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5 Tips to "Best the Test" on Test Day

Blair Tyse


"But wait, should my high school junior even take an ACT/SAT test?"

Yes, and here’s why.

In 2020, the global COVID-19 pandemic affected college-bound students in myriad ways. Students applying for fall 2021 college admission faced ACT/SAT test cancellations during both their junior and senior years — either given email notice the week before their test date or, in some cases, only a cancellation note on the test-site door on the morning of testing.

In response, more than 1,200 out of 2,330 bachelor’s degree-granting colleges and universities (including Ivy League schools, Stanford and University of Virginia) dropped their ACT/SAT score requirements for the class of 2021, adopting test-optional or test-blind admission policies. 

The changes keep coming — College Board recently announced the discontinuation of the SAT essay and subject tests. This is certainly big news, as is the fact that Cornell University is the first Ivy League school to say that it will not require the SAT or ACT from students applying to enter in 2022 (this year's high school juniors) although they will accept and consider scores if students are able to take a test safely and would like to submit a score.

Despite a degree of uncertainty, the ACT and SAT will most likely return as staples at most admissions offices for 2022 fall admissions applicants, with the University of California system (which voted in 2020 to begin phasing out ACT/SAT test score requirements) as a notable exception.

This spring, College Board (SAT) and ACT will offer their state-wide, in-school testing to participating states. And in an effort to follow CDC COVID-19 guidelines, both testing organizations will increase the number of testing sites offered for students registered on any of the following dates:

As your student gets ready to test this spring, share these helpful Test Day tips.

For many students, there is fear and dread associated with taking the ACT or SAT, and understandably so. Students find themselves pressured to do extraordinarily well in their academics, extracurricular activities, sports, college essays and standardized tests all in an effort to stand out to the colleges and universities to which they apply.  

But what makes the ACT and SAT more worrisome for the teens taking them is that each test is a three-hour event on which much of their future seems to depend. By contrast, grades, activities, sports, applications and essays all offer students the benefit of time.

Given that the ACT and SAT tests are performance events much like a football, volleyball or soccer game, a musical show, or a track or swimming race, your student should think of Test Day the same way they might think of Game Day, Opening Night or Race Day. 

There are tried and true habits successful people use in an effort to perform their best. Here are the Top 5 of those habits:

  1. Don’t study the night before; instead visualize achieving that positive test result.
  2. Pack a bag with test day necessities the night before and know where you are going for the test.
  3. Get a solid night’s sleep each night the week before.
  4. Look good to feel good; get clean and dress nicely.
  5. Have a good morning meal and bring water and a snack for your break.

1. Visualize That Positive Test Result

A habit elite athletes and performers all do is to spend time imagining themselves performing their race, game or musical solo flawlessly. They sit quietly and “see” themselves qualifying for Nationals, winning State Championships, or hitting that hard-to-reach high note.  

You can do the same the night before Test Day by sitting quietly and imagining yourself finishing all the test sections on your ACT or SAT test with time to spare.

“See” yourself confidently using strategies you’ve learned in your test preparations that help you get the most out of the reading passages.

Visualize yourself accurately tackling easy math questions and not worrying about finishing the math section.

Connect to your future-self who has just put their pencil down and feels great about how the test went.

Experience the joy and relief you feel as you see your wonderful final score two to four weeks in the future.

Imagine yourself sitting in the quad of the college of your dreams, eating lunch with new friends just before you walk together to your next college class.

Visualize yourself Besting the Test.

2. Pack a Bag

The only thing you want to do on Test Day is perform on the test. Planning ahead, and packing a bag the night before with materials you will need on Test Day, is a great way to calm yourself and prevent test day disasters.  

Your bag should include: sharpened #2 pencils, a calculator with new batteries, photo ID, entrance ticket with the test site’s address, and some water and snacks.  

It’s difficult to perform well on something as stressful as an ACT or SAT test if you’ve forgotten to bring a calculator, shown up without your photo ID, or driven to the wrong test site.

3. Sleep

The week before Test Day, you should practice adequate sleep hygiene so you're alert and sharp for your ACT/SAT test. Teenagers notoriously don’t get enough sleep. In fact, a 2018 research study found that 73% of high school students regularly do not get a healthy amount of sleep. 

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommends teens get 8–10 hours of sleep per night; otherwise, teen sleep deprivation can cause increased moodiness, drowsiness and depression-like symptoms. The study showed that students actually average 6.5 hours of sleep — severely affecting their memory and ability to concentrate as well as their higher cognitive functioning. 

According to Dr. Avi Sadeh, a researcher at the University of Tel Aviv, “A loss of one hour of sleep is equivalent to [the loss of] two years of cognitive maturation and development"!  

Avoid being a statistic. Get to bed by 10 p.m. each night during the week before your test, turn off your devices, cut back on the caffeine, and practice calming activities each night before bed.

Take care of yourself, so you can give your best effort on Test Day.

4. Look Good to Feel Good

Taking time the morning of your test to dress your best can improve your mindset — and therefore your performance.

Intentionally dressing for your test day in clothes that are both comfortable and make you feel good about yourself is the key to boosting confidence and increasing your ability to tackle the challenges of the ACT or SAT.

Some students might argue that rolling out of bed and throwing on sweats is their best way to feel comfortable for a final or a standardized test. But a 2015 study in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests that, when compared to informally dressed students, formally dressed students showed more creative and abstract thinking.

"Dressing for success" means different things from one teen to the next so no need to feel like it has to be khakis and a button-down or a skirt and blouse. Just make sure to get your outfit together the night before so you're not scrounging in your closet on Test Day.

When you take care of your outward appearance in an effort to improve your self-esteem the morning of your ACT or SAT test, you're sending a signal to your psyche that the test truly matters to you. Intention and mindfulness on Test Day is the key.

5. Eat Protein and Fats and Drink Water

Whether you're used to eating breakfast or not, feeding your brain the morning you take the test is essential to maximizing your test performance.  

In order to function properly, according to lifestyle nutrition consultant Tripti Gupta, your brain needs all three macronutrient groups — protein for neurotransmitter production, complex carbohydrates for steady brain glucose levels and healthy fats — to function efficiently under stress.  

One of the major causes of brain fog in students, especially during exam time, is either the lack of food or the wrong kind of food. Skipping meals or eating less during exam time can leave you with a foggy brain.

Stay away from processed food as well. Both artificial sweeteners and mono sodium glutamate (MSG) are known neurotoxins that can cause brain fog and other brain-related problems including headaches, mood swings, dizziness, anxiety and depression. Avoid that brain fog that plagues many test takers an hour or so into the exam, and eat a healthy breakfast, drink water and have a snack during break.

In an effort to maximize your ACT/SAT score, thinking of Test Day as a performance event instead of a morning-to-endure will go a long way. 

By imagining your success, packing your testing necessities the night before, practicing good sleep hygiene, dressing your best and eating well, you can Best the Test on Test Day!

Blair Tyse of Tyse Tutoring & Test Prep has helped thousands of students improve their testing performance since 1994. With a background in both aerospace engineering and literacy intervention for dyslexics, Blair is able to help students with the math and reading aspects of either the ACT or SAT. Her test prep courses are offered remotely and in person. Blair and her husband live in Boulder, CO and regularly travel to visit their college graduate sons in Utah and Norway.

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