, guaranteed! And if you're taking the PSAT instead, take a look at our expert last-minute cram tips.

Looking for more study tips? Then read our guide to prepping for AP tests.



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Hannah Muniz
About the Author

Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.

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