SAT / ACT Test Taking Tips

Be Prepared!

The night before, collect:

  • plenty of sharpened #2 pencils
  • an eraser
  • a small pencil sharpener (in case your pencils break during the exam)
  • a watch (you cannot rely on the proctor and there may not be a wall clock or it may be on the wall behind your seat)
  • your calculator
  • your admission ticket
  • your identification 
  • directions to the testing center
  • tissues
  • medicine (if necessary)
  • disposable earplugs (if you find the background noise of people coughing and fidgeting distracting)

It may be helpful to collect these items in a clear plastic (Ziploc) bag that you can grab and go in the morning. If you have to search for these items in the morning, you are likely to forget something or become frazzled.

Eat a substantial breakfast that will provide you with sufficient energy throughout the test. Do not eat a stack of pancakes as it will make you sluggish. Eggs or some protein is a good option. Hydrate yourself so you will not become thirsty during the test. Remember to go to the bathroom before you leave the house and before you enter the testing room. This may seem silly but if you are hungry, thirsty or need to go to the bathroom during the test, you will become distracted and your performance will suffer.

Test day is not the time to try new routines as you do not know how you will react. Do not choose test day to start drinking coffee.

Be an efficient test-taker

  • Keep track of time

Wear a watch. Do not rely on the test administrator to keep track of time for you. Do not assume there will be a clock on the wall for you to use. Be aware of pacing. If you have 20 math questions to answer in 25 minutes and you have not completed 8-10 questions in the first 10 minutes, you are moving too slowly. All questions are equally weighted. It does not pay to spend 5 minutes solving a difficult question if it will cost you the opportunity to answer 3-4 easier questions. Better to spend a minute narrowing down the answer choices, make an educated guess and move on. You can always mark your test booklet and return to the question if you have time at the end. By contrast, do not answer questions too quickly as you are more likely to make careless errors that will cost you points. Allow yourself the time provided and double-check answers if you have time at the end. Leave yourself five minutes to proofread your essay. Correcting spelling and grammatical errors can save precious points.

  • Learn the directions ahead of time

Directions do not change from test to test. Learn the directions ahead of time and save yourself precious time. The SAT math section provides formulas at the beginning of each section. Memorize the formulas and you will not need to spend time referring to them.

  • Do not bubble in answers one at a time

Unless you are down to the last five minutes of a section, bubble in groups of answers after you complete a page or a section. This will save you time.


Students always ask whether they should guess and the answer is always YES! The SAT penalizes you 1/4 of a point for every incorrect answer. If you are not able to eliminate any answer choices, you have a 4/5 chance of losing one quarter of a point and 1/5 chance of winning an entire point. In other words, guessing is an even bet! If you are able to narrow your answer choices to two possibilities, you have a 50% chance of losing one quarter of a point and a 50% chance of winning an entire point. Over the long term, you can expect to win the equivalent of 75% of those points!

The moral of the story is that you should eliminate answer choices to the greatest extent possible and then guess. Mark your test booklet so you can return to the question if you have time at the end of the section. More importantly, if you leave an answer choice blank on your bubble sheet, you are likely to shift your answers which will affect every other answer in that section. That would be disastrous.

  • Do not allow other test takers to distract you

Ignore test takers who are coughing, sneezing or fidgeting in their seats. Focus on the task at hand which is doing the best job that you can! If necessary, try wearing disposable ear plugs to drown out background noise.

  • Dress in layers

Regardless of whether it is warm or cold outside, the room where you take the test may be warm or cold. Take a long-sleeved shirt to slip over a short-sleeved shirt just in case. If the temperature in the room where you are taking the test makes you uncomfortable, you will loose focus.

Good Luck!!!


Great advise! Every high school Jr./Sr. should read this blog before taking the SAT for the first time.

Can you please confirm that earplugs are allowed. I'm reading a lot of contradictory information.


Aaron G.

Math Tutoring & Enrichment - SAT Preparation (Perfect Scores!)

1000+ hours
if (isMyPost) { }