April 14, 2021
CC Editor's Note: College Confidential turns 20 this year! In honor of our 20th anniversary, we're going to reprint some of the most popular columns from over the years. This articles about preparing for the ACT or SAT was first published in July 2020.
After all that studying and stressing, the time has come to finally take the SAT or ACT. You're not done yet, though. With just a week left, it may be easy to gloss over the days until the test date, but it's better to stay engaged with the material — and make sure you are mentally prepared. Here's our list of last-minute things to focus on as the clock runs out.
Make time in your schedule for 30 minutes of test prep a day, knowing that soon it will all be over. "Last-week studying is not ideal, but it's never too late to improve your chances," says Pam Gentry, an independent educational consultant with Great College Advice.
If you aren't busy trying to memorize math formulas during those 30 minutes, you can dedicate this time to more practice problems. Although it may feel like you have gone through hundreds of practice questions by now, you should keep at it during the last week, too. Think of it as stretching your muscles before the big race. Practice the problem-solving strategies that work for you, and don't forget to "always check why a problem is wrong. We learn the most from our mistakes," Gentry says. If you haven't already been using one, try a free SAT or ACT app that gives you practice questions every day.
If you have only been focusing on test content during your weeks of test prep, now is the time to come up with a plan for how you will approach the actual exam. "Students should have a game plan in place: Which questions to skip and what questions to ask themselves — and they should know how to implement that plan confidently," says Gentry. To save time during the test, make sure you've already memorized the directions for each test section and the required math formulas, and also know how you will attack the reading passages.
Think about the progress that you've made so far. Do you remember when you started studying for the test? Maybe you've worked your way through a whole study guide or online lessons and have also taken a couple of timed practice tests. That's a lot of time and effort you put into this test, and that's a big accomplishment, so you should stop to realize this and congratulate yourself. Not every student is as dedicated as you have been.
To keep building up your self-confidence, Gentry says you should practice "positive self-talk," and learn to take mental breaks during your practice exams so you're comfortable doing the same during the exam. Also, give yourself something to look forward to. Plan something fun for Saturday afternoon or evening – a reward to treat yourself and celebrate the end of the test.
The last thing you want is to get sick right before test day. Be sure to get enough sleep all week and have nutritious meals, especially the morning of the test. During this week and on the morning of the exam, try some meditation or yoga to relax or go for a run or a swim if that's what you need to de-stress.
Don't wait until Saturday morning to run around the house searching for your registration ticket and student ID, or to discover that your calculator isn't working. Collect everything you'll need the night before the test. Choose your outfit too, if that's something which usually takes you awhile to do – just make sure it's comfortable and will keep you warm in the (usually) cold testing room.
Last, but certainly not least: keep the test in perspective. As any high school counselor or college advisor will tell you, you are much more than a test score. Just think about it this way: A few years from now, when you're going to a job interview or getting a loan to start your own business, no one is going to care what you scored on the SAT or ACT.
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