In recent blog posts, we've discussed how to prepare in the days leading up to your official SAT or ACT and what you can expect when you arrive at your testing center. Today, in the final installment of our 3-part blog series, let’s discuss what to expect during the test and directly afterwards.
Once the exam begins, your experience should be almost identical to those of your practice tests.
There are three easy-to-follow steps that can help you avoid some sort of catastrophic result on any of the sections:
- Be aware of timing. Unless you are 100% sure that you will finish a section on time, you need to be cognizant of your progress throughout the section. Test centers are supposed to have clocks in the room. That said, don’t be overly concerned with time; have a plan for glancing at the clock at certain checkpoints, such as when you're about halfway through a section.
- At the five minutes to go mark, make an honest decision about whether you're likely to finish the section in time. If you’re not going to, make sure to randomly bubble in answer choices to any questions you don’t have time to answer. The easiest way to receive a score that's much lower than you're capable of is to leave questions blank.
- If you decide to skip a section or question, make sure you make the necessary adjustments on the answer sheet. You can complete the questions in almost any order you choose. For example, if you complete the first two ACT Reading sections and decide you want to move to the fourth, make a tiny mark next to the “31” on your answer key so that when you answer the first question of the fourth passage, you start at #31 and not #21, which would be the “natural” next answer to bubble in on the answer sheet.
The next most important question to answer is “what should I do if there’s material that is different from what I’ve prepared for?”
It’s worth noting first that it's unlikely that the exam you receive will be significantly different than the practice tests you’ve taken. The material that the ACT and SAT cover is relatively consistent from test to test and year to year. However, ACT and the College Board do like to test out new question types and content areas, so there may be at least a few questions that seem unfamiliar. Remember that this will be the case for the majority of students. If you’ve prepared diligently, you're probably among the top 5% of students in the room in terms of your ability to adapt to the questions. If you think the material is new or difficult, chances are that the rest of the students do as well, and ultimately, more difficult exams tend to be paired with more forgiving scoring scales.
Second, if faced with new material, rely on your most basic and overarching strategies. The underlying principles on all exams are the same. If you come across an unfamiliar Math problem or a new type of Reading passage, you can apply many of the same strategies you've applied to the rest of the exam.
After the exam
When the exam is finished, the proctor will collect your test materials and dismiss you from the testing center. After you get home, do something nice to celebrate the fact that you've finished an official test. Way to go!
All that remains is to await your scores. The ACT and College Board websites usually post estimated score release dates so that you know when to check your account—generally around two weeks after test day. But if your scores aren't in the very first batch that's posted, it's okay. It's normal for some students' scores to take a few extra days (or, in rarer cases, weeks) to show up.
Need more individualized advice?
The recommendations above are general suggestions. If you have specific questions, reach out to our experts here. We’re happy to help in any way we can.
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