How to Take the ACT (The Right Way!)

Wondering how to take the ACT like a champion? You’ve known about the ACT for years, you’ve worried about it for months, and now you’ve spent at least a few hours in solid preparation for it. As the test gets closer, you may find your anxiety is on the rise. But you really shouldn’t worry.  To calm any pre-test jitters you may have (and assuming you’ve left yourself at least some breathing time before your ACT), let’s go over a few last-minute tips:

The Night Before the ACT

Get together an “ACT survival kit” containing the following items:

  • A calculator
  • A watch
  • At least three sharpened No. 2 pencils
  • A pencil sharpener
  • Two erasers
  • Photo ID card
  • Your admission ticket
  • A snack—there’s a break, and you’ll probably get hungry

Take It Easy

Don’t study the night before the test. Relax!

Know exactly where you’re going and how you’re getting there. It’s probably a good idea to visit your test center sometime before test day, so that you know what to expect on the big day.
Read a good book, take a bubble bath, watch TV. Exercise can be a good idea early in the afternoon. Working out makes it easier to sleep when you’re nervous, and it also makes many people feel better.
Get a good night’s sleep. Go to bed early and allow for some extra time to get ready in the morning.

The Morning of the ACT

  • Dress in layers so that you can adjust to the temperature of the test room.
  • Eat breakfast. Make it something substantial, but not anything too heavy or greasy. Don’t drink a lot of coffee if you’re not used to it; bathroom breaks cut into your time, and too much caffeine—or any other kind of drug—is a bad idea.
  • Read something. Warm up your brain with a newspaper or a magazine. Don’t let the ACT be the first thing you read that day.
  • Be sure to get there early. Allow yourself extra time for traffic, mass-transit delays, and any other possible problems. If you can, go to the test with a friend (even if he or she isn’t taking the test). It’s nice to have somebody supporting you right up to the last minute.

During the ACT

Don’t get rattled. If you find your confidence slipping, remind yourself that you know the test; you know the strategies; you know the material tested. You’re in great shape, as long as you relax!
Even if something goes really wrong, don’t panic. If the test booklet is defective, try to stay calm. Raise your hand, and tell the proctor you need a new book. If you accidentally misgrid your answer page or put the answers in the wrong section, again don’t panic. Raise your hand, and tell the proctor. He or she might be able to arrange for you to re-grid your test after it’s over, when it won’t cost you any time.

After the ACT

Once the test is over, put it out of your mind. If you don’t plan to take the ACT again, shelve this book and start thinking about more interesting things.
You might walk out of the ACT thinking that you blew it. This is a normal reaction. Lots of people—even the highest scorers—feel that way. You tend to remember the questions that stumped you, not the many that you knew.

If you really did blow the test, you can take it again and no admissions officer will be the wiser. Odds are, though, you didn’t really blow it. Most people only remember their disasters on the test; they don’t remember the numerous small victories that kept piling up the points. And no test experience is going to be perfect. If you were distracted by the proctor’s hacking cough this time around, next time you may be even more distracted by construction noise, or a cold, or the hideous lime-green sweater of the person sitting in front of you.

Canceling Your Score

Don’t cancel your score unless you have a good, solid reason. But if you have a good reason, do it.

Finishing the ACT is an accomplishment. Celebrate!