Countdown to Test Day: What to do the day before the ACT and SAT | Winward Academy


24-Hour Countdown: Everything You Need Before Test Day

Your ACT or SAT is tomorrow.

Over the last few months, you picked the test better for you, registered early to get the preferred location in your area, executed your study schedule, and took a few timed practice tests before test day. Keep up your discipline for the final stretch with these last minute reminders.

The Day Before

Make sure that you have everything identified in the list below set aside, organized, and ready to go. You don’t want to spend Saturday morning running around trying to find your registration ticket.

  • Photo ID: The proctor will confirm your identification.
  • Registration ticket: Print from logging into either the ACT or SAT website.
  • Directions to your site: Make sure that you have directions to the testing site and that you plan ahead for how long it takes you to get there. I recommend a dry run to the actual location a few days before so that you know exactly where you’re going. Getting lost the morning of a test would be incredibly stressful, and there is zero tolerance for students being late. If you’re late, you will not be taking the exam.
  • Three or more #2 pencils: You are not allowed to use a mechanical pencil on these exams.
  • Pencil sharpener: An easy thing to have in your pencil bag just in case there isn’t one in the room.
  • Eraser: An eraser on the back of a pencil can suffice, but many students prefer bringing a large, separate eraser.
  • Calculator: Graphing calculators are always going to be preferred but you have to make sure you know how to use them. If you’re used to using a regular calculator, it’s not a good idea the morning of the test day to decide to bring a graphing calculator. Use a graphing calculator only if you have experience using it because even little things like using parentheses or not, can change the output from a calculator. If you’re unsure of how to take advantage of the helpful features of a graphing calculator, then check out the free lessons on the Winward Academy website with instruction for how to use them.
  • Watch without an audible alarm: If you have anything that beeps during the test, your test is automatically canceled and taken away from you! Don’t bring anything that could beep. The one thing you might bring is a silent watch. The rooms are supposed to have clocks but you never know if the clock is going to work, or if it’s going to be in a weird place behind you where you have to turn around to look at it. If you prefer to have a watch with you, I recommend practicing with it in advance so you have game plan on how to use it to pace yourself.
  • Tissues: Just have them! You never know when you might sneeze or have a sniffle.
  • Snacks: Use your breaks to refuel. Snacks that you might want to bring include things like protein bars, trail mix, fruit, vegetables, or a half a sandwich. Prioritize lean protein and fiber but not too much sugar or starch. Be careful not to overeat either. You don’t want to be uncomfortable or have a stomach ache when you start the second half of your test.
  • Bottled water: It’s good to be hydrated but, just like with food, don’t overdo it. Being uncomfortable and having to use the restroom in the middle of a section is not good. Make sure you use the restroom at the testing site before the exam begins and also during the break.
  • Comfortable outfit: Another thing that you can’t always control is the temperature. You do not want to be freezing cold or burning hot. You are going to a place you can’t control, but what you can control is your preparation. Think comfort and layers. We don’t want anything unnecessarily distracting you.
The Night Before 
  • Review only: It is a terrible idea to do a timed practice the night before the test. You don’t want to set yourself up to perhaps struggle to finish and then stress yourself out. Allow yourself to trust the process that you’ve been reviewing consistently over an extended period of time. The night before, you should not try to learn anything new; you should not be pressuring yourself with timed practice; you should be relaxing and, at most, casually reviewing notes you’ve taken on your key areas of focus for the exam.
  • Do something relaxing: The night before, think mindfulness. Tomorrow is game day and you should only do things that will make you relaxed and confident. Watch a movie, have a quiet dinner with friends or family, and just conserve your energy. A light workout is nice, but avoid anything too physically strenuous the day or night before the test.
  • Set your alarm (or two or three): When you set those alarms, be sure to build in time to make sure that you have allowed enough time to get through your morning routine, drive to the testing site, and feel relaxed. You don’t want to wake up, roll out of bed, and expect to be ready. Ideally, you should get up at least 2 hours before the test starts, so you’ll have plenty of time for your brain to wake up.
  • Get some sleep: Plan to get a solid 7 to 9 hours of sleep, but also don’t force something unnatural by going to bed at 5pm or 6pm. If that is not a natural bedtime for you, it’s probably not realistic. Just get to bed as early as you can realistically fall asleep, get your solid 7 to 9 hours, and plan to be up early enough to take care of yourself in the morning and not be pinched for time. One other tip to mention is that sleep deprivation affects you 48 hours later, so if you want to be sharp on Saturday morning, your Thursday night sleep is going to affect that. Keep in mind that if you typically go to bed really late that you should use a few days before the test to gradually transition to an earlier bedtime.


  • Dress comfortably with layers: Plan ahead with layers in case you get cold or hot. Don’t let temperature get in the way of doing your best.
  • Eat a filling, nutritious breakfast: Don’t change it up and have an abnormally small or large breakfast. Remember routine is king to feeling calm and comfortable in the exam. Don’t try anything for the first time on test day – that includes coffee. Prioritize brain foods that will fuel you for the test.
  • Engage your brain: While you’re having breakfast, read something to wake up your brain. I do not mean reading friends’ Instagram posts. Put the phone away and pick up something tangible and read it. Whether it’s a book, a short story, a poem, a magazine, or newspaper, it doesn’t matter, just read it. Physically pick up a book and get your mind going!
  • Arrive early: Build out a buffer for traffic or testing site room adjustments. You can never be too sure of what can happen the morning of the test.
  • Leave your phone behind: This tip is of paramount importance. Students have the tendency during a bathroom break to go into a bathroom stall or a secluded area and try to check back in with their social lives. This is not only a poor use of time, but can also leave you distracted when returning to your desk to resume the exam.
  • Stay calm & confident: During the exam you want to be calm and confident. If you find yourself starting to feel nervous before you start (or during the exam), take deep breaths when you need them. If you need to just close your eyes and allow yourself to refocus, there’s nothing wrong with that.


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About Winward Academy – Winward Academy is one of the world’s leading innovators in the online education space, providing web-based academic support that enhances students’ knowledge, confidence, and competitiveness in middle and high school academics and in college applications. We help thousands of students every year by providing personalized, comprehensive ACT and SAT test preparation and extensive math curriculum support. The Winward Academy learning platform honors over 40 years of education and cognitive psychology research, incorporating proven techniques that promote effective learning.

Winward Academy’s unmatched reputation is wholly attributable to our students’ exceptional success and to the trust earned among students, parents, and schools around the world.

Jennifer Winward, Ph.D.

Dr. Jennifer Winward is a renowned college instructor, a distinguished 20-year veteran of high school tutoring, and the founder and lead instructor of Winward Academy. She earned her Ph.D. specializing in adolescent brain development and adolescent learning. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and graduated summa cum laude with highest distinction honors. Dr. Winward has been widely recognized for her academic success, published research, and philanthropic efforts with awards from the President of the United States, the California State Assembly, Rotary International, the Marin County School Administrator Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Science Foundation.

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