I figure now is as good a time as any to answer publicly some of the questions I’ve been asked more than once privately. Some of these are great questions. Some are…not.
- Should I take a practice test the night before? No. Relax on the night before. If you’re cramming now because you didn’t prepare enough ahead of time, it’s probably not going to help and you’ll only stress yourself out more. Remember that feeling of unpreparedness and channel it into preparing more assiduously next time. If you really must do something, go through your vocab words one more time. Then get to sleep.
- What should I bring with me to the test? Admission ticket, photo ID, 4-5 sharpened pencils (better safe than sorry), a calculator with fresh batteries (I have experienced the death of a calculator mid-test and it’s not fun), and a watch so you can keep your own time since you can’t count on the proctor to give you regular warnings about timing. See the College Board’s own checklist here.
- Should I drink coffee/Red Bull/5 Hour Energy before the test? Only if that’s part of your routine every morning. If it’s not, you’re only setting yourself up to have to drop a huge deuce in the middle of the test. Your best-score scenario does not involve a stall with a broken door in the 2nd floor men’s room in the middle of section 5.
- Should I take Ritalin/Aderall before the test? I swear to God I’ve been asked this a million times. Has it been prescribed to you by a doctor and do you take it every day? If not, then don’t be an idiot. Look, I know that stuff is available pretty readily to those who go looking for it, and while I’d rather you not abuse drugs period, I try not to make it my business. But if you’re so stupid that you think it will help you concentrate just because it’s prescribed to some people who have trouble concentrating, then you’re hopeless. ADHD drugs are basically amphetamines. You’ll be bouncing around the room, and you’ll deserve the horrible score you get. Kindly remove your head from your rear end.
- What if my proctor makes a mistake? The College Board tries to make the test experience as uniform as possible, but at the end of the day it’s up to your proctor to make sure things go smoothly. Proctors are not infallible, and it’s actually fairly common for one to muck up. If it’s a mistake in your favor (I’ve heard of proctors leaving vocabulary word posters up in test rooms, and accidentally adding 10 minutes to sections) then don’t be the nerd who corrects her, lest you incur the justifiable hatred of your peers in the test room. If it’s a mistake that could hurt your score (too little time?), speak up.
- What if something else weird happens? Honestly, all kinds of things might go wrong for you on test day. Maybe the lawn is being mowed right outside the window of your room. When I last took the test, it was an unseasonably warm morning in November and the school’s heating system was blasting anyway. It must have been 90 degrees in my room. There’s really nothing you can do about that kind of thing, unfortunately. Tough it out.
- Can I copy off this smart kid I know? No, dumbass. Not only would the guilt slowly rot you from the inside out until you were covered in boils and unlovable by anyone forever, but the people around you will have different section numberings.
- Can I sneakily go back and work on sections I’m not supposed to be working on? I hear about people getting away with this all the time, but I also hear about people getting caught. You don’t need me to tell you that this is against the rules, so let me tell you instead that I very much doubt you’ll increase your score much by surreptitiously sneaking a look back at a previous section, and you’ll be assuming a huge risk (that you’ll be caught and all your work invalidated). Survey says: not worth it.
- Should I cancel my scores? While you still have the option of cancelling your scores right after the test, it’s really stupid to do so these days because you have Score Choice™ after the fact. Basically, if your scores come back awful, you can decide to expunge them once you see them by not sending them anywhere, so you should really give yourself the chance to see them. Unless you projectile vomited all over the kid in front of you during the first section, don’t cancel your scores.
- Should I send scores for free with my registration? I advise against it. Again, now that the game has changed with Score Choice™, you might decide later that these scores aren’t ones you’d like to send (say you take the test again in November and blow these scores away). Once a score is sent, it cannot be unsent. Even though it’ll cost you a bit of money later, I think the peace of mind is worth it.
I might update these as I’m reminded of more questions. In the meantime, post your own in the comments. Good luck!