The SAT Test Day Checklist & Section Strategies: Last Minute SAT Tips for a Successful Test Day
Updated: Aug 21, 2021
You've been studying for the SATⓇ exam for weeks, or maybe months. Now test day is finally here. The worst thing would be to spend hours studying and then forget something crucial the day of the test. Make sure you’re as prepared as you can be with this list of what to bring and do on your SAT test day. The key to overcoming Test Day anxiety is to have a plan. This article would help you devise just that.
Source: Khan Academy & College Board.
The Night Before:
Relax! There are a lot of good reasons NOT to study the night before Test Day. Marathoners don't go for a run before Race Day, and mental marathoners like you shouldn't study for more than an hour on the day before you take the SAT. Your brain needs to rest in order to do its best. Read a book or hang out with a friend or two.
Avoid screen time: You're going to need to get a good night's sleep, and bright screens (televisions, phones, movies) will wake up your brain and make it more difficult to drift off at an early hour.
Have a healthy dinner: Drink lots of water and load up with complex carbohydrates, just like marathon runners do: potatoes, pasta, and rice are good choices here, as well as protein and vegetables.
Organize your bag for Test Day: The night before is the time to put your ID, admission ticket, pencils, calculator, batteries, and other gear in a bag by the door.
Make a plan to get to the testing site: Before you go to sleep, make sure you know exactly how you're going to get to the testing site. If you are going to need to find parking, make a plan for that. If you are relying on public transportation, check the schedule and make sure your subway/bus/train is running. Check for road closures. If a friend or parent is going with you, make sure they know what they need to do, too.
Wake up early and have a healthy breakfast. Here are a few good choices: eggs, toast, cereal, bagel, fruit, juice, cheese, milk.
If you drink coffee or tea, then stick to your routine. If you don't drink a caffeinated beverage every day, though, Test Day isn't the time to start. You need calm, slow-burning, consistent energy today.
Get to the test site early.
When you get to the test site, try to steer clear of nervous people. You don't need their anxious energy rubbing off on you!
Strategies for Each SAT Section
Here are some things you can do that might make you more confident and comfortable on Test Day. Keep in mind that everyone is different, and all of these don't work for everyone, so it’s always better to try them out before you actually use them on Test Day.
For the Math Test:
Underline key parts of the problem: “I was making silly mistakes because I didn’t read carefully what the questions were asking. For example, instead of solving for 2x, I might have solved for x. When I started underlining the part of the prompt that was the actual question, I dramatically decreased my number of silly mistakes!"
Make sure you are answering the question being asked: "Always double check to make sure you're answering the right question!”
Understand the order of difficulty: “Sections in the Math Test increase in difficulty as you go along: the questions start out easier, then slowly get harder, with the hardest questions at the end of the section. Also - the Math sections always have a few grid-ins (student-produced response questions) after the multiple-choice questions, and the first few grid-ins are always easier than the last few multiple-choice ones, so don't waste time on the hardest multiple choice before picking up some easier points in the grid-ins.”
Every question on the SAT is worth the same: "Focus on getting the easy and medium questions correct first before taking a crack at harder questions."
If you don't know how to do a question, skip it: "Sometimes, things don't "click," and that's alright. Just keep going and go back to the question later. Most of the time you'll realize that it was actually super easy, and your brain just needed to reset!”
For the Reading Test:
Read the questions quickly before reading the passage: "I like to circle and underline names and weird words in the questions before reading the passage. I don't try to actively remember them while I read, but my brain seems to pay more attention to those things anyway."
Don't over-annotate: “I used to spend all this time writing notes in the margins that would end up not being helpful for any of the questions. Now I like to circle or underline the most important parts of each paragraph, and maybe jot a + or a - or a check. Sometimes a word or two, maybe a ! or a ? but that's it."
Read actively: "I always ask myself what the point of each paragraph is after I read it, and I challenge myself to answer that question before I start reading the next paragraph. That way, I keep checking my understanding and I keep myself engaged."
For the Writing & Language Test:
Simplify complicated sentences: "Some sentences are so long and confusing! I find it really helpful to identify the subject and the verb of more complicated sentences and cross out extra stuff like prepositional clauses beginning with of, for, about, with, etc..."
For the Essay:
Don't tell them your opinion: “Remember that you are being asked to analyze another author’s work, so you should evaluate their logic rather than share your own opinion in your response. You should look for any assumptions the author is making (does their argument rely on certain facts or tendencies?) and the tone they take (do they seem biased?) and examine the impact of those assumptions. You should not try to argue with the writer in your response.”
For the whole test:
Don't leave anything blank: "There is no penalty for guessing, so if you don’t know an answer, go ahead and guess – you might get lucky!”
Use the process of elimination: “Crossing out choices as you go along really helps when you get that feeling that you might need to guess. Every time you confidently eliminate an option, your chance of selecting the correct answer out of the remaining options is higher. Even if you have no idea how to answer a question, try to eliminate any obviously wrong choices – and then guess from the remaining ones.”
Cover up the choices: "I always try to come up with an answer on my own before I even look at the choices. This helps me make sure that I don’t get distracted by answer choices that look good before I have a chance to figure it out for myself.”
Pace yourself: “It can be hard to get through each section in the limited time that you have, much less get the right answers and double-check everything! Skip questions that are going to take longer and come back to them if you have time. Don't spend more than 1.5 minutes on any question on your first pass through.”
Trust yourself: “When I was taking practice tests, I had no problem getting the sections done in time, but then I’d spend the extra minutes reviewing and second-guessing my first answers. I found I often would switch from the right answer to a wrong one just because I doubted myself!"
Bubble in batches: “I use a system that helps me avoid accidentally bubbling in the wrong answers. I complete five questions (circling my answer choices on the test itself), and then I bubble the answers in on the answer sheet. I think it also saves time. It’s inefficient to bubble in answers after every question – think of all that hand movement! But don't wait until the end of the test to bubble in everything, or you might panic – or even run out of time before you have a chance to enter all your answers!”
Use any extra time wisely: "If you find yourself with extra time at the end of a section, make good use of it. No, it isn't fun to re-read all of those questions, but you’ll be so glad if you catch any mistakes. The same goes for the answer grid - make sure your answer choices are in the right bubbles!”
What you absolutely need to bring to your test
Locate and pack these items the night before so you don’t forget anything on Test Day!
Your admission ticket: You must have your Admission Ticket on Test Day. Sign in to My SAT and click "Print Admission Ticket".
Photo identification: You must present acceptable photo identification (ID) for admission to the test center. You are responsible for understanding and following the SAT Test-Taker Identification Requirements and Policies. A valid driver’s license, passport, or ID from your current school is OK; an expired ID is not. Please be aware that you may be denied entrance to the test center or your scores may be withheld or canceled if you can't present an acceptable ID, if the validity of the ID is in question, or if you fail to follow the Identification Requirements and Policies, so double-check before you leave for the test center!
Number 2 pencils and a soft eraser: You will take the test on paper and be required to fill in an answer sheet using a pencil – you will use your pencil to cross out wrong choices and to work through math problems. You will use it to write the essay. While some testing sites offer pencils, there is no guarantee that any pencils will be available. You can bring as many as you like but bring at least two. Mechanical pencils are not allowed.
An acceptable calculator: You will be permitted to use a calculator for at least one math portion of the test. Permitted calculators include graphing calculators, scientific calculators, or four-function calculators (not recommended). Calculators that are NOT permitted include laptops or computers, tablets or cell phones, anything that can access the Internet or has wireless, Bluetooth, or cellular communications, a calculator with a QWERTY keyboard (like the TI-92 Plus), or any calculator that requires an electrical outlet, makes noise or can record/play. Read the Calculator Policy to understand in more detail which calculators are and are not allowed.
What you may wish to bring to your SAT test
While not required, these items may help you have a more positive test experience.
A watch (without an audible alarm): Test room supervisors will only indicate the time at certain intervals, so you may wish to wear a watch to track your time. The watch cannot have any alarms or data capabilities.
Extra batteries: There's nothing worse than settling into the Math Test only to realize your calculator is dead! It’s never a bad idea to have some extra batteries on hand.
Water bottle: Your brain needs to be hydrated in order to perform at its best. Drink water during every break.
Healthy snack fuel: You will be at the testing site for at least four hours. And your brain needs fuel to keep pushing through this mental marathon - whether you're feeling hungry or not! During the short breaks (only 5 minutes!), eat a big, healthy snack like an energy bar or mixed nuts. Other good options include your favorite kind of sandwich, yogurt, fresh fruit, granola. Nothing too sweet!
Dress in layers: Some testing sites are too hot; some are too cold; very few are just right! Wear a t-shirt or other light top in case it's hot, but bring something warm to throw on in case it's freezing in there!
A bag or a backpack: Keeping your personal items organized in your locker is one way to avoid unnecessary stress.
What you should not bring to your test
Certain electronic items, including those listed below, are prohibited. Before the SAT begins, you will be asked to turn off all devices and put them away –out of sight and out of reach – for the rest of the test. If you are seen using a device at any time during the 4+ hours of the test – including breaks – your scores can be canceled!
Cell phones or smartphones
iPods / other MP3/audio players
iPads / other tablets
Laptops, notebooks, or other personal computers
Pagers or other texting devices
Separate timers of any type
Cameras or other photographic equipment
Any device, including digital or smartwatches, capable of recording or transmitting audio, photographic, or video content, or capable of viewing or playing back such content.
See the Cell Phones and Electronic Devices policy for more information on prohibited devices.
What to Expect on Test Day
Here’s a quick overview of what will happen:
On test day, bring a face mask and wear it as directed by the test center. Remember to also practice social distancing at all times. Be prepared to answer questions about your health prior to entering the test center. If you feel sick the day of your test, please stay home and contact customer service for your options. You won’t be charged a change or cancellation fee if you stay home due to illness.
Check your test center's website for any additional or specific entry requirements it may have. If you're traveling to test, it's your responsibility to know and follow any quarantine requirements or travel restrictions in the location where you're testing. Test centers may require proof that you've followed quarantine requirements and/or travel restrictions at check-in.
Check for Test Center Closings: Monitor test center closings in the days leading up to your test and the day of your test to make sure your test center hasn't changed or closed. We also recommend you check directly with the test center, including the test center's website, on the morning of the test.
Doors Open at 7:45 a.m: All test centers open at 7:45 a.m. and doors close at 8 a.m. unless otherwise noted on your admission ticket. You cannot be admitted once testing has started. If you're late or absent on test day, you can reschedule. We recommend rescheduling as opposed to reregistering—it will cost less. Find out more about changing your registration information. College Board has currently waived all change fees.
Testing Starts Between 8:30 and 9 a.m
Your seat is assigned, not chosen by you. Wait to be seated. Here’s what will happen next:
The test coordinator will read all instructions verbatim from a manual and can answer questions only about the procedure, not about test questions or content.
The test coordinator will tell you when to start and stop working on each section.
You must work within each section of the test only for the time allotted.
You may not go back to a section once that section has ended.
You may not go ahead to a new section if you finish a section early.
Do not skip sections. Doing so may result in score cancellation, delays, or both.
After the test is finished, the test coordinator will collect and count the test books to make sure all materials have been turned in before dismissing you from the testing room.
Don’t be surprised if your test experience isn’t exactly like that of the student sitting next to you. The sections in your test book might be different.
Breaks: You will be given two short breaks. The first one, immediately following the 65-minute Reading Test, will be ten minutes long. The next one will only be five minutes, and it will happen after you have completed the Writing & Language Test and the first section of the Math Test. If you are taking the Essay, you will be given a third break before that section. This break may only be two minutes long. Test books, answer sheets, and calculators must remain on your desk during breaks. You can't use this time to power up devices, like cell phones—if you do, your scores will be canceled.
Taking the test: The test will be administered section by section. Once your test room supervisor gives the go-ahead, you should open your test book and begin. You must only work on the section the supervisor has indicated; do not skip ahead in the test book. The supervisor will let you know when time is up and will also indicate break times. If you finish a section before time is up, you should sit quietly and review your work while you wait until the section time is over.
After the test: Once you have finished your test and the time is called, your test room supervisor will collect your test book and your answer sheet. When the supervisor dismisses the group, you’re free to go - make sure you plan something fun for the afternoon to celebrate taking the SAT!
Scores: Your test scores will be available several weeks after the test. You will receive an email when your scores are available and ready to view. You will be able to access your scores online, where you can also order score reports to be sent to colleges. Every time you register for the SAT, you receive four score reports for free up until 9 days after you take the test. To take advantage of this benefit, make sure you select the four schools when you register or no later than 9 days after you take the test. Starting 10 days after you take the test, the usual score report fee is charged.
For more information on Test Day, please visit the College Board’s Test Day tips page.
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