What to do the day before your official SAT


If you read only one thing:

  • Get lots of sleep (9 hours should do it)
  • Know where you’re taking the test
  • Calculator batteries, sharp pencils, erasers, watch
  • Snacks and water
  • Layered clothing
  • Admission ticket and ID
  • On last-minute studying: Up to you
  • Be prepared for proctor mistakes

Your SAT (or ACT) is tomorrow. You’ve got to do your best. You’ve been studying for months. (Or not!) You’re probably at least a little bit nervous about your test. (Which in fact can actually be a good thing. More on that a little bit later.) What should you do during these last 30 hours or so?

We’ve put together some last-minute tips for you based on our two decades of experience. But first, a caveat: We are giving advice based on our experience with thousands of students over about two decades. However, you know you best, and shouldn’t do anything that you know will cause your performance to suffer.

Now our advice:

Sleep nine hours

Sleeping cat

If you’re like many of the teenagers that I see, you go to sleep with three digits on the clock, and wake up at 6 or 7 AM. (You probably know that this is not healthy and not conducive to optimal learning.)

I would like to suggest that at least for the night before your test, you try getting a normal night’s sleep. Teenagers, who are still developing mentally and physically, need lots of sleep to help this development. A teenager needs at least eight hours of sleep a night. Don’t believe me? How late do you sleep during vacations, when you have nothing scheduled? I don’t know about you, but I remember one glorious summer when I slept till 11 AM every day. That was great. I woke up feeling rested every day, full of energy. You should treat yourself to this extra sleep the night before your test.

So try to sleep what you know is the right amount for you – nine or 10 hours is not unreasonable. I know that there is a certain element of machismo associated with pulling all-nighters and being able to attend class after sleeping only five or six hours, but for this high-stakes test, please do yourself a favor and get a proper amount of sleep.

Make sure you know where the test center is; leaver earlier than you think you should

Map app on mobile phone

This is a simple one: Make sure you know how to get to the testing center. Whether you’re being driven, you’re walking, taking the bus, or whatever, make sure that you know how to get where you’re going, and where to park. Remember that there may be heavy traffic on the weekend. I know that many of you will be taking the test at your school, so that may be ideal, since you’ll already be familiar with the location.

However, many of you may be taking the test at a completely unfamiliar location. Imagine that you are running late, and you’re having trouble finding the place, or there is road construction in the area, and you can’t get to the test center. Even if you make it on time, you may be stressed out before the test, which could put you in a bad mood for the next few hours.

If you’re taking the test at a new location, make extra sure that you will get there on time, and if you want to go the extra mile, scout out the location the night before. On test day, leave 10 to 20 minutes earlier than you think you should. In some places, weekend morning traffic is heavier than weekday or evening traffic, so you could face a delay.

Reminder: It’s always best to register for the test as early as you can so that you can get a good location (ideally you want a modern site that’s near your home). We’ve had quite a few students register late who had to take the test in another city, which can also add unnecessary stress.

Tip: Waze (as of 2017) is a cool mobile app that updates quickly about traffic, accidents, construction, etc.


TestMagic pencils

I’ve had a few students tell me that they showed up to the test only to find out that their calculator had no batteries. One student even asked, and I’m still not sure whether he meant it as a joke, “Why didn’t you tell me to check my calculator batteries?”

So here I go:

  • Make sure your calculator has fully charged batteries.
  • Make sure you have at least two sharpened pencils. (Note: The rules state that you may not use mechanical pencils, probably because it is too easy to rig them up for cheating.)
  • Make sure you have erasers. (Quick tip: On the essay, if you make a mistake, cross out the words instead of erasing. Sometimes imperfect erasure leaves fine grit behind that can worsen the scan quality and make it hard to read your pearls of wisdom.)
  • Make sure you have a watch to keep track of the time. Yes, the proctors have a very strict script that requires them how to announce the time remaining, but I have heard of many irregularities. Also, I did have one student who told me that her proctor would not let her wear a watch to the test, even though the rules specifically state that you should wear one.

Snacks and water

Healthy snacks

You very well may get hungry during your test. Be sure that you have something to munch on. You should know what works best for you – fruit, chocolate, nuts, trail mix, etc. Just be prepared.

The same with water – make sure you have some drinking water available to you in case you get thirsty. Be careful! Don’t drink so much that you need to take a trip to the restroom during the test. Proctors don’t like that!

Admission ticket and ID

Of course you cannot forget to bring your admission ticket and your ID. Without those, you can’t get in.

Test-day jitters

Feeling nervous about your test? Well, guess what? This can actually be a good thing. Turns out that research shows that little bit of nervousness can help you pay attention more and raise your score. Too much, however, can be distracting and can lower your score. The Harvard Business Review has a good write-up on the connection between nervousness and performance.

Ultimately it’s up to you to decide what’s best for you, but keep in mind that it’s normal to be nervous, and may even be beneficial.

Last-minute studying

Sleeping while studying for the SAT

The standard advice for many test prep experts is for people to relax the day and night before the test and not to study. However, I have had many students who do not follow this pattern. Some students like to study right up to the test, and some have even crammed during the ride on the way to the test.

I would suggest that you at least consider taking it easy the night before, but if you think it’s better that you study, go for it.

Irregularities in proctors

Finally, the proctor’s rulebook is so thick (figuratively speaking) that most proctors will deviate from the rules at some point during the test. I’ve heard many stories of proctors making mistakes, forgetting to announce how much time is remaining, not letting people use the restroom, etc. over the years.

Some proctors are very vigilant, and will walk up and down the aisles while students take tests. Other proctors will sit up front quietly doing their own thing while students take the test. Some proctors are friendly, others are more businesslike in their demeanor.

If you have any unusual or serious deviations from what you think should be done, you should notify College Board, and they will investigate. It’s unlikely that anything will be done (being honest), and you won’t get extra points, but you will be putting pressure on College Board to do better in their training, and you might feel better about making your voice heard. Complain to College Board about a problem on test day.

Of course, good luck! You’re going to knock it out of the park!

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