What to Expect on the ACT: Test Day Checklist

Wondering what to expect on the ACT? Read on to learn how to prepare for the ACT and what to bring to the ACT test center.
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  • Getting a good night's sleep before the exam can help you feel sharp and prepared.
  • It's best to arrive at the testing center at least 30 minutes early.
  • Smartphones and smartwatches are banned from use for the entire exam.

Nearly 1.3 million students took the ACT in 2021, as compared to nearly 1.7 million the prior year. While some colleges and universities now make the ACT and SAT voluntary for incoming undergraduates, many still require applicants to submit scores.

You can find plenty of information on study schedules, but it's important to think about the hours leading up to test time as well. Here, you can find actionable advice on how to feel prepared for ACT test day.

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What Time Does the ACT Test Start and End?

On ACT test day, be prepared for the exam to start around 8:30 a.m. Because of this, examinees should plan to arrive no later than 8:00 a.m. so they can store personal belongings and find their seats.

If taking the traditional ACT, the exam lasts for three hours. Students who take the Writing portion as well should plan to spend 3.5 hours on the exam.

What to Bring on ACT Test Day

Prepared students know to bring several items with them on ACT test day, both to help confirm their identity and provide support during the exam. We look at some must-bring items below.

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    ACT Admission Ticket: Students must print their ticket and show it when they arrive at the testing center or they will not be admitted.
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    Acceptable Photo ID: ACT testing centers require an approved form of photo identification to confirm the test-taker's identity before seating them.
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    Two No. 2 Pencils With Erasers: Learners use these when filling in the bubble pages for each answer on the exam or when doing mathematics.
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    Approved Calculator: In addition to an approved calculator, students should bring extra batteries.
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    Mask: Testing centers where COVID-19 community levels are high require people to wear masks during testing and breaks.
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    Bag (Optional): A handbag or backpack provides space to keep your personal belongings and ACT materials.
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    Watch (Optional): Since you cannot bring your phone into the exam room, a watch can help students keep track of time.
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    Drink and Snack (Optional): Test-takers can enjoy drinks and snacks during the exam break or after finishing the test.

How to Prepare the Night Before the ACT

Following the tips and tricks outlined below for the night before can help test-takers feel confident walking into the ACT testing center.

Avoid Last-Minute Cramming

Trying to cram for the ACT the night before can actually produce negative effects when test day arrives. In fact, studying the night before is typically frowned upon as you should use the time to rest and relax.

Gather Your ACT Materials

Because the ACT starts early in the morning and you may feel anxious, try to gather all your personal belongings and ACT materials the night before. Whether you decide to place them in your bag or make a pile you can double-check in the morning, gathering items the night before can help ease your anxiety.

Double-Check Your Test Center Website

While you would likely receive an email or other type of notification if something changed, it's always a good idea to check your test center's location and website to make sure there are no last-minute closings or exam delays.

Get Plenty of Sleep

Rest plays a critical role in memory and recall, making sleep one of the most important things you can do the night before the big test. You don't want to go to bed too early, but try to fall asleep at your normal time and get at least eight hours of sleep.

What to Do the Morning of the ACT

While there's plenty you can do the night before exam day, there are also steps to take to arrive at the testing center feeling refreshed, prepared, and calm.

Eat a Balanced Breakfast

Eating a nutritious breakfast before heading to the exam center ensures your brain and body have the energy needed to carry you through hours of test-taking. Some options include oatmeal, yogurt and berries, eggs and whole-wheat toast, or a breakfast sandwich.

Stick to Your Usual Morning Routine

Changing up your normal morning routine can leave you feeling out of sorts and unfocused. Instead, stick with your typical patterns and behaviors. That said, if you usually drink a few cups of coffee each morning, you may want to limit how much caffeine you drink to avoid the jitters.

Dress in Comfortable Clothes

Since you'll be sitting in a chair for 3-3.5 hours with only one break in the middle, wearing comfortable clothes can help you feel more relaxed and at ease. Because you won't know the exam room's temperature until arriving, it's also a good idea to bring a jacket.

Get to the Test Center Early

Students who want to ease testing nerves should leave their homes with plenty of time to get to the testing center early. Leaving early can allow extra time to get through morning traffic and find the test center location. Arriving early also lets you check in, store personal belongings, and settle in before the exam begins.

Frequently Asked Questions About ACT Test Day

Can I bring a smartwatch to the ACT?

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ACT's official website provides a list of prohibited items, and smartwatches — including Apple Watches — are on this list. Smartwatches are considered a type of electronic device with access to services that could allow for cheating during the exam. Students cannot use their smartwatches or smartphones during the exam or during their breaks.

Students caught wearing a smartwatch may be asked to leave or have their item confiscated. The website also lists other types of wearable devices that are not allowed in the exam room, including fitness bands such as Fitbits and Garmins.

Can I bring my phone when I take the ACT?

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Phones fall under the same category as smartwatches since they can be used as recording devices. They can also allow students to look things up on the internet and ask others for answers.

If brought into the testing center, smartphones must be placed in your bag and secured in a locker for the duration of the exam — including during the break. Students who are caught using their phones during the exam or during breaktime can have their devices taken away and their scores invalidated.

What can you not bring to the ACT?

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In addition to technology, students should carefully review the full list of prohibited items before heading to their testing center. For instance, students cannot bring textbooks, dictionaries, notebooks, loose pieces of paper, or other types of aids.

In addition, test-takers cannot bring any pens, highlighters, or unapproved pencils into the testing room. Tobacco in any form (including vapes) is prohibited, as are any types of reading materials. The only type of electronic device on the list of permitted items is an approved calculator.

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