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ACT Test Day Tips


It’s not just about studying for the ACT; it’s also about making sure you’ve got everything you need and you’re physically prepared for the mental marathon ahead!

The Day Before The Act

Take a Study Break

You should not study the day (or the night) before the ACT! Yes, you heard right: No studying the whole day before the ACT. Professional athletes call this "tapering." After weeks or even months of training for a competition, athletes take a day or two off before the race or the game to give their muscles a chance to rest and rejuvenate. Your brain works the same way. Cramming the day before the ACT can cause fatigue and poor performance on test day. So taper your "workout" the day before the ACT by skipping the study session. In doing so, you will be alert and mentally ready to tackle the four subject tests (and writing section, if you’ve signed up for the ACT Plus Writing).

Eat Dinner

Allow us another athletic comparison. All athletes eat a meal containing complex carbohydrates the night before competition. Many high schools even prepare pasta dinners for their sports teams, because carbohydrates are stored by the athletes' bodies and used for energy the following day. But carbohydrates aren't just fuel for your muscles—they are fuel for your brain, too. You might want to make this fact known to your parents, because you will need to eat a dinner rich in complex carbohydrates, such as baked potatoes, bread, and pasta. A well-balanced meal can help you stay sharp and focused during the test.

Find the Test Center

Avoid any added stress on test day by finding the test center in advance. For most students, the test center will be their own high school. But if you are taking the test at another high school, find the test center and check out the parking situation ahead of time, preferably during the weekend before the test. Also, make sure that you don't need to stop for gasoline in the morning. These two simple precautions will prevent you from arriving late and being denied admission on test day.

Gather Your Materials

Now that you have figured out what you are going to eat the night before and where you will be taking your test, the third bit of practical advice is to get your test materials organized in advance. Gather up everything that you need for the test the night before to avoid running around the next morning. Assemble the following:

  • Your ACT Admission Ticket: This ticket was mailed or emailed to you upon registration for the ACT. If you registered online, you MUST print your admission ticket from your ACT Web Account—a ticket will not be mailed to you. If you registered by mail, then you will be sent your ticket two weeks after the ACT receives your registration packet. If you lose your ticket, you can print one out through your ACT Web Account (if you have one) or, if you do not have an ACT Web Account, you should call ACT Registration at (319) 337-1270. If you registered online and forgot to print out your ticket or have lost your ticket, you can visit your ACT Web Account to print out another copy. Note: If you are testing at an international test center, you MUST bring a printed admission ticket to the test.
  • Acceptable Identification: You are required to show an acceptable form if ID in order to be admitted to the test. If you do not have an acceptable form of ID, you will not be admitted to the test. You can use your driver's license or your school ID. For a more detailed list of acceptable identification, please visit this page.
  • Two No. 2 Pencils: Bring a spare pencil in the event one breaks during the test. Mechanical pencils, pens, highlighters, or any other kinds of writing utensils are not allowed.
  • An Eraser: Make sure that you use a fresh eraser to erase any mistakes or changes completely. Stray marks can be interpreted as wrong answers.
  • A Sharpener: Bring your own in case the testing center does not have one. You are allowed to sharpen your pencils during breaks.
  • Your Calculator: Make sure your calculator has fresh batteries. For a list of acceptable calculators, visit the ACT website. Please note, the TI-89 is not an accepted calculator. You are allowed to bring a back-up calculator in case the first one malfunctions.
  • A Wristwatch: You will need a watch to time each section. Testing centers may not have clocks, and it is easier to glance at your wrist than search for a clock. Timers and cell phones are not allowed in the testing room, so you’ll need a watch to be able to tell time.
  • A Snack: The entire test day can take up to five hours, so you won't be finished until after your normal lunch hour. There are short breaks the first two tests (and, if you’re taking the ACT Plus Writing, you will have time before the Writing Test to relax and sharpen your pencils), at which time the proctors will encourage you to eat snacks. Take a granola bar or a bag of carrot sticks to avoid losing concentration when the hunger pangs arrive. You are not allowed to eat in the test room, but you can eat outside of it during the breaks.
  • A Bottle of Water: Keep hydrated during breaks. Take your own bottle of water in case the test center does not have drinking fountains.

Get a Good Night's Sleep

Go to bed early the night before the test. The entire ACT experience can take up to five very long hours, and if you don't get a decent night's sleep, you are guaranteed to lose steam at the end. Maybe you have a commitment that you can't get out of--like an athletic or musical event--but treat the evening like a school night and be in bed early.

The Day Of The Act

Eat Breakfast

It's a proven fact that breakfast improves your concentration, mood, and memory. Eat a healthy breakfast on the morning of the ACT. Many former test takers have complained about the distraction caused by grumbling stomachs—both their own and those of other students—so save yourself any embarrassment or discomfort by eating a breakfast and taking a snack.

Follow Your Normal Routine

If you wake up every morning and watch MTV while you get ready for school, don't stop on account of the ACT! Similarly, if you've never had a cup of coffee, don't start on the morning of the test. Consistency in your routine will allow you to focus on your primary objective—performing well on the test.

Dress in Layers

The temperature in testing center rooms has often been cited as a source of distraction for test-takers. If you are too hot or too cold, you may have trouble concentrating. To help control the temperature, dress in layers; peel down to a t-shirt if you're warm or add a sweatshirt if you're cold.

Arrive on Time

Arrive at the test center by at least 7:45 am (Note: If you get there earlier than that, you may have to wait for the test proctor or proctors to finish setting up). Don't forget to bring all of the following:

  • Your ACT Admission Ticket
  • Acceptable ID
  • Two No. 2 pencils
  • A fresh eraser
  • A sharpener
  • A calculator with new batteries (and a back-up calculator, if you want one)
  • A snack
  • A bottle of water

Students who arrive after 8:00 am will not be admitted to the test center!

Believe In Yourself

Confidence can go a long way. As you wait at the test center, visualize yourself knowing the answers to all of the math, science, reading, and English questions. If you’re taking the ACT Plus Writing, imagine yourself writing an exceptional essay, too. Many athletes use this same technique before a competition. Your performance will be a reflection of your own expectations. Good luck!