So, I hear that you’ve got a date this Saturday. In fact, I think we all do. It’s probably a super important date. Maybe the first date of this kind: for you and probably everyone else. Or, perhaps not. Perhaps you’re a pro and do this kind of thing all the time. You prepare for months or maybe just for an hour, arrive with three sharp pencils or maybe just one and a calculator. While this pesky date may have sneaked up on you, or have you all frazzled, the key to success lays your preparation leading up to it.

Step 0.5: Figure out when your date is (if you don’t already know) and mark it on a calendar: ACT, Feb. 6, 2016. Make the letters big, bold, and colorful, as if it reads “International Coconut Day” rather than the name of an unnecessarily long standardized test.  

Step 1: Only do parts of a practice test (half to a whole section each day) over the few days before the test. This will help get your brain in the ACT mode, familiarize yourself with the test format, or allow you to apply your prior weeks of studying to the actual exam. There’s no need to go cray-cray and do five practice tests before the actual date; this will not only take up a TON of time – it is a FOUR HOUR TEST – but it will also turn your brain into an exhausted, squishy blob. Like this fish:

blob fish
This is the blobfish. It’s a little cute but also really sad and tired; this will be your brain if you overwork it. (Source:


Step 2: You must remain calm. There’s nothing else to say. Please chill. Here are some things that will help you do this:

  • stay on top of your schoolwork
  • drink lots of green tea
  • get enough sleep
  • watch Merlin on Netflix
  • read some Harry Potter books
  • frequently look at inspirational quotes
  • stalk your favorite celebrity for a few minutes each day
  • watch cute animal videos every morning
  • listen to Ted Talks
  • memorize lyrics to Hamilton while doing your easiest homework
  • make a planner to stay organized and aggressively cross off each finished assignment
  • take stretching breaks, walks, or do yoga
  • laugh a little louder and hug friends more often  

Now, here we are: the night before the big day and the day of. If you retain any information before xing-out of this tab it should be these last steps:

Step 3: Do not do a bunch of cramming or even normal preparation the night before your test date. I did this before the PSAT and it was such a bad idea. Seeing any mistakes you make the night before the test will make you feel like Julie Chen from Hell’s Cafeteria:


Instead, review over themes, concepts, and equations. If you feel nervous about a specific section then do a couple problems from that area, but avoid doing a bunch of questions for a section you feel comfortable in lest you get a few wrong and lose confidence.

Step 4: GO TO SLEEP. Get at least 8 hours.

Step 5: Plan for a super fabulous, brain-powering, glucose releasing, knowledge absorbing breakfast. The food you will eat before the test can impact your score because testing while full and with a brain that’s getting enough nutrients will result in a higher score than when testing while hungry or tired. Here are some great brain foods (gathered via

  • whole grain bread: this will release glucose at a more steady rate so you don’t crash and burn halfway into the reading section
  • oily fish (or really just anything with protein): protein keeps you full for a long time and, if you’re eating fish with omega-3 fats, your brain and body may function a little better
  • more Vitamin C and K: obtained from many fruits and vegetables, research has shown that these vitamins may increase mental agility and temporarily improve memory.

Step 6: POWER POSE! You’ve made it. The date is upon you and there’s no turning back now. So, walk in confident by doing a power pose and you’ll probably do better and feel better. To do this, make yourself taller and take up lots of space. Maybe even whisper a fierce little “I can do this!” to yourself before sitting down. (Read more about power poses here at

Good luck! And may these steps be with you.