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A Complete Guide to Preparing Your Students for ACT Test Day

By Molly Kiefer on December 05, 2017 In ACT, Test Day

After months spent studying for the ACT, many students experience anxiety and nervousness as their test dates approach. To help ensure that your students can walk into their ACT feeling relaxed, confident, and prepared, we’ve put together a guide covering all the ins and outs of ACT test day, with tips on how students can best prepare for the big event.

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The Night Before the Test

The night before the ACT is not the time for last minute cramming, but it is the time to get organized. Students should choose their test day clothing (we suggest layering) and pack a backpack with everything they’ll need, before going to bed that night.

Here’s what must go in the backpack:

  • ACT Test Center Ticket (printed from the student’s ACT Web Account)
  • Sharpened No. 2 Pencils with good erasers (mechanical pencils are not allowed!)
  • Calculator with fresh batteries (make sure it's one that's allowed)
  • Identification (check out our post on the ACT photo requirements for a list of acceptable IDs, and what to do if a student can’t access any of them)

Here’s what could go in the backpack:

  • A watch (just make sure all its alarms are off!)
  • Extra batteries (for the calculator)
  • Snacks and water (for breaks outside of the test room) 


Here’s what should not go in the backpack:

  • Any books or paper
  • Any electronics (they can bring their cellphones, but the phones must be completely off)
  • Any kind of math aid besides a calculator (rulers, protractors, etc.)
  • Anything with an audible alarm
  • A camera or any other type of recording or transmitting device
  • Highlighters or colored pencils 

Once the backpack and clothes are ready to go, the only thing left on the agenda is a good night’s sleep!


The Morning of the Test

Students should eat breakfast. Eating a healthy breakfast improves concentration, mood, and memory. Plus a morning meal will help them avoid the distraction of a rumbling stomach.




The morning of the ACT is an important time for students to follow their normal routine. If they’ve never had a cup of coffee, this is not the day to start. Similarly, students should try to avoid beginning a new medication on ACT test day. Keeping things consistent will help them avoid unwanted surprises during the test.


Arrival at the Testing Center

 Test center doors open for a 15-minute window between 7:45 and 8:00 in the morning, so students should plan on arriving by 7:30. If they miss the window, they miss the test.

When the doors open, students will be welcomed by testing center greeters. The greeters will check the students’ IDs and tickets and direct the students to their testing rooms. Typically there will also be lists posted with students’ names and their corresponding testing room numbers. 


Inside the Testing Center

Once inside the testing center, students will be instructed to put their bags, jackets, and any other belongings in a designated area, such as in locker or on a table. Seats are assigned according to the test proctor’s instructions, usually in alphabetical order.

After the students have taken their seats, the proctor will begin passing out test booklets and answer sheets. Students may not open any of these materials until told to do so. Before the test officially starts, the proctor will go over the test instructions and guide students through filling out their identifying information. This process typically takes 30 minutes to an hour to complete.


Taking the Test

The proctor will instruct students when to start the test, which should be underway by around 9:00.


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The next few hours will look like this:

  • English section (45 minutes)
  • Math section (60 minutes)
  • 1st Break to get up, have a snack, and use the restroom (5 minutes)
  • Reading section (35 minutes)
  • Science section (35 minutes)
  • 2nd Break (5 minutes) for students taking the Writing section (students not taking the writing section are free to quietly leave)
  • Writing section (40 minutes) 

Students not taking the essay should finish around 12:15; students taking the essay will finish closer to 1:00.


After the Test

When the test is finished, the proctor will ask all students to close their test booklets, before collecting all the testing materials. Once the proctor gives the green light, students may leave the testing center.

Students should wait until they’re outside of the testing center to turn on their cellphones, but after that they’re free to call for a ride and enjoy the rest of their day! However, students should refrain from discussing specific test questions with one another or writing about them online, as ACT, Inc. strictly prohibits the sharing of specific test questions.

Students will receive their multiple choice scores about two weeks after taking the ACT. For those who took the Writing section, essay scores should be released in an additional two weeks.


Beyond ACT Test Day...

 Now that you’ve covered the ins and outs of test day, make sure your students are prepared to tackle the other important steps of the ACT, such as registration and test prep!

Download free ACT practice test

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