5 Things You Should be Doing the Week Before the Big Test

You spend months preparing for the SAT or ACT. You take endless practice tests, expand your vocabulary, brush up on your math, and generally pour countless hours (often in a class or with a tutor) into getting ready for the test.

With all that time and energy spent, you want to do everything you can the week before the test to make sure you're firing on all cylinders on the big day. So here's a list of things you can do the week before the test to make sure you're ready to go as test day approaches.

1. Make sure you get enough sleep.

This one should be obvious, but it's really easy to get caught up in everything you have going on at school — homework, activities, friends — and forget that one of the keys to success on these lengthy tests is being well-rested. Try to get at least seven hours a night the week leading up to the test; you should ideally get between eight and nine a night, which may require adjusting your sleep schedule and going to sleep a little earlier each night.

2. Eat well and stay active.

How you eat impacts how you feel, and exercise helps to improve both mood and focus. I wouldn't expect anyone to suddenly develop perfect eating and exercise habits the week before the test, but try to put extra effort into whatever your particular versions of "eating well" and "being active" are the week leading up to the test. In particular, even if you don't normally eat breakfast, make sure you have a healthy breakfast on the day of the test!

You can read about what foods can really stimulate your brain here: 5 Breakfast Choices to Help You Pass your Exam

3. Make sure you know exactly where your testing center is and how to get there.

I cannot stress this one enough. I've had students miss tests because they couldn't find the testing center. You should not only find it on Google Maps (or a similar service) the week before the test, but you should also actually figure out how you're going to get there and, if it's someplace you've never been before, make a trip there the previous weekend. Do this at the same time you expect to travel on the big day, bright and early in the morning, so you can gauge how long the trip will take, where you'll be parking if you drive, and so forth. If you live in a major city and plan to take public transportation to get to the testing center, make sure to monitor any service announcements for the weekend of the test.

In short, make sure you know exactly where the test is, exactly how long it will take you to get there, and exactly how you'll get there. Figure out the absolute most time the trip could take (barring emergency), then add about 15 minutes on top of that, so there's no chance you'll be late.

4. Study the right things.

People like to cram. And, honestly, for certain types of studying, cramming can be pretty useful. It's a solid way to put simple information into your short term memory (and you'll promptly forget it a few days later). So if you're going to do any last minute studying — and if you've done a good job preparing for the test, you may not need to! —you want to pick the sorts of things that are susceptible to cramming. For the SAT, vocabulary, math formulas, and grammatical rules fit this list; the same is true for the ACT, except that there's no real vocabulary to study.

That said, don't feel like you have to cram. If you've been working hard to build your vocabulary and you're confident you know your math formulas and grammatical rules, you can take it relatively easy the last few days leading up to the test. And under NO circumstances should you study the night before the test. Take that night easy, watch a movie, and get to bed early.

5. Put together a "Day of the Test Packet".

You don't want to be scrambling the morning of the test to get together everything you'll need, so put together a "Day of the Test Packet" a few nights before. The packet should include:

  • Your admissions ticket: Bring a printed out copy.
  • Your student ID: or other photo ID.
  • Several number two pencils: You may also want to bring an eraser and sharpener. Remember, you should not use a mechanical pencil or a pen on the SAT or ACT.
  • A calculator with fresh batteries: Here is a current calculator policy for the SAT and for the ACT.
  • A watch: One that is easy to look at. Don't use a calculator watch.
  • A healthy snack: You cannot eat or drink during the test, but you can during the breaks. Avoid snacks that are high in sugar, as sugar will give you a brief rush of energy followed by a period of sluggishness.
  • Warm up questions: For the SAT, you may want to bring a few simple questions to use to "warm up" while you're waiting for the test to start. Alternately, some students prefer light reading material. The ACT specifically prohibits any outside reading materials or paper.

Make sure you're aware of what items are currently prohibited for these tests; in general, any electronic device other than your calculator should not be brought to the test center. Note that cellphones are prohibited at SAT and ACT testing centers.

I have little doubt that students often bring cellphones to Testing Centers, but keep them turned off and out of sight the entire time they are at the Center. While I wouldn't advise doing so — it strikes me as a completely unnecessary risk, especially as College Board and ACT grow ever more vigilant about the role electronic devices can play in helping students cheat — if you must bring a cellphone, be absolutely certain that it is turned off and that it remains out of sight the entire time you are at the Testing Center.

Good luck!