For those of you taking the ACT in the next couple days, your fastidious and dedicated preparation routine is coming to an end. Whether you studied five hours a day for three months, two hours a day for one month, or merely crammed the last week and a half, it doesn’t matter anymore. All of that is immaterial now. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and exhale. Release any lingering rumination about what you could have done, should have done, or might have altered within your study routine. Let. It. Go. It’s nearly game time, and the only thing left for you to do is get yourself ready for the big test.

Over the years, I’ve worked with a number of students preparing for both the SAT and the ACT. For some reason, I routinely encounter students possessed by the urge to study relentlessly the day before the test. This is NOT advisable for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the likelihood that you will absorb anything of value that close to the test day is slim to none. Second, cramming the day before will likely shake your confidence. You will be hypersensitive and overly critical; therefore, any mistakes or unfamiliar material might send you into a tailspin.

Third, your brain, like every muscle in your body, needs to rest.  A vigorous workout of practice problems will impede its ability to function at a high caliber come test day. Finally, studying the night before can make it difficult to fall asleep. If you are not well rested, you will be shooting yourself in the foot before the test even begins.

To make sure that you give yourself the best chance possible for success, I have prepared a chronologically ordered “to do” list for those of you who are about to take the ACT. I wish you all the best of luck.

Friday before the exam

4 PM – Review the following checklist to ensure that you are completely ready for the test

  • Photo ID – ensure that you have a valid photo ID
  • Admission ticket – print out your admission ticket
  • Three #2 pencils and erasers – you will need backups in case one or two break
  • Calculator with fresh batteries
  • Watch – make sure that it is an approved device that does not make any noise
  • Test center location – look up the location of the test center as well as the entrance on test day
  • Set your alarm

5 PM – Exercise

If you like to play basketball, go shoot some hoops with your friends. If soccer is your thing, then kick a ball around for an hour. A solid workout will boost your serotonin levels and reduce your stress. It will kick up your metabolism while tiring out your body, ensuring that you are able to get a solid night’s rest.

6 PM – Eat a healthy but filling dinner

Nutritionists recommend eating lean meats (such as fish or chicken) along with a healthy portion of green vegetables the night before an exam.  Personally, I like eating a sesame based fish stir-fry with broccoli, bean sprouts, mushrooms, and onions.

7 PM – Do something fun and relaxing

If you love to read, curl up with your favorite book. If you are a cinephile, I recommend watching a great movie. A quick word of caution: don’t dive into something new or overly exciting. An intriguing movie or captivating novel could potentially spike your adrenaline making it harder for you to fall asleep. Choose something that you are already familiar with.

9 PM – Go to sleep

Enough said.

Saturday, ACT test day

6-7 AM – Breakfast

Depending on the length of your commute, you should wake up early enough to have a nice and relaxing breakfast. Nutritionists recommend a combination of eggs, oatmeal, and fresh fruit. You should try to avoid overly sweet items or caffeinated beverages as they can cause drastic energy swings, potentially leaving you susceptible to a mid-test crash. If, however, you are accustomed to always taking exams after a cup of coffee, I recommend that you stick to your test taking routine.

7:30 AM – Arrive at test center

You are required to arrive at your test center no later than 8:00 am. Should you be arriving at 7:50? Maybe 7:55? No. You do not want to leave anything to chance on test day. Give yourself an adequate cushion so that you will most definitely be on time. Moreover, a tight timeframe will stress you out. This added anxiety is not only emotionally disruptive, but it can lead to an energy crash later in the test day.

One last piece of advice: do not talk about the exam to anyone during the breaks. Sometimes students are tempted to compare responses in an effort to verify their answers on previous sections. This is a completely counterproductive activity. It can potentially shake your confidence and derail your progress for whatever sections remain.