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ACT Tips & Tricks

1. DO keep calm and carry on

On test day, relaxation is key. Easier said than done, right? There’s actually strategy involved here, too. Take it easy and give yourself plenty of time to wake up, get ready, and get to the test center. Breathe. And remember: chocolate makes the world go ‘round. A couple of chocolate chip pancakes to go with your protein-rich breakfast of eggs and bacon? Sounds like an amazing idea to us.

2. DON’T be a zombie

Speaking of meals, did your parents ever threaten to send you to bed without dinner? Okay, maybe that’s too last century. Still, no one likes skipping meals, so why would you make that mistake on test day? We know you have to get up early on a Saturday, and we know you’re probably going to be a little wired, but please, have a protein-rich breakfast before you leave. It doesn’t have to be a twelve-course meal, but your brain needs it like your car needs gas. We want you to rip through this test like a winning NASCAR driver, not stall halfway through and spinout to the side of the track.

Also, we’ve slogged through our fair share of early morning classes, so learn from our mistakes: get good sleep starting two nights before the test. Seriously. Functioning on eight hours of sleep is so much nicer than functioning on any less.

3. DO stay positive

Tests can be kind of boring. You already know that, so we’re not going to spit in your face and tell you it’s raining. Still, if all you do is think about how horrible this test is going to be and how badly you’re going to do on it, chances are your experience will be really horrible and you’re going to do badly (self-fulfilling prophecy, anyone?). Belief affects behavior, simple as that. So, think positively. Leave little sticky notes all over your house reminding yourself of how awesome you are, give yourself a pep talk as you’re driving to the exam, even try smiling while you’re taking it. Have a few laughs with your friends. It’ll work.

4. DO practice, practice, practice

How does that saying go? Anything worth doing is worth doing right? Louis Armstrong wasn't just born awesome at jazz. Michael Jordan didn't just strap on tiny Nike sneakers and start dunking as soon as he could walk. If you want to be good at something, you have to practice.

5. What to Bring to the ACT? DO come prepared

What to bring to the ACT:

Your admission ticket — it’s that thing you were supposed to print after you registered for the test. If you lost it, don’t worry; you can log in to your account and print another one before the test.

Remember cell phones are NOT allowed. Back in the old days, people used “watches” to keep track of time. You might consider bringing one to help you pace yourself.

A photo ID — preferably a driver’s license or student ID

A calculator — check the ACT website to make sure your model isn’t prohibited.

No. 2 pencils — that one’s pretty self-explanatory.

6. DO guess intelligently and with purpose

You’re not penalized for guessing, but before you go crazy with that No. 2 pencil, try to narrow down the possibilities. There are usually at least one or two answers that are definitely, no doubt about it, incontrovertibly wrong. “Duds,” if you will. If you can get rid of these dud choices, you’ll have a much better chance of guessing correctly.

7. DO mark up the test booklet like you’re Banksy

Take notes, write little hints to yourself, identify words you don’t understand (it’ll come in handy later on)…basically, just be an active reader. Plus, it’s a good way to keep you focused if some of the passages are total snoozefests.

8. DON’T be a statue

You’re limited to the one square foot that your test chair encompasses, so you won’t be able to have a dance party or anything, but move around as much as you can. Shake out the limbs, stretch, whatever. Just get the blood flowing.

Summing It All Up

The ACT is a test of skill and knowledge that you already have. However, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. To truly conquer the exam and score as high as you possibly can, you need to know it inside and out, and you need to practice. We’re here to help you have a good time while you do just that.

Free excerpts from Shmoop's online ACT subject material:

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