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The ACT and SAT: How to prepare for and stay calm during the exam

Many students feel a lot of stress and anxiety when they begin to think about the SAT/ACT.  They think this one test will determine their future. First and foremost, this is not true. Even if the college you want to apply to requires the standardized test, it is not the only thing admissions considers when looking at an application. Also, depending on your school, the ACT/SAT may not even be a factor. Consider this:

  • Some of the most selective schools in the country no longer require standardized test scores. While these schools may require additional writing in the college application, the SAT/ACT is an optional component of their application process. Here is a list of those schools.
  • Are you planning to attend Community College? If so, you do not need to take the SAT/ACT if you will complete 60 transferrable units at the community college of your choice!

But let’s say that you want to apply to a California State University (CSU) or a University of California (UC) school. In that case, you will need to take the SAT/ACT with the writing component. Here are a few tips to help you prepare for and stay calm on test day.

#1 Make sure you understand the rules and format of the ACT/SAT.  Keep doing the practice tests until you feel very comfortable with the structure and flow of the exam. The more familiar you are with the test, the easier it will be to relax on test day. 

#2 Arrive at the test center prepared with just what you need, no more, no less.  Bring you ticket, a form of identification, approved calculator, number two pencils, a snack to eat during the breaks, and some water.

#3 Get a good night’s sleep.  Don’t try to cram the night before and don’t stay up late. Take a nice shower/bath, slip into your favorite pjs, and remind yourself that you are ready for this.

#4 Eat a healthy breakfast. This tip speaks for itself.

#5 Don’t rush through the test. Take your time, think through your answers, and have confidence in your choices. If you are unsure of an answer, mark it in your test booklet and come back to it later.

#6 Focus on yourself. This is easier said than done in a testing environment but try your very best not to watch other test takers or to pay attention to who is taking a break and who isn’t. This is your test. You can do it!

#7 Take advantage of your breaks. Use the restroom, stroll around, have a snack, or just rest your eyes and sit quietly at your desk.

#8 Congratulate yourself when you’re done! These tests are hard work so give yourself credit where credit is due.

Submitted by: Rebecca Field, Sterne High School College Counselor