# ACT Math Test Content

Before you take the ACT make sure you read the information they give you on each of the sections! Here is what the ACT tells us about the math, “translated” into normal English.

The ACT will always allot the Math questions the same way, with each type of math content having the same percentage of questions from test to test.  If you have taken Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2, you should be in good shape.  They do have some topics that are occasionally covered in pre-calculus, so you may want to wait to take the ACT until you have covered all the material.  No need to worry about calculus – that won’t be on the ACT.

Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra

• Pre-Algebra (23%)
1. Number Basics:  Fractions, decimals, integers
2. Scientific Notation
3. Square Roots
4. Exponents
5. Factors of numbers and expressions
6. Ratios and proportions
7. Percentage calculations
8. One variable equations
9. Absolute Value
10. Simple statistics (mean, median, mode)
11. Simple probability (dependent and independent variable problems)
12. Simple interpretations of data graphs

• Elementary Algebra (17%)
1. Properties of Exponents and Square Roots (multiplying, dividing, adding, subtracting, etc.)
2. Solving equations using substitution
3. 2 variable equations
4. Order of operations (Parentheses/Exponents, Multiplication/Division, Addition/Subtraction)
5. Factoring of equations

Intermediate Algebra/Coordinate Geometry

• Intermediate Algebra (15%)
2. Equations and expressions involving radicals and roots
3. Equations with Absolute Value
4. Inequalities
5. Sequences and Patterns (Geometric and Arithmetic)
6. More complex systems of equations (usually no more than 2 variables)
7. More complex functions
8. Turning word problems into algebraic models
10. Complex numbers
11. Once in a long while – synthetic division, standard deviation

• Coordinate Geometry (15%)
1. Be able to graph equations in the x-y coordinate plane, including lines and parabolas.  (Don’t need to worry about Hyperbolas or Ellipses).
2. Be able to graph a circle in the x-y coordinate plane.
3. Be able to graph inequalities.
4. Slope formula
5. Slope-Intercept form
6. Parallel and perpendicular line rules
7. Distance Formula
8. Midpoint Formula

Plane Geometry/Trigonometry

• Plane Geometry (23%)
1. Vertical Angles
2. Supplementary Angles
3. Complementary Angles
4. Alternate Interior Angles
5. Area and Circumference of a Circle
6. Perimeter of Shapes
7. Area of Square and Rectangle
8. Area of Triangle
9. Area of Parallelogram
10. Area of Trapezoid
11. Basics of Proofs
12. Cylinder Volume
13. Box Volume

• Trigonometry (7%)
1. Sin
2. Cos
3. Tan
4. Secant
5. Cosecant
6. Cotangent
7. Basic Trigonometric Identities
8. Graph of Sin and Cos
9. Basics of Unit Circle (i.e. knowing quadrants)

# The ACT English Section

So what is on the ACT English? The ACT provides great information on what is on their test; that information is often hard to understand. I’ve broken it down for you here!

Usage/Mechanics – Half of the ACT English Test

• Punctuation (13%).  Primarily you need to know commas.  Also, review usage of semicolons, colons, and dashes.  It is critical that you don’t just know simple punctuation rules but that you also know how proper punctuation affects the meaning of sentences.
• Grammar and Usage (16%).  Look at subject verb agreement – words that need to agree with one another will often be separated, so you’ll really have to pay close attention to context.  Watch out for vague pronouns, idioms, and proper adjective and adverb usage.  Basically, make sure that the intended meaning matches up with the actual meaning.
• Sentence Structure (24%).  You have to be more than a proofreader – you need to be an editor.  Be certain that individual words and longer clauses are placed in a logical order.

Rhetorical Skills – The Other Half of the ACT English Test

• Strategy (16%). You will need to examine the intent of the author, and pick answers that do what the author actually intended to do.  You will also need to see if phrases and sentences are relevant, or if they can be removed.
• Organization (15%).  You need to know where sentences and phrases should be placed – rearrange things until they make sense.  Also, you need to connect paragraphs, sentences and phrases with logical transitional words, like “but”, “also”, or “because”, as demanded by the situation.  You’ll  need to be able to see what a sensible introduction or a conclusion would be based on the context.
• Style (16%). This is big picture stuff. How do you make an individual sentence have the same tone as the rest of an essay?  Depending on what the goal of the author is, how do you pick the best wording to express what is wanted?  How can you be clear with pronouns?  How can you prevent needless repetition and wordiness?

Check out our full length practice test and see how you do!

# What to expect on the ACT: Timing

If you’re taking the ACT, you’re in for a long morning.  You should arrive at the test center before 8 AM in order to find your room and check in.  You will then have a roughly 4 hour test in front of you.

The ACT is broken up into four sections with an optional fifth section:  English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing.  To remember the order in which the test sections fall, simply remember that they go in alphabetical order!

Here is the breakdown for timing of the test, and how you should pace yourself on the ACT:

English Test – 45 minutes, 75 questions, 5 passages.  You should take about 9 minutes per passage.

Math Test – 60 minutes, 60 questions.  Questions increase in difficulty so start out quickly and then slow down about half way through.

You then have a 10 minute break when you should have a snack!  Bring it yourself.

Reading Tests – 35 minutes, 40 questions, 4 passages.  Take about 9 minutes per passage.

Science Test – 35 minutes, 40 questions, 6-7 passages.  Take about 5 minutes per passage.

If you are sticking around for the writing, you have a 5 minute break.  If you are not doing the ACT Writing, you can go home at this time.

Optional ACT Essay – 40 minutes.  Spend about 5 minutes prewriting, and 30 minutes writing and 5 minutes editing.  They typically give you 4-5 pages on which to write.

As the tests go on, they become more difficult for most students to finish.  English is very easy to complete, and Science is quite tough.  Practice ahead of time so that you have a good internal feel for the pace at which you should go.  Also, by practicing, you will have a good idea of whether it makes sense to skip and guess on some questions.  Remember, there is no penalty for guessing on the ACT, so if you don’t complete all the questions, be sure to at least bubble something in for each question.

# AP or IB?

With scheduling season coming up now is a great time to consider taking higher level classes. I have taught both IB and AP courses, attended several training for IB and AP, and been an AP grader. I hope, therefore, I am able provide a solid summary of the differences between the two programs.  Since I no longer teach high school and have no vested interest encouraging students to do one program or another, I am also free to be completely honest in my assessments.

1. Which is less expensive and easier to implement for schools and students?  AP
• The fees to set up an IB school can often be prohibitively expensive. This is why we don’t see a whole lot of smaller schools or private schools going the IB route – they can’t achieve the economies of scale that make it worth the investment.  IB works best financially in a large school district where one high school can be designated the “IB Magnet” school, drawing students interested in the program from throughout the district.
• AP does not require any school wide investment; individual courses can be easily implemented rather than an entire program.  The IB requires full, school-wide implementation of the program, so a school cannot implement just one IB course at a time.  Moreover, there is an extremely rigorous school approval process before the IB program can even be allowed at the school.  This does help ensure a higher level of program quality, but it can be a major paperwork hurdle for a school administration.
• As far as student fees to take the exams, AP is a bit less expensive.  If you take multiple IB exams, the costs are comparable, but if you are doing just one or two IB exams, the mandatory student fee can add quite a bit to the costs.
• Finally, AP will allow individual students to take an AP exam without having taken the AP course.  IB doesn’t allow this, so self-study is not an option.
1. What kind of student prefers each program?  It depends on the student.

Do AP if you like:

• Multiple Choice Tests : AP Tests typically have multiple choice questions as roughly half of the overall AP assessment, and free response the other half.
• More structured in-class essay writing: The rubrics for AP essay grading are more straight-forward and less open to interpretation than the more holistic rubrics for IB.
• If you are able to quickly memorize information: You need to know a broader array of facts for the AP assessments.
• You don’t care for big papers and projects: Most AP teachers will model their in-class assessments on the AP exams, which are generally combinations of multiple choice and free response.  It is unlikely that you will have as many large research papers or presentations in AP since these types of projects do not prepare you for the AP exams.
• You learn well with lecture: It is more likely that your AP teacher will use lecture to cover the vast amount of material that’s needed for the AP exam.  There are plenty of AP teachers who don’t do this, but in my experience, lecture often comes with the territory in AP.

Do  IB if you like:

• Writing: You will have tons of writing to do for IB.  The Extended Essay, Internal Assessments, and in-class essays, just to name a few.  There are relatively few multiple choice questions in IB.  If you are looking to improve your writing skills, you will definitely do so in the IB program.
• Going in-depth: On many of the IB assessments, particularly those in the humanities, you will find that you are required to achieve mastery of deep areas of knowledge rather than going through a broader survey.
• You like working in groups: There are more opportunities for group activities in the IB assessments and in-class activities.  Although an AP teacher may encourage group work, it is hard to not do group work as a part of IB.
• You enjoy projects and presentations: In IB you will have all sorts of portfolio projects and unique internal assessments.  If you are good at demonstrating your knowledge in ways other than multiple choice tests, then IB may be right for you.
• You don’t procrastinate: If you put off doing your internal assessments and extended essay, you will be in a ton of trouble.  If you have the discipline to get things done over a period of time, you will find IB tough but manageable.
• You are interested in the intersection of different types of knowledge: AP is much more compartmentalized, i.e. the AP U.S. History course won’t discuss anything from the AP Physics Course.  In IB, particularly if you are doing the Theory of Knowledge course, you will look quite a bit at how we claim to know what we know, and what that means in different areas of scholarship.
1. Which is more widely accepted by colleges?  AP for the most part.
• If you are like most American Students and plan on going to college in the U.S., AP will make it easier to get college credit.  Although more and more colleges are becoming familiar with IB, many schools are behind the times and are more willing to award credit to AP students.  In addition, you may need to do the Higher Level IB course (a more rigorous 2 year option) in order to earn college credit.  With AP, and most colleges will give you credit after just a one year course.  The only way to be certain about this is to ask the colleges to which you want to apply what their policies are.
• If you are thinking about going abroad for college, IB might make it easier.  IB was originally formed to make it possible for students who had to move around Europe a good bit to be able to transfer between schools without trouble.  Since so few American students are thinking about going to Europe, Canada or elsewhere for college, this usually isn’t a selling point.  (In my opinion, Americans should consider doing this.)  If, however, you are open to international schools, IB can be a plus.
1. Which prepares you more for college coursework?  For the most part, IB does.
• Freshman-level introductory courses are often survey classes that involve multiple choice tests, some essay work, and quite a bit of lecture.  AP will prepare students very well for these types of classes.  For upper level courses and independent studies that involve quite a bit of research and writing, IB is far superior in helping students learn the process.
1. Which will likely have better teachers?  IB may have better teachers for the following three reasons:
• Better training.  Having attended both IB and AP training, I found that the IB training to be more comprehensive.  We received more materials, had better discussion, and had smaller workshops.
• They choose to do it.  Since IB is typically done as a “school within a school”, the teachers who teach IB courses typically want to be there.  This is not always the case, of course, but I think it is more likely than would be the case with AP teachers.
• They choose what to cover.  IB allows teachers the flexibility to go in-depth into areas about which they are knowledgeable and passionate.  AP mandates covering everything more superficially.  This difference will be far more pronounced in the humanities courses than in math/science, but even in the IB math/science courses there is more opportunity for outstanding educators to do what they would really like to do.
1. Do colleges prefer IB over AP, or vice versa, when it comes to applying?
• The consensus I have found is “no”.  Colleges want to see applicants who are doing the toughest courses offered at their high schools.  Both IB and AP constitute “tough” courses, so do whichever one you prefer and don’t worry about how it will look to college admissions officers.
1. Are there any other options if I don’t want to do IB or AP?
• Yes!  Try to take college classes while you are in high school!  Talk to your guidance counselor about the logistics of this, but many states will allow you to take classes at State Universities at no cost while you are a high school student.

# How should I study?

The two most important things are to:

1. Be Active, Not Passive
2. Make Your Studying Like the Assessment

When you study, it is essential that you study actively – you must not sit there and expect that by putting in an hour of studying you will magically know more material.  Constantly ask yourself questions and monitor your understanding.  Here are some examples of Active vs. Passive Studying:

The big idea is that much like the world of work, simply showing up and hanging out for eight hours does not mean you actually accomplished anything that day.  It’s the same with studying.  More time does not necessarily equal more knowledge.  If you only perceive the material but do not think about it, you will not fully understand it and you will have wasted your time.

When I was in college calculus, I had a solutions manual that accompanied my textbook.  For my first exam, I studied in a passive way – I simply read over the solutions to problems without actually solving them myself.  I did terribly on my exam.  For my next test, I committed myself to the hard work of doing the problems without peeking at the tempting solutions manual.  The results were much better.

Since most assessments will test your in-depth memory and understanding of the material, active studying will only help you in your preparation for the test.  You must take this a step further by ensuring that your studying replicates the type of thought process that will be necessary when you demonstrate your knowledge.  Be flexible in how you prepare – get out of your comfort zone when necessary.

Let me give you a personal example.  A couple of summers ago, I was asked to give a talk at an educational conference.  My natural inclination to prepare myself was to sit in front of my computer and read over my remarks in my head.  However, since I had never done a talk like this before, I decided to hire a professional speech coach to help me do my best.

My speech coach gave me some awesome advice:  make your practice like your presentation.  Instead of brainstorming on the computer, brainstorm vocally since that is how you would deliver it.  Instead of reading over the notes on the screen, actively present them in a room.  Rather than assuming  timing and delivery would be fine, practice in front of others to take care of any potential issues.

If you are going to have an oral presentation as your assessment, practice as you will be assessed.  If you are going to have a multiple choice test, do multiple choice practice.  If you will have an essay, do essay prewriting practice.  If your preparation does not match the way you will be tested, you are wasting your time.

I hope you found this discussion helpful.  If so, I would invite you to share it with your friends.  Thanks, Brian Stewart

# How Going to a Great High School can Negatively Affect your SAT and ACT Performance

You would think that going to a top-notch public or private high school could only help your performance on major tests like the ACT or SAT. Although having a top-notch high school education is indeed helpful for one’s performance on these tests, I have found that it occasionally can harm students as well!

The problem is that students from top notch schools expect that they should KNOW how to do all the problems. Why wouldn’t they? After all, they have excellent teachers and great academic resources. Many elite private school students with whom I have worked become easily frustrated when they don’t see how to solve things right away. What they need to realize is that the SAT and ACT do not test your knowledge – they test your critical thinking ability. If they tested your knowledge, they would be much more like the SAT Subject Tests or the AP tests. Colleges use the SAT and ACT to see how well students can problem solve with things they haven’t seen before. Having it set up this way gives students who do not attend really good high schools the potential to demonstrate that they have room for academic growth, given the right academic environment.

If you attend a great high school, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t immediately understand a problem or a passage – in your thought process you need to let things happen, not force them to happen. If you do not attend a great high school, know that the SAT and ACT will give you the opportunity to show your intellectual potential. I hope you found this discussion helpful. If so, I would invite you to share it with your friends.

Thanks, Brian Stewart

# #MondayMotivation-10 tips to motivate you to study

If senioritis (or junioritis, sophmoritis, or freshmanitis for that matter) is kicking in here are some great tips to help you get motivated to study.

1. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  So often, we set ourselves up to fail by telling ourselves that we must do everything we can to get a perfect on the test or we may as well not even try.  Procrastination is sometimes a defense mechanism against the possibility of failure. If you put things off, you’ll at least have an excuse as to why you didn’t succeed, whereas if you try and fail, you have no one to blame but yourself.  Don’t fall into this mindset.  Classes in school are very rarely pass or fail.  If you can put in 30 minutes and it can earn you a B but it would take you two hours to earn an A, at least put insometime so that you can have a decent, if not perfect, result.
2. Studying doesn’t have to be miserable.  Ask yourself what you can do to make your studying experience more pleasant.  Do you like having music on in the background?  Is there a favorite food or beverage that you can reserve for study times?  Is there a relaxing place that you can go?  Figure out what is within your control to make the studying experience more tolerable.
3. Schedule a clear beginning and end to your studying.  If you have a giant chunk of time when you will be “studying” but you know you will spend most of your time being distracted, you won’t get much done at all.  Start with a clear beginning and a clear end to your studying and even though it seems like you won’t have enough time to finish things, you will be far more efficient and focused this way.
4. Ask for structure if you can’t get it from within.  If you know that you are unable to create a structured study plan for yourself, enlist the help of others to make it happen.  It’s just like having a personal trainer to help you get in shape!  Here are some ideas:
• Ask a teacher if you can come into his or her room to study so you won’t be distracted by other students in study hall.
• Ask a friend or parent to hold your cell phone or video games for you until you get what you need done.
• Go to your parent’s place of work to get things done after school and then come home when you are ready to have fun.
5. Get the studying over with so you can enjoy uninterrupted fun.  Realize that you will enjoy watching TV, hanging out with your friends and playing video games much, much moreif you do not have any homework or tests hanging over your head.  Don’t try to multitask by studying a little and having fun a little.  Focus 100% on studying and you will be much more efficient and effective.  Then you can focus 100% on enjoying yourself.
6. Get big picture perspective from others on how studying affects things long term. If you talk to your classmates about studying, they will probably just enable you by telling you how little they care about studying as well.  Instead, gain valuable perspective and motivation by talking to those who are older than you.  Ask them what knowledge and skills they wish they had later in life.  What you will probably find is that they wish they had learned the stuff that is much more difficult to learn later on:  math and science concepts, foreign languages, better writing and communication skills, etc.  If you chat with people who are further along life’s journey, they may help you see the path you should take.
7.  Remember that you are learning SKILLS.  The actual content of what you learn will not be nearly as important as your ability to learn.  Will you have to compute the area of a circle every day of your professional life?  No, but you willhave to do analytical problem solving.  Will you need to know the cultures and histories of different countries to make more money?  Probably not, but you willbenefit from being able to put yourself in the shoes of others.  Does it really matter whether you have a good essay on a novel you read in English?  Long term, it probably won’t, but it will be extremely valuable to know how to communicate effectively.  Whenever you feel that what you are learning is pointless, remember that as long as you are learning how to think, read, write, and problem solve, you are indeed preparing yourself for the future.
8. Surround yourself with good people.  If your friends keep you from achieving your goals and want to bring you down to their level, maybe it’s time to find some new friends.  It is very hardto overcome the influence of friends who pressure you into not caring about things – they will make you feel like a nerd and an outcast if you care too much.  Keep your focus on your long-term goals and surround yourself with people who will help you become the best person you can be.
9. Use your boredom to find more efficient methods! Look at being bored as a good thing!  Use your laziness as motivation to find the most efficient method you can to learn what you need in the shortest time possible.  For example, if you can’t stand filling out a review sheet, make a study group with your friends and divide up the review sheet among yourselves and share the answers with one another.  If you hate learning flashcards, use a site like quizlet.com to make your own.  If you hate taking notes while you read, use a site like course-notes.org to supplement your understanding of the text.  Learning what works best for you will help you as you go on to college and professional life, because you will have much greater control over how you structure your studying.
10. Learn GRIT. No matter what you do in life, there will be times when you need to do something that is not all that enjoyable to do.  The better that you can become mentally tough by having a great deal of personal grit,  the more likely you can overcome obstacles that stand in your way.  Grit is arguably one of the most important life skills that doing homework can teach you.

I hope you found these ideas helpful.  If so, please share it with your friends!  Thanks, Brian Stewart

# Questions on the ACT, SAT, GED, and other Major Tests have only One Definitive Answer

One of the most helpful things for students taking the ACT, SAT, GED, or other major tests is to know that there is one definitive answer for every question.  This can be quite a change if you are used to coming across rather vague questions on school-based tests that indeed could have a couple of correct answers.  The ACT and SAT take significant steps to ensure that they do indeed only have one correct answer for each question.

They do this by testing the questions before they are given on scored tests.  The SAT does this on every test.  Each SAT has 10 sections, only 9 of which are scored.  The 10th section is an experimental section which they use to test out questions for future tests. They want to be certain that the questions are not biased towards any gender or ethnic group, and that the questions are of appropriate difficulty.  The ACT does not test its questions as frequently as does the SAT, but they seem to pick the June test date to add in an experimental 10 minute section for test-takers to do at the end of the test.  In order for these experimental sections to be valid, the test-takers cannot be aware that they are experimental.  Otherwise, students would simply go to sleep and save their energy for the questions that actually impact their score.  The test-makers are quite good at this question experimentation – the last time I took the SAT I thought I had determined which section was the experimental, but when I received my answers and test booklet in the mail, I realized I had been mistaken.
How good are the SAT and ACT at making sure there is only one definitive answer to each and every question?  Very, very good, and if they do mess up, they fix it.  Check out this great New York Times article on the appeals process for questions on the ACT and SAT:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/education/edlife/strategy.html

What struck me is that in a 22 year period, no ACT questions were thrown out.  Between 2005 and 2008, only 3 questions on the SAT were deemed to be flawed.  If and when the SAT and ACT do find that they have made an error in a question, be assured that they will take care of it and omit it from scoring.  This is one reason why it takes time for your scores to come back – ACT and SAT need time to make sure that they have not made any errors on the test, and need the opportunity to find any questions they might have to omit.

One potential reason that the ACT has a more of a spotless record is the strong possibility that the test makers repeat some questions.  I do not know this for a fact, but I do know that the ACT limits you to taking the test 12 times in your life while the SAT allows you to take the test as many times as you would like.  (I try to take the tests regularly, and I am spreading out my ACT test taking experiences so that I don’t run out!)  I can see no reason other than the possible repetition of questions as to why they would place these limits on test takers.  Once the ACT knows they have a perfectly worded question, they are in the clear and can use the questions on subsequent tests.  Since the SAT is starting fresh each time, they have more room for error.  Keep in mind that this is all just an educated conjecture on my part.

How does knowing that there is one definitive answer help in your test-taking and your test preparation?  Two ways:

1.       Don’t waste time looking for games or tricks on the test.  Spend your time thinking instead.  There is no point in overanalyzing a question to see if there could be two correct answers; this simply isn’t going to happen on the SAT or ACT and if it does, they will omit it from scoring.

2.       Make sure you prepare with practice tests that have definitive answers.  If you are prepping with practice questions that in fact have 2 correct answers on occasion, you will drive yourself insane in overanalyzing the questions.  As a result, you will have a flawed strategy when it comes time to take the test.  So, be sure the materials you are using are high quality.  One great place you can go for solid questions is the website of the test you are taking. You can also purchase actual materials from ACT and SAT.

I hope you found this discussion helpful.  If so, I would greatly appreciate it if you passed it along to your friends.  Thanks so much.

# Should You Do Test Prep Before Taking the ACT and SAT for the First Time?

## Students and parents often wonder whether to take the SAT and ACT with or without any test preparation the first time.  There is not a simple answer to this, so I will offer you some things to consider when making your decision:

1.  How close to applying to college are you?  If you are in the spring of your junior year or the fall of your senior year and are going to take the ACT or SAT for the first time, I would highly recommend doing some test preparation prior to taking the test.  Because you don’t have much time left you want your first time taking the test to be a solid experience, so do some test preparation beforehand.  If you are in the fall of your junior year or earlier, you may decide to take the ACT or SAT once as a run-through just to see where you stand.  You can then do more targeted test preparation based on the areas of weakness that you find in your test results.

2.  Do you have significant anxiety about testing?  For many students who are quite anxious about testing, having a bad experience the first time around on the SAT or ACT can give them baggage and hang-ups the next time they take the test.  For students like this, it usually makes sense to do some test preparation ahead of time so that the test goes smoothly the first go-round.  However, I want you to consider that once in a while, I see students take the SAT or ACT without any prep and, because the students expect so little of themselves, they are able to truly relax and let their intellect shine through.  For example – I had a young lady who took the ACT after doing some preparation and scored a 27.  Then, she took the SAT thinking that it didn’t matter, did zero prep for it, and scored the equivalent of a 30 on it!  I have found that this may be the case for students who are very bright and pretty anxious.

3.  What is your personal schedule like?  Some students have significant extracurricular commitments during part of the year; they have no time to do any test preparation during those months.  However, they may need to take the SAT or ACT during those times.  If this applies to you, you may want to do your test preparation the summer before school starts so that you have the opportunity to give it your full attention.  If your schedule permits you to do test preparation leading up to a test date, that can be quite beneficial as all the strategies and concepts will be fresh.

I hope that you found this discussion helpful.  If so, I would invite you to share it with your friends.  Thanks, Brian Stewart

# How to Increase Your Mental Focus and Endurance When Taking the ACT, SAT, GED or Other Standardized Tests

A common concern that students have when they take a major test, like the SAT, ACT or GED is being unable to maintain focus.  Here are 15 things that can help you improve your mental focus when you are taking a test.

1. Get Plenty of Sleep.  If you are cramming for a major memorization test, sacrificing a bit of sleep can make sense.  If you are studying for a major conceptual and problem-solving test, however, adequate sleep is essential.  The SAT, ACT, GMAT, GRE, GED and most other major standardized tests are conceptual, problem-solving tests.  As such, be certain that you are well-rested for test day.  If you are thinking about staying up late to study the night before the SAT or ACT, please don’t! Get a good night’s sleep instead.
2. Caffeine Can Backfire.  Caffeine can be a helpful supplement for students who have attention deficit issues (please talk to your doctor about your personal situation).  Most students, though, find that caffeine can make them jumpy and jittery on test day.  The adrenaline you have pumping through your veins will more than be sufficient to make you alert.  You want to make sure you are not accelerating your thinking to the point where you make lots of careless errors.
3. Don’t Ask Too Much of Yourself. If you only scored in the 50th percentile on practice tests, do not expect that you will score in the 99th on the actual test!  You will have significant focus issues if you attempt to do more problems than you should or if you try to read faster than what is comfortable.  If you give your mind a reasonable task to do, it will comply.  If you don’t, your mind will shut down and think about other things.
4. Get Medical Help if Needed.  If you notice that you have quite a bit more difficulty focusing on tests than your friends do, it couldn’t hurt to have a doctor or psychologist evaluate you.  I once had a student who told me that every time he took a test, he struggled to focus.  I suggested that he see a doctor since he had never been evaluated for attention issues.  He was able to get ADHD medicine for his test.  He took the test with his prescription, and did well enough to get into the college of his choice.  It doesn’t hurt to look into this if you never have.  If paying for a medical evaluation is a concern, your school psychologist may be able to do an evaluation free of charge.
5. Control Where You Take the Test.  Don’t just sign up for any old test-center.  Try to take it at a school or facility where distractions will be kept to a minimum.  If you are distracted by large rooms and lots of noise, take the test at a school with small classrooms.  If you are distracted by having lots of people you know at a test center, sign up to take the test on the other side of town.  In any event, think about where you should do it.  As long as you plan far enough in advance, you should be able to have plenty of control over where you take your test.
6. Declare a Drama Moratorium Leading Up to the Test.  You don’t need to be as extreme as one of my students was – he broke up with his girlfriend a week before the ACT so she wouldn’t be a distraction to him!  You may want to isolate yourself a bit more leading up to a test so that you don’t have the “drama” that your “friends” may often cause.  Plan on going out for a fun evening with everyone after the test is over!
7. Practice Without Social Media Distractions.  Nowadays, we are almost like cyborgs in how we are constantly connected to our phones, computers and tablets.  If you are practicing a standardized test with the test in one hand and your phone in the other, you are setting yourself up for failure.  Get used to practicing without having the constant interaction of social media so that you don’t experience internet deprivation when you are stuck taking a test for five hours.
8. Have a Snack During Breaks.  This is one of the easiest yet most helpful things you can do to stay focused during tests.  Almost every major test will give you some sort of a break.  Use this time to get your blood sugar up to where it should be by having a healthy snack:  almonds, banana, jerky etc. Stay away from processed carbs and sugars though as they can make you sleepy!
9. Wear Earplugs. I have never come across anything saying you can’t use earplugs during major tests.  If you are distracted by the smallest of noises, go ahead and bring earplugs (they only cost a few dollars) and tune out your fellow test-takers.   Just be sure that you are aware of when the test proctor is calling time so that you aren’t ejected from the testing site for continuing work when you shouldn’t.
10. Eat Peppermint When Studying and When Test-Taking.  I have heard and read from various sources that eating peppermint while you study and then having peppermint while taking memorization-based tests can help you remember things because you are connecting key concepts to your primitive sense of smell.  I have not tried this personally, but I have had students do this and say that it is helpful.  If nothing else, it will have a placebo effect, giving you more confidence in your ability to remember things.
12. Get Test Anxiety Under Control if Needed.  If you are always distracted by serious worries about your performance when taking a test, address these concerns ahead of time by thinking through how you will handle your test anxiety.  Having a plan in place will actually help to reduce anxiety!
13. Get Motivated if Needed.  If you are distracted when test-taking because you just don’t care, find motivation.  The best way to do this is to talk to your parents, teachers, or older friends who can tell you why doing well on the test is indeed very important. I can assure you that their advice will ring true for you.
14. Accept That There is Nothing Else You Can Do During Test Time.  When I go on an airplane ride, I accept that I will not be able to call anyone or use the internet.  I embrace this quiet time and spend it reading or talking with family members.  Use the same mindset when you take a major test.  Let go of any of the other things that could be bugging you during this time because there is absolutely nothing you can do about them during the test.  Given the ever-present media distractions we face, taking a standardized test can be, in a way, a bit liberating!  (I know that’s a stretch, but some of you may be able to look at it that way. . . )
15. Your Mental Endurance.  If you are about to run a marathon and you haven’t even gone for a run around your neighborhood, you will completely fall apart.  Similarly, if you are going to take a 4 or 5 hour test, it is unlikely that you will be able to focus for this long if you have done nothing to build your test-taking stamina.  If you know you have issues with mental focus, be sure to do some full-length tests leading up to the actual thing.

I hope you have found this discussion helpful.  If so, please share it with your friends!  Thanks, Brian Stewart