Updated: Oct 15, 2022
With tips from the week before to the day of, we're bringing you actionable advice to ensure that you bring your A-Game come test day.
The Week Leading Up To Your Test Date
When it comes to standardized testing, mindfulness can actually move the needle on your test scores. In a study conducted by the University of California Santa Barbara, researchers found that students who completed a two-week mindfulness course increased their GRE scores by 16 percentile points (significant for the GRE). The study found that students who had trouble with maintaining focus showed the most significant gains, which means that even ADHD-prone students can stand to benefit. To read the complete research study, click here.
Focus on reviewing concepts that you got wrong rather than trying to learn newer materials
Make sure to go over any questions you flagged or got wrong on your Strive to Learn prep portal, and definitely watch all of the video explanations on those problems that gave you trouble. I know that there is a tendency to feel like you need to learn every concept to get the best score, but ensuring that you really understand the ideas you have already learned is much better. Try to study for an hour each day, and close out your study session with some math concepts right before you go to sleep.
The day before (and the day before that)
Gather your materials
Nothing sucks more than realizing you forgot something on the day of the test, which is why you need to get all of your materials and stuff together the day before. So I've created a handy little list of the things you'll need to bring:
Your printed ACT registration ticket (a photo of it on your phone will not do - In fact, in addition to bringing your printed ticket, just leave your phone at home)
An acceptable form of photo ID
A calculator (and bring along a spare set of batteries) Not sure if your calculator is allowed? Check out which ones are here.
Actual #2 pencils (no mechanical pencils allowed, so I recommend bringing six freshly sharpened pencils so you can switch to a new one every time the one you're using gets dull)
A mask (without vents)
Get AMPLE sleep
You know that you need some good rest before test day. But that great night of rest won't account for scraps if you're sleep-deprived on Thursday. According to sleep researchers, for good rest to make a meaningful difference in your test scores, you need two solid nights of rest before the test date.
The Day Of
Wake up early & exercise
I know it may seem counterintuitive. 8:00 am is so early, and with the amount of stress that you may be feeling, the last thing you may want to do is go out and exercise. However, research shows that a quick 10-15 minute walk or jog around the house, down the street, or whatever increases oxygen to your brain (which allows you to get in gear faster and helps eliminate test anxiety).
Strategies for Each Test Section
The ACT is typically faster than the SAT (which means that many students don't finish all the questions in each section, so it's ok). And it helps to be a quicker reader. But beyond the general advice of not leaving blank bubbles, how you should optimize your ACT approach varies per section.
For the English Section
With the English section, hard questions are sprinkled alongside the easy ones, so searching and picking off the easy questions is not a viable strategy. However, if you feel like you come to a blockade where you just don't understand what you are reading, skip it and return to it later (keyword: RETURN!). Still, bubble in a guess for the hard ones you're skipping the first time, just in case you don't have time to return to them. This gives you a 25% chance of still getting those questions right, and even two or three more correct answers can boost your overall score tremendously!
For the Math Section
Questions in the math section generally proceed from easy to hardest. Given that most students don't finish all the questions, you'll get a better score if you focus on getting the answers right instead of rushing through trying to answer super complex questions towards the end. Spend your time on what you know, be diligent and detail-oriented, and feel at peace even if you have to guess on the last 15 questions of this section (you can still get a score in the high twenties!).
For example, if you know you want to score around 23-29, focus on getting the first 41-50 questions correct and guess for the rest.
For the Reading Section
Hot tip: READ! Many students look at the questions first, then scour the passage for the answer, wasting valuable time searching for the right spot. ACT reading questions are written so that the answer choices seem confusing if you're not familiar with the passage. However, if you first read the passage actively you'll understand the context and nuances that will allow you to filter out a true answer from almost-true-sounding answers. It's better to take a little more time reading actively and carefully (answering more questions correctly) than rushing through just so you get to all four passages. Just don't forget bubble in guesses for the questions you leave unanswered.
For the Science Section
The science section throws a lot of students for a loop and varies in terms of question difficulty depending on passage type. You'll need to make it through about 4-5 passages and tackle the questions in order. However, if you feel like you're on the edge of brain exhaustion, then feel free to skip and snipe those easy answers. Focus first on the questions with a single line or graph reference - they will be more straightforward and quicker to answer. Also, feel free to skip passages that deal with a scary subject - for example, if physics scares the Bejeezus out of you, skip the passages for now and come back to them at the end! That way, you're using your wonderful brain to answer questions you feel more confident about instead of wasting your time digging yourself into a deep hole in the passages that just aren't your cup of tea. Always remember: this section is an open-book test! The answers are right there in the passage, you just need to find them.
Ok, there you have it! Now go get on with your life and start studying!