Making the Most of Your SAT/ACT Test Day

Students taking the SAT or ACT are wise to prepare for not only the content of the tests but for the experience of testing itself. Spending upwards of three-and-a-half hours reading, calculating, and filling in bubbles is an unusual task, and it’s important that students make smart choices during the 24 hours leading up to the test so that they can feel as ready as possible on test day morning. This Test Day Game Plan will help students to plan strategically and ensure that nothing catches them by surprise when they sit for their official test.

The Day Before the Test

  • Relax. This is not a good day to write a 10-page essay or run a marathon. You’ll need your energy tomorrow morning.
  • Eat. Eat good stuff, loaded with proteins and healthy fats and complex carbs. This is a test of endurance, so loading up on nutritious food the night before is essential.
  • Drink lots of water. A hydrated brain is a happy brain.
  • Practice. Work through a couple of practice problems from each section. Try to spend 30-60 minutes making sure that you’ll know exactly what to do in each section. This is not the time to try to learn something new but instead an opportunity to review your strategies and reflect on how you will approach each section.
  • Prep your materials. Make sure that you have everything that you’ll need for tomorrow laid out by the door and ready to go. This includes your admission ticket, calculator, batteries, pencils, directions to the testing center, photo identification, and snacks for during the test.

Test Day

  • Wake up early. Give yourself plenty of time in the morning. This is one day when it shouldn’t be a rush to get out the front door.
  • Eat (again). Have a big, healthy breakfast that will fuel you for the next several hours. Avoid sugars; they won’t do you any good when it comes to sustained mental focus. Also, if you typically drink coffee, then drink coffee. If you don’t, then don’t start today.
  • While you’re eating breakfast, tackle a handful of practice problems. Don’t go for the crazy hard ones at the end of the section, but instead try four or five easy and medium questions to warm up your brain and build up your confidence.
  • Walk around the block, do jumping jacks, or engage in some other form of light exercise (on the morning of the test, Sal Khan of Khan Academy used to do push-ups while listening to “Eye of the Tiger”).  You’re about to spend your entire morning sitting at an uncomfortable desk taking a test, so whatever your preferred aerobic activity, do it. Loosen up a bit.
  • Wear a layered outfit. Some test centers are freezing, others are way too hot. Wear something that allows you to adjust accordingly.
  • Bring snacks. Granola bars and trail mix are great for test day. Nourish yourself like you’re going for a hike.
  • Lastly, be confident!  You’ve been preparing for this test, and you’ve probably completed more practice problems than most of the other people in the room with you. You know how to take this test, so put your skills to work!

After the Test

  • Take a few moments to jot down anything notable from your test experience (timing challenges, surprises, sections that felt easier than usual). This will be helpful information if you retake the test in the future.
  • Treat yourself! You’ve completed one of the most stressful parts of applying to college. What’s done is done, and ruminating about the test won’t make the scores come back any quicker. Take yourself out for ice cream, watch a movie with friends, or go to the beach or a park. Whatever you do, be kind to yourself this afternoon – you’ve earned it.

When Results Arrive

  • Look at the results – you’ll probably be anxious to see the numbers. This can be emotionally loaded information, so take a look at the score, then do something else for a while.
  • A few days later, once you’re past the surprise (be it good or bad) of seeing your scores, sit down and review the results with your family. If you have questions, seek out thoughtful, strategic advice from your guidance counselor or a test professional.


By Travis Minor, Open Door Education Master Tutor & Co-Owner

What You Need to Know About the PSAT

The Preliminary SAT, or PSAT, is a standardized test administered by the College Board and cosponsored by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation in the United States. It is often taken by high school students during the fall of their junior year.

What’s on the PSAT?

Reading (60 Minutes)

Students answer 47 questions from one literature excerpt, one historical document, one humanities passage, and two science-themed articles.

Writing (35 Minutes)

44 questions test students’ understanding of standard english conventions (punctuation, sentence structure, and usage) and logical organization and development of ideas.

Math (Two sections: 25 minutes no-calculator, 45 minutes calculator active)

The math score is based on two sections, the first with 17 questions and the second with 31 questions. There are three major question categories:

• Heart of Algebra (linear and quadratic equations and systems)

• Problem Solving and Data Analysis (interpreting graphs and charts and using basing statistical operations)

• Advanced Math (understanding and manipulating complex equations)

The majority of the content focuses on pre-Algebra and Algebra skills; Geometry accounts for a very small portion of the test.

Why take the PSAT?

The primary benefit of taking the PSAT is gaining familiarity and comfort with the experience of taking an admissions test without the pressure, as PSAT scores are not sent to the colleges to which a student applies. The results provide feedback that can help guide future test preparation. Students who take the PSAT are entered into the competition for National Merit Scholarships; very few students will ultimately receive this scholarship.

Why skip the PSAT?

For most, scholarship eligibility is not a sufficient reason to take the PSAT: very few students (far less than 1%) ultimately receive a National Merit scholarship. Because many students take the ACT rather than the SAT, the PSAT is not necessarily representative of a student’s admissions testing experience, nor is it essential to a program of test preparation. Additionally, the results of the PSAT take a while to come back, diminishing their usefulness.

How does the PSAT compare with the SAT?

The two tests are very similar in structure and content. The PSAT is somewhat easier as it is written for students taking it in the fall, rather than spring, of junior year. Each PSAT score is out of 760 points, while the SAT is out of 800. This allows for reasonable score concordance between the two tests. The PSAT also has fewer questions than the SAT, and there is no optional essay portion.

When will results be available?

PSAT results are typically available in December. High school counselors receive the scores and then distribute them to students. Scores are available on College Board’s website approximately one week after they are sent to high schools.


By Matt McNicholas, Open Door Education Master Tutor & Co-Owner