Test Day Tips

test alarmStandardized tests such as the ACT, SAT, and AP are becoming increasingly important for homeschooled students. It can be easy to become anxious about sending your student into an unfamiliar setting to take tests that can greatly influence 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. Make sure your student has the needed materials so you aren’t rushing around the morning of the test.

SAT Day Checklist
ACT Test Day Checklist
AP Test Day Checklist

Check ID requirements
Plan ahead of test dates to make sure your teen has valid, acceptable forms of ID. Government issued ID such as driver’s licenses, state IDs, or passports are commonly used.  Your student doesn’t need to have a driver’s license to have a government-issued ID.

Digital Testing
Make sure you have an appropriate, fully charged device with the required software downloaded.

No-Wifi Watch
No electronic watches (Apple Watch, etc.) are allowed.  Students should have a non-electronic watch without wi-fi access. A stopwatch or timer is fine, but it may not beep or have alarms. While test proctors will announce the time, it is a good strategy to get an inexpensive watch and practice testing with an understanding of the time available for each section.

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, adjusting sleeping times in preparation for the big day may be helpful. On the day of the test, give yourself some extra time to deal with any last-minute issues that may arise.

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

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

Pack water and a quality snack
If the test allows, consider packing a snack.  Snacks 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 shorter “stretch breaks” when students are allowed to get up from their desks for a minute or two. Many students will remain seated and not take a break. This is a mistake because 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 help cope with test day stress.

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


  • 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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