Last Minute Test Prep

Don’t freak out, but…

freak out.gif

Freaking out: not good for test scores.


The ACT is four days away, and you haven’t even started to prepare yet. The panic is about an inch away, and you are pretty sure that it’s going to eat you alive in the next five minutes. Or the five minutes after that.

Soon, for sure.

You’re thinking: “I have to do SOMETHING, right?” Well, yes. But, time is short.

While you take some good deep calming breaths, let me tell you a few things.

  1. This test is just a test. It’s not the end of the world. It’s just a measure on one day on one test of how well you perform. It’s not life-threatening; it’s not catastrophic. It’s just a test. You take tests all the time. This is just one more of them.

  2. Accept that you cannot make huge strides in four (or three or two) days. All you can do at this point is some basic preparation. You’re not going to learn four years’ worth of math in the next 48 hours. Trying will make you tired and frustrated, which will make your score go DOWN, and that’s certainly not the goal. So, chill.

  3. There are some things you CAN do, and I’ll share them down below. First, though, let me tell you a short story.

As I write this, it’s nearing the end of baseball season and the beginning of college and NFL football season. When I look at those players, I think of all of our ACT students. Do those players become superstars overnight? Certainly not. Few baseball players hit home runs on their very first at-bat, just like very few students hit the ACT out of the park on their first (or even second) try. That’s not how life works.

An athlete can have the physical capability of hitting the ball out of the park or throwing a touchdown or scoring a penalty kick. He or she may have even practiced. A lot! They may have the best coach in the world, even. They pay attention to their coach; they practice all the time. And, on game day? They miss the goal, strike out, throw an interception, or whatever. It happens. If Hank Aaron could go 0-for-5 in his first MLB game, but then go on to break Babe Ruth’s home run record later in his career….well, cut yourself some slack. It might take you a few tries (with practice and coaching, preferably!) to get it right.

Taking the ACT is a skill. If you’re reading this, maybe you want to look into some coaching before your next test. At the very least, you’ll need some practice. Right now? Today? You are just about out of time to make major changes to what you know. It’s likely that on your own game day (test day), you are going to be confronted by test items you didn’t anticipate. Life is like that. Athletes show up again the next day and figure out how to do better the next time, and you will too.

You get me? Life goes on, so be calm. The right mindset can help your score!

Besides getting the right mindset, though, what can you do at the last minute?


Doing your best is the best you can do!

Clear your mind. Practice a bit. Then show up and do your best!

  • Go to the ACT (or College Board for SAT) website and download a free practice test. You need to know what to expect. Print ALL sections. Take some time (like an hour or two) to slowly go through each section. Try each section if you can. See how it’s set up. Look at how many questions there are, and check the time limit for each section. On the ACT in particular, time is a real challenge. Familiarize yourself with the test. You don’t want to be seeing the test for the very first time on the day that it counts. Look at it in advance and see what it looks like.

  • Brush up your brain. It might be a long time since you learned where commas go or how to solve absolute value problems. Maybe you think you never even learned that in the first place! Khan Academy and Quizlet are both terrific free resources where you can go to clear out the cobwebs from things you learned a long time ago. What should you review on those sites? On Khan Academy, look up things like colons, commas, and clauses for English or pythagorean theorem, matrices, and simplifying radicals for Math. On Quizlet, you can search for ACT English or ACT Math to find some good review sets on each. Grammar knowledge boosts your English score; knowing formulas and basic functions in Algebra and Geometry boost your Math score.

  • Get your things ready. That includes your admission ticket, your photo ID, your calculator, your pencils/erasers, and yourself. Take good care of yourself these next few days. Get some sleep. Eat good food. Don’t ditch your boyfriend or girlfriend and cause a big upheaval. Drama is not good for test scores.

After the test, make a plan for how to prepare more effectively next time.

Take a deep breath, and onward you go!