5 Ways to Keep the Morning of the SAT or ACT Stress-Free

You’ve read all the prep guides, taken SAT/ACT prep courses and went to bed super early last night. But now it’s the morning of the SAT or ACT, and despite all of the preparation you’ve done over the past few weeks, you have no idea what to do. What do you wear, what do you bring and what do you eat? What does it take to get ready to ace the test?

As trivial as some of these things might seem, nobody wants to have to worry about all of this before taking an exam that can play a pretty big factor in her future. That’s why HC talked to collegiettes all over the country to figure out what the best morning-before-the-SAT/ACT practices are and how they can help you do better on your test!

1. Wear what makes YOU feel good


It’s no secret that we love fashion here at HC, but when it comes to the SAT and ACT, it’s okay if having a runway-ready look isn’t that high on your priority list. Remember, you’ll be sitting there taking this exam for over half of a day, so comfort is the most vital thing when it comes to your wardrobe choices!

Rachel Berg, a junior at the University of New Hampshire, realized the importance of sacrificing chicness for comfort on her test-taking day.

“My number one concern was making sure I was set to sit there for six hours, so I wasn’t trying to kill it [with my outfit] like I usually do for school,” she says.

However, just because we’re promoting comfort doesn’t mean we think you should show up looking like a complete slob for your exam! Remember, if you feel good, you’re poised to do good things. “Doing your hair/makeup helps to make you feel more put together,” says Claudia DiMuro, a senior from New York University. “If you feel put together, you can tackle the test, no problem.”

When it comes to the SAT and ACT, it’s best to strike a gentle balance: Try comfy bottoms like leggings or yoga pants and a solid-colored T-shirt with a sweater over it. Dress in layers to avoid getting too hot or too cold, and wear basic pieces so they don’t get in your way as you tackle your exam. That heavy statement necklace and those signature bracelets you love won’t do you any good as you try to write quickly and stay comfortable, so leave them at home!

And don’t forget about your hair! While you should dress how you feel most comfortable while taking the SAT or ACT, there’s one standard thing a girl should have down for her exam: an easy updo. Who has the time to push her hair out of the way of their exam while reading a passage in her test packet? No one.

Try a ponytail, a French braid or a topknot to keep your hair hassle-free. The last thing you should be stressing about is pushing your hair behind your ear every five seconds.

“When I took the SATs, it was during that crazy, ‘let’s cut our bangs so they literally cover our eyes’ trend,” says Allie Johnson, a junior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “I didn’t think to pin mine back, so the entire time I was blowing them out of my face.”

Avoid Allie’s fate by coming up with a cute but easy hairstyle to keep your hair hassle-free throughout your entire exam!

2. Fuel your body and your brain


We’ve all heard it before: Eat a good breakfast before taking a test. But how much is too much? Avoid your Goldilocks moment by eating just the right amount (and just the right food); after all, nobody likes being hungry or feeling bloated while taking a six-hour exam.

The key is to do what’s best for your body and to eat a breakfast that will energize you. If you’re someone who gets hungry after just having fruit, make sure you include some solid, protein-filled foods like eggs or peanut butter on toast. If waffles and sausage make you feel bloated and groggy, opt for Greek yogurt with some fruit in it.

And, as weird as it sounds, try eating a banana. “Bananas are great brain food because of the high level of potassium in them,” says nutritionist Andrea Messel. The potassium in bananas keeps your brain properly oxygenated and helps communication between cells. While this tip might not result in a giant increase in your score, it’s always nice to know you’re doing every little thing you can to boost your chances at acing the test. 

If there’s one thing we can all deem true, though, it’s this: It is way better to take an exam feeling a little too full than a lot too hungry. “I realized [the food issue] the hard way when I took the SATs,” says Tyra Batchelder, a junior at the University of Massachusetts. “I just had my regular cereal and banana and thought I was dying for the first snack break the entire exam. It was terrible.”

3. Pack your bag the night before


Nothing is more stressful than running late the morning of an important event. Between the grogginess of getting out of bed so early on a Saturday, getting yourself dressed and fed and actually driving yourself to your SAT or ACT test location, nobody has the time to worry about her bag being fully packed. But what if you forget something you really need, like your pencils or water bottle?

Pack all of the essentials the night before to avoid getting behind schedule in the morning. Believe us—when you have everything you need and you’re at your test location on time (or even early!), you’ll be glad you took the time to do this in advance!

So, what should actually go in your bag? Of course, there are the obvious things: extra pencils, extra erasers, a calculator, spare batteries. But is there anything else you should be bringing with you?

“I brought a box of granola bars,” says Samantha Milazo, a junior at the University of Scranton. “We all have that friend who is starving and forget[s] [his or her] snack bag, so I had one for myself and for others.”

Aside from snacks, think of personal things you might need. Is it that time of the month? You should probably bring a few tampons. Do you get headaches often? Maybe pack some ibuprofen just in case. Are you feeling a little under the weather? Do what Avianne Tan, a senior at New York University, did and throw a personal box of tissues into your bag.

Don’t forget some of the logistical things, too, like your entrance ticket and some form of ID. Double-check what is and isn’t allowed in the exam room and prepare your bag for that, too.

Remember, everyone is different when taking exams. While some people might be able to power through with just the bare essentials, other people might need to bring more, and that’s totally fine. Whether it’s an extra hair elastic (in case yours breaks) or your inhaler, make sure you have the things that you think you’ll need.

4. Get yourself relaxed and focused


The most important part of getting ready for the SAT or ACT is being relaxed. While this test is something that should be taken seriously, remember that you shouldn’t stress out too much about it!

“Having too many nerves often makes students go too fast or too slow on the [SAT or ACT],” says Nina Wilmot, an SAT/ACT tutor. “They either think they don’t have enough time or second-guess every question they’re working on. It also makes them shy away from a lot of questions that they’d normally be able to answer but in the moment don’t believe they can.”

We suggest doing different calming techniques to get your head in the game. Try some deep breathing, listen to relaxing music or even wind down by watching reruns of a favorite TV show.

“I’d say students should do pretty much anything that would take their minds off the test,” Wilmot says. “Deep breathing is definitely a good idea, or coming up with a mantra to repeat in their heads, like, ‘I know I can do this.’ It sounds pretty cheesy, but just the repetitive action of repeating a phrase will ease some of their tension.”

Last-minute studying isn’t the way to go the morning of the test, either. Getting in that last flash card or finishing that last practice math problem won’t boost your score; what it will do is get you worked up (in a bad way) for the exam you’re about to take.

“I read the newspaper,” says Allison Thomas, a University of New Hampshire grad. “It helped with critical reading. For example, I’d read an article and then try to explain it to my parents.”

According to Allison, reading the newspaper and then talking the article out with her parents helped with her SAT score in a big, big way. “It boosted my verbal score by 200 points!”

For Allison, it wasn’t so much a last-minute cram session, but a way to get her mind focused and primed to do academic work. Reading the newspaper (or a magazine) is a great way to get your brain warmed up and ready to go with the test! Plus, it’s a good, low-stakes way to “study” one last time without poring over an SAT or ACT prep book.

5. Double-check the logistics

It seems pretty simple, but making sure you actually know where you’ll be driving to take the test is a pretty big deal. Are you heading to your high school? Make sure you know where in your high school the check-in will occur. Are you taking the exam at a different test site? Maybe drive there when you have a free night before you take the test. Nobody has the time to get lost on the way to taking the SATs!

“I took mine at this middle school a few towns over, actually,” Tyra says. “I thankfully randomly Googled where it was and noticed that it was literally in the middle of nowhere, so I quickly begged my mom to drive with me there the night before so I could map out the route I was going to go, which helped so much with the stress.”

It also might be a good idea to lock down your method of transportation. Are you driving? Are your parents driving you? Make sure to know this plenty of time in advance so that you don’t end up without a ride and stranded the morning of the test.


The SAT and ACT can be pretty nerve-racking and stressful, but remember that they’re also pretty exciting because they’re getting you one step closer to a new chapter in your life. By making sure you’re prepared for all parts of test day (and not just the studying part), your exam is sure to be hassle-free!