Stay calm & confident: During the exam you want to be calm and confident. If you find yourself starting to feel nervous, take deep breaths when you need them and if you need to just close your eyes and allow yourself to refocus, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Own each section: Remember, this is your test. You should write all over it! Cross stuff out when you know it’s wrong. Draw a diagram when you are solving math. And, remember, it’s a four-hour test but it’s divided up into chunks, and you want to make sure that you’re owning each section one at a time.
Be in the present: Building off the previous tip to own each section, be present as you progress. It’s only going to hurt you if you allow yourself to let past perceptions of performance affect the present. Don’t anticipate that the next section is the hardest one for you and then lose focus on the current section. You need to be present in a section that you’re completing at that moment.
Fill every bubble: Neither the ACT nor the SAT penalizes you for guessing (this is not true for the SAT subject tests – FYI), so never leave anything blank! When it comes to guessing, pick a letter for the day and stick with it. We always recommend students guess A or D.
Focus on your focus: If you lose concentration or get frustrated and stressed, give yourself a few moments to relax. It’s all too common that someone reads a paragraph and then goes “oh my gosh, I can’t remember anything I just read” and has to go back. If you find that this happens to you, just give yourself 5 seconds or 10 seconds and allow your mind to regain its focus.
Maximize your break: You have 10 minutes to recharge in the middle, and that’s all you get in four hours. You need to take advantage of this break: use the restroom; put cold water on your face; do a few jumping jacks; have a snack; talk to somebody; do something to just keep yourself feeling good. Practice your breaks! This sounds so silly to say, but, if you’re doing a timed practice, you might as well practice what you’re doing during your 10 minute break to see how it affects your focus. If you find eating a specific snack recharges you for the second half of the test, then that’s what you should eat during your break on test day.
Know your order: Always have a strategy on how you approach each specific section. For instance, in the ACT reading section there are four passages: prose fiction, social science, humanities, and natural science. The advantage of practicing in advance is knowing what order is best for you to do those sections. If you do a lot of practicing you might find “wow I really tend to struggle with the humanities section.” Well guess what, you should do that section last because if you run the risk of running out of time, you would want to run out of time on the section that would be most challenging. Embrace the process of preparing in advance, in knowing yourself and in knowing what order is going to maximize your performance.
Don’t linger too long on a single question: This is a timed test. If you find yourself spending more than one minute on a question, use your letter of the day and move on. Do not let yourself work on a question for five minutes; it is not worth it. You have to be disciplined and if you start to notice that you have been spending too long, you need to guess and move on.
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