What Should I Do the Night Before the SAT or ACT?

As a Testive Coach, I not only guide students as they master the content of the SAT and/or ACT, I also advise them on how to approach the test with the best possible mindset. While the night before the test is generally considered “too late” to make substantial changes in test readiness, this is not true. The night before the test is certainly not the time to, for instance, learn a new math concept, or practice vocabulary for the first time, but there are steps to take to ensure you approach the test in the best possible mindset.

Here are some key tips for making the most of the night before the SAT or ACT:

  1. One last review of your toughest subject
  2. Eat a good dinner
  3. Prepare your test materials
  4. Take time to relax
  5. Get a good night’s sleep
  6. Follow the specific advice from your tutor

Before I describe each of these steps, there’s one step for parents to take: stay on top of test dates and deadlines, so the SAT or ACT doesn’t sneak up you. Subscribe to our newsletter, College Radar, for key deadlines and helpful resources that keep you on track to application season.

One Last Review of Your Toughest Subject

Before dinner on the night before the SAT or ACT, do one last quick review of the subject you’ve struggled the most with. That could mean reviewing a math concept you’ve struggled to master, glancing over vocabulary flashcards, or looking over a series of literary terms. Whatever it is, the point is less that this review will teach you a brand-new concept, and more that, knowing you’ve done everything you could, you’ll walk into the test the next day feeling more prepared, relaxed, and confident.

Eat A Good Dinner

Make sure to eat a tasty and filling dinner the night before! Try to have a favorite meal, and make sure it’s something solid so you don’t wake up hungry in the middle of the night. Some say fish is “brain food,” but go by your own tastes, and avoid greasy foods, which may upset the stomach. Try to eat dinner early enough that you don’t go to bed on a too-full stomach, which can cause trouble sleeping. Keeping your body well fed and in good condition is a vital part of being prepared for any task—including test day!

Prepare Your Test Materials

The night before test day, be sure to gather your test materials and place them in the bag you’ll be taking to the test. These include your admission ticket to the test, a photo ID (check the test website for what forms of ID are acceptable—generally, a valid driver’s license or a current school ID will be fine) at least two #2 pencils, and a test-acceptable calculator. You may also want to pack a healthy snack and bottled drink for the break, to keep your energy from flagging during the second half of the test. When choosing a snack, avoid anything too sweet or too salty, which will make you thirsty while you’re finishing your test, and try to find something with protein (like nuts or granola) for extra energy. Assembling your test materials the night before test day can save you a panicked scramble the morning of the test!

Take Time to Relax!

After you’ve had a good meal and prepared your test materials, be sure to take some time to relax and do something you enjoy. This can be watching a favorite movie, listening to music that you love, unwinding with a video game, or even just spending time with your best friend. Try to avoid doing anything too physically taxing, like playing sports—you don’t want to wear yourself out before the test! Other than that, just make sure you’re spending your evening doing something you enjoy. The important thing is to feel happy and relaxed. You’ve worked hard preparing for the test, and your mind and body need time to “recharge” before the test. While a good night’s sleep can restore your energy (as we’ll discuss below), free time doing something not only restful, but that makes you happy, is important to get you into the right mindset the day before the test.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

This advice is tried and true—in fact, some people have joked that the “S” in “SAT” should stand for “sleep!” But good advice lasts for a reason. Again and again, scientific studies have shown how important a good night’s sleep is for improved brain functioning. Using your mind burns more calories than any form of exercise, so taking the test will have the same effect on your energy as spending the morning doing intense workouts—no wonder you need your rest beforehand! The test will be early in the morning, and it’s vital to arrive with time to spare, so be sure to set an alarm the night before. Try to get at least eight hours sleep—that’s the minimum recommended for adolescents, although nine or ten hours are fine as well. This might mean going to sleep earlier than you usually do, especially for a Friday night, but being well rested on test day is more than worth it!


The morning of the test, be sure to get up with enough time to eat some breakfast and get to the testing site with at least fifteen minutes to spare. A good night’s preparation, relaxation, and rest should have you feeling calm and confident for the test itself—you’ve got this!

Finally, this advice is all general, and applicable to most everyone. That said, if you’ve been working with a one-on-one coach like me, or my colleagues at Testive, to prepare for the test, they will have more advice specific to you and your particular circumstances. While general advice is useful, everyone is different and approaches test-taking from a different place, so there’s no substitute for advice and strategies developed specifically for you. Walking into your test feeling well prepared, confident, and relaxed is half the battle—so keep on fighting!

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By |2018-07-16T02:33:21+00:00December 7th, 2017|ACT, SAT|

About the Author:

My name is Ellery, and I’m currently a PhD student in History at University College London, where I’m studying Victorian political movements. I’m originally from Bethesda, Maryland, just outside D.C., and did my undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan, where I graduated in three years, and wrote a column for the university newspaper. I also hold an MA in history from University College London. I’ve had experience tutoring students for standardized tests since 2013. In my spare time, I like exploring London, baking banana bread, and reading thriller novels.