10 Ways to Relax Before Your ACT

May 16, 2017

When you’re preparing to take a high-stakes exam like the ACT, it’s natural to feel stressed—and most students do. Unfortunately, the anxiety that this stress causes can take a toll on your scores (not to mention your health), ending up leading to the very situation you were worried about in the first place.

But if you’re going to get into your ideal ACT score range, you can’t (with apologies to FDR) be afraid of fear itself! With that in mind, here are ten ways to relax before your ACT so that you can achieve your dream score.

1. Exercise. I know, you’re already getting up early on a weekend morning. Now I’m telling you to get up even earlier? Well…yes. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress, particularly aerobic exercise, and can help you clear your mind so you can draw on all the great ACT prep you’ve put in before test day. You don’t have to (and probably shouldn’t) run a marathon beforehand, but even taking half an hour to walk around the park can make you a lot calmer and more collected.

2. Mediation. This works best if you have some practice with meditation beforehand, but it can still work if you don’t. First of all, make sure you’re in a place where you can’t fall asleep. Even the hall outside of the test room will work, if you have five extra minutes and some quiet time. Just inhale and exhale, focusing on your breath. If you need some guidance on this (it can be tricky at first), there are lots of good apps out there with guided meditations, like Headspace.

3. Music. The last thing you want to hear before you get into the testing room is a bunch of students chatting about how worried they are. Drown them out with a playlist that you’ve made ahead of time. The right mood is vital to relaxation: don’t make it too sad or slow, but don’t make it 100% dance music either, or it’ll get your adrenaline even further up. You know what relaxes you. Listen to that.

4. Mindfulness. This technique can work both before and during the test. Mindfulness is just about being in the moment. Don’t worry about the past or (more importantly for the ACT) the future: just be where you are at that moment. Noticing what’s around you, what you see, smell, feel: all of these will help get your stress down.

5. Positive Thinking: Are you going to rock this test? YES! Are you going to get into your dream school? Absolutely!!! You need to pump yourself up, even if you’re not entirely sure of yourself going into the test. Even if you don’t reach the manic levels of enthusiasm above, know that you’ve done your best to this point, and now you’ll do the best you can. That’s all anyone can ask of you!

6. Visualization. Elite athletes do it to help them perform better; why shouldn’t you? Before you get to the test center, imagine the perfect test day experience. You open the test booklet and realize that you know exactly how to approach the first problem. The same thing’s true for the second—and the third, too! While this might not actually be the case on test day, who cares? Building up your confidence can help you create that reality.

7. Breathing Exercises. These are particularly useful once you’re in the testing room and can’t access your music, your treadmill, or start to “ommmm.” Just close your eyes and breathe in through your nose to a count of four. Exhale (quietly) through your mouth to a count of four. Repeat until anxiety subsides.

8. Make a Cheat Sheet. Not an actual cheat sheet. Instead, the week before your test, take a sheet of paper and write down all the concepts you’re still weak on, or mistakes that you’ve made on recent practice tests (and how to avoid them). For some students, the best way to reduce stress is to feel in control, and this allows you to get some last-minute tips tailored just to you. Take it with you to the test center and study it one last time before you go into the test room. And then—yes—put it away!

9. Distract Yourself. Not during the test, of course! But beforehand, bringing a book you’re engrossed in or having the latest episode of your favorite TV show queued up on your phone to watch while you wait for the test center to open can help take your mind off the exam and remind you that life actually is more than the ACT, even though it doesn’t feel like it in the moment!

10.  Remember Your Goals. By this point in your ACT prep, you probably know the answer to the question “What is a good ACT score?” It’s the score that will get you where you want to be. So don’t worry about your PreACT scores, don’t worry about the practice test problem you missed last week, and definitely don’t try to outthink the test and score yourself while you take it to see if you’re hitting your ideal ACT score range (it’s impossible to tell in the moment, anyway—and you should spend your time focusing on the problems). But with all that said, knowing that you have a goal, you’ve done your best as you’ve worked towards it, and there are things you can do, like retake the ACT, after this test day to make sure that you achieve it can be the most relaxing thing of all.

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​Are you taking the June 10th ACT test? If you are already registered, best of luck with the rest of your preparation and good luck on test day! Remember you can still sign up for late registration until May 19th! 

About The Author

Rachel Kapelke-Dale
Rachel Kapelke-Dale

Rachel Kapelke-Dale is a test prep expert at Magoosh. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, an MA from the Université de Paris VII, and a PhD from University College London. She has taught test preparation and consulted on admissions practices for over eight years.

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