24 Hours Before the SAT/ACT

You’ve likely been prepping for months for one, grueling, four-hour test, and rightly so: it’s one of the most important parts of your college application. Every detail of preparation is significant, and the 24 hours prior to the exam are no exception. So what should the day prior to your big day consist of?

As many urge, sleep is one of the key factors to performance, though this stretches far beyond just the hours you get the night before. For one thing, make sure not to mess too much with your normal circadian rhythm. You’ve probably determined over the years how much rest you need to perform well, and nobody knows this better than you. If you usually think best with 6 hours of sleep, there’s no need to sleep for 11 hours the night before. Just try not to push this too far: research has repeatedly shown that aggressive cuts to sleeping inhibit thought. It can also help to ease yourself into the sleeping rhythm that you do best with. If you feel most focused with 10 hours of sleep, try to get 10 hours each night up to a week before the exam, waking up every day at around 7 so that you’re prepared for the sleep you’ll actually be getting. Finally, don’t over stress about sleep. I had a friend who was worried about taking the exam tired and took a nap on the Friday afternoon before the test. As a result, he spent most of the night restless, wide awake due to his 4 hour nap that day. Therefore, he went into the exam exhausted after his sleepless night. Overall, the main sleep takeaway is rhythm: try to stick with the sleep conditions you know you perform under.

In addition to sleep, what you eat is a core factor to your performance. The test is a whopping 4 hours, so most people are bound to get hungry sooner or later. To combat this schedule, there are a couple strategies. For some people, it works to simply eat a large breakfast that will keep you full for the entirety of the test. Good options to fill your stomach include eggs, oatmeal, or yogurt. However, this strategy is not for the weak-stomached. If you eat too much, you can get a stomachache or other discomfort that will cause you to lose focus. Therefore, it is a good idea to bring a granola bar or other small snack for the break between sections, thus allowing you to not only refuel but also take your mind off the exam for a couple minutes. Bringing water is also essential.

Finally, a review packet is one of the best ways to improve your score. In the final days before the test, you definitely do not want to be cramming. Over studying right before the test can lead to mental exhaustion, lack of sleep, or stress. However, you will likely have some things you want to remember. For example, if you tend to make careless errors on math word problems, make sure to note this in your review packet so you’re cognizant of this tendency. This will help keep focus areas fresh in your mind, and prevent you from losing unnecessary points. In terms of length, try not to put too much on the review packet; as a general rule, you should be able to read in over in around 5-10 minutes without too much trouble. Do not use sentences or paragraphs where bullet points will do nor supply explanations for math problems when showing your work is sufficient. Then, go over the review sheet once or twice the night before as well as on the road to your testing facility. In this way, you can avoid cramming, while still getting that extra push on the topics that give you trouble.

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