Must-Know Test Day Tips for the ACT and SAT | Winward Academy


What to do during and after the ACT or SAT

You’ve arrived to the testing center, snacks, pencils, and calculator in hand, and you’re ready to go. As you go into the exam, be sure to follow our top tips for what to do during the test.

What do to during the exam…

tip 1: Stay calm & confident

If you find yourself feeling nervous, take deep breaths. If you need to close your eyes to refocus, there’s nothing wrong with that.

tip 2: 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’re solving math. It’s a four-hour test but it’s divided up into chunks. Own each section one at a time.

tip 3: Be in the present

Don’t let past perceptions of performance affect you in the present. Try not to lose focus on the current section by fretting about what’s next.

tip 4: Fill every bubble

Neither the ACT nor the SAT penalizes you for guessing (this is not true for the SAT subject tests – FYI), so don’t leave anything blank! When it comes to guessing, pick a letter for the day and stick with it. After analyzing 50 real exams, we concluded that A or D are the most frequent correct answers in the last portion of questions where students often run out of time.

tip 5: 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 thinks, “Oh my gosh, I can’t remember anything I just read.” If this happens to you, give yourself a few seconds and allow your mind to regain its focus.

tip 6: Maximize your break

You have 10 minutes to recharge in the middle of the exam, and that’s all you get in four hours. 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 keep yourself feeling good. Do not use a cell phone (remember they’re not allowed and you don’t want your test cancelled if proctors think you’re cheating). Practice your breaks! This may sound silly, but if you’re doing a timed practice, you might as well practice your 10-minute break to see how it affects your focus. If you find eating a specific snack recharges you for the test’s second half, that’s what you should eat during your break on test day.

tip 7: Know your order

Always have a strategy for each specific section. For instance, there are four passages in the ACT reading section: prose fiction, social science, humanities, and natural science. By practicing, you’ll learn the  best order for you. For example, you may find you 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 want to run out of time on your most challenging section and then guess the remaining answers.

tip 8: Don’t linger too long on a single question

If you find yourself spending more than one minute on a question, use your letter of the day and move on. Don’t let yourself work on a question for five minutes; it’s not worth it.

You’ve done it! Now the test is behind you. It’s important to know a few things for the post-test phase. What to do after the exam…

tip 1: Congratulate and reward yourself

You just achieved something so treat yourself to a nice activity. Go for a walk; have lunch with friends; see your family; do community service; just do something that feels rewarding that afternoon.

tip 2: Know the cancellation policy

If something happens to you during the exam, like you get sick or have an anxiety attack, you can cancel the exam with the head proctor the day of. Additionally, you have until Thursday after the test at 11:59 pm to submit in writing with a signature to College Board that you want to cancel your scores if you’re concerned about your performance and don’t want colleges seeing the score. The same policy applies to ACT. Otherwise your exam is getting scored and sent to colleges. As an additional note, if you cancel your score, you do not get your money back and you’ll never know what you would have received on that test.

tip 3: Check scores online in approximately 3-4 weeks

Your score will be posted about 3-4 weeks after the exam date. Sometimes it can take longer than 4 weeks, and in some cases with the ACT it can take less than 3 weeks. You’ll also receive a score report in the mail about six weeks later.

What else can you learn?

Do you feel more comfortable knowing what to do during and after the exam? Arm yourself with more knowledge of what to do months before, the day before, the night before, and the morning of the ACT or SAT.


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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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