Test Day Tips

test alarmStandardized tests such as the ACT, SAT, and AP are becoming increasingly important for homeschool students. It can be easy to become anxious about sending your student into an unfamiliar setting to take tests that can have a big influence on college admissions and scholarships. Of course, having a strong academic foundation and doing appropriate test preparation is vitally important. When you are focused on how to improve vocabulary for the SAT or work faster on the ACT science section, it can be easy to overlook some of the test day basics that make a big difference in a student’s scores. Here are a few tips to help test day go more smoothly:

Days before – check the list
A few days before the test review the list of what to bring to the test. Make sure your student has the needed materials so you aren’t rushing around the morning of the test. A backup calculator or fresh batteries are recommended.
SAT Test Day Checklist
ACT Test Day Checklist
AP Test Day Checklist

Make sure your teen has a watch
Many teens are not in the habit of wearing a watch because they rely on the clock on their phone. They will not be allowed to have their phone out during the test and not all classrooms have clocks. The best approach is for your student to have a watch they use for practice tests and bring the same watch the day of testing.

No cramming the night before
It never works and it will raise your stress level.

Allow plenty of time in the morning
Being rushed is stressful. If your teen tends to be a late sleeper, it may be helpful to try to adjust sleeping times in preparation for the big day. On the day of the test give yourself a bit of extra time so you can deal with any last minute issues that may arise.

Dress in layers
Temperatures in classrooms can be unpredictable and students often complain about overheated or cold classrooms.

Good breakfast
Skip the empty carbohydrates like pastries. It is best to eat a good balance of protein and carbs. Whether to drink caffeine or not is an individual decision. Usually it is best to stick with the teen’s normal routine and not to make major adjustments.

Pack water and a quality snack
Foods like candy bars or soda may offer a quick energy boost, but the body can quickly burn through the sugar and then suffer from an energy crash. The best snack for most students will be a blend of carbohydrates and protein that can be consumed quickly on a break. Good choices may include dried nuts and fruit or a power bar.

Get up and stretch
Testing sessions will include breaks including time to visit the restroom. There are also other shorter “stretch breaks” when students have a minute or two when they are allowed to get up from their desk. Many students will remain seated and not take the break. This is a mistake because just standing up for one minute, taking a deep breath, and stretching can help improve performance. If your student knows any deep breathing techniques, those can be helpful in coping with test day stress.

Even with the best preparation, any student can become ill or encounter problems on test day. Particularly for the ACT and SAT, it is always a good idea to choose a test date that will allow time for a retake if needed.


  • Oh, if only my son had this list and had checked it before he left the house! No batteries?! Whoa, try no calculator!

  • On behalf of the kids like mine (and me when I was his age) I wish they would have optional test dates that start a little later!

  • Maggie – I’d like to say that’s the first time I’ve heard that story, but he’s not the only one! Good reminder to plan ahead and not take chances.

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