ACT tomorrow, now what?

We all know the feeling the night before a big test – butterflies fill your stomach, worst case scenarios flash through your mind, your hands get clammy. These and so many other feelings are totally normal, and when tamed successfully, can even boost your performance on the test in question. While these nerves can feel debilitating, it’s important to approach them calmly and systematically. Here are 5 steps to take the night before and the morning of your exam.

  1. Recognize and be okay with your nerves.

There’s nothing wrong with being nervous for the ACT. If anything, that’s good as it shows that you care, which ultimately is important in scoring well. However, allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by your nerves won’t help your test performance. Instead, do something that relaxes you and take a step back to examine how you’re feeling. This can be taking a bath, drinking tea, watching your favorite tv show, or whatever makes you feel at home. Recognize that any anxiety you’re feeling is totally okay and remind yourself that it’s within your control to choose whether or not you’re going to let your nerves control you.

  1. Try to get a good night’s sleep

While this is easier said than done, a good night’s sleep can really boost your test performance. One of the largest challenges students face preparing for the ACT is the length of the actual test. It requires both stamina and endurance, something that will be much easier if you’re not running on a poor night’s sleep. You should do whatever routine you need to follow to clear your mind and sleep well.

  1. Wake up with ample time and eat a good breakfast

Although a good night’s sleep is crucial, even more important than that is making sure you eliminate all unnecessary stressors the morning of the ACT. One easy way to reduce stress is to make sure that you wake up with enough time to get ready, eat a balanced breakfast, and travel to your exam location. Pack a water-bottle for the exam and if you’re the kind of person who needs a snack every few hours, bring something easy to eat like a granola bar or a piece of fruit. The test administrators allow small breaks during which you can refuel if needed.

  1. Prepare your test materials the night before

Another way to reduce day-of stress is preparing the materials you will need for the test the day before. Some things to remember to bring are sharpened non-mechanical pencils, an eraser, and a scientific calculator. This way, you know you have all of the necessary supplies ready to go and you won’t be scrambling the morning of to gather your things.

  1. Remember this test isn’t the be-all, end-all

It’s easy to fall into the mindset that the ACT is the test that will determine your entire future but thinking that way often creates more unnecessary stress. While standardized test scores are still an important part of the college process (although many schools are now test-optional, see previous article), they are just one part of a larger application. It’s important to remember that the grades, extracurriculars, and personal statements you’ve been building up for the past years and months tell an admissions officer more about you than an ACT score ever could. Keep in mind that the admissions process at the vast majority of schools is done holistically, so an uncharacteristically low test score will not necessarily ruin your application.

In addition, there is no rule against taking the ACT multiple times, and it’s even recommended if it helps a student achieve their highest score. With these in mind, remember that at the end of the day the ACT is just a test, and not achieving your goal score the first time around is not the end of the world.


-Olivia Ferraro

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