NJ | What to Expect at Your First SAT or ACT

What to Expect at Your First SAT or ACT


You’ve finished all your prep work. Now it’s time to go and take your first SAT and ACT. This can be an anxiety inducing experience for many students, but after reading this, you’ll have a much better idea of what to expect on the morning of the test. 


Your ticket will have the admission time listed (probably 8am). Regardless of what time you get to the testing center, there will already be other students waiting in their cars in the parking lot. No one wants to be the first one to walk inside, so there’s an awkward period of car-sitting waiting for that first brave soul to walk up to the door. Eventually, someone will break free from the confines of their car, and other students will quickly follow suit.


Once you enter the building, the process will vary based on the specific school. Most often, the test site coordinator and proctors sit at a wildly disorganized table and check in students - they will want to see your ticket and ID. Once they find you on their check in sheet, they will instruct you as to which classroom you’ll proceed to when the time comes. Other schools may shuffle all students into the cafeteria or auditorium where there will be a list of all test takers pinned to the wall. Fight your way through the throng of students and find your name on the board. This will tell you where to proceed when the time comes. 


After you’ve been checked in and identified your testing room, you’ll probably have to wait for an extended period of time in the cafeteria or auditorium. During this time, students will group themselves off by school, sports team, club, etc. If you’re an adult test taker (like us when we take the test), you’ll sit alone in the corner and question all the decisions that brought you to this point. This is the time to play on your phone and, if you are so inclined, post an SAT selfie on your social media. 


After this seemingly endless waiting period, a teacher will walk into the room and whistle loudly, yell, clap, or try to coax the room into silence. If the room doesn’t get silent fast enough, this authority figure will say, “l’ll wait.” When that doesn’t work, someone will scream at you until it’s quiet. Eventually everyone will get the message, and the teacher will send you off to find your classrooms.

Upon entry to the classroom, your proctor will check your ticket and ID again and then have you take a seat in the classroom. It’s rare to get a competent proctor, so expect that this seat will not be your final seating position. If that’s the case, once everyone is seated, the proctor will have you all line up against the wall and then call you one by one to assigned seating positions. Prepare to be embarrassed by the way the proctor pronounces your name, especially while everyone stares at you and wonders why an old man is taking the test. Nope? I guess that’s just me. Now is a good time to remind you that everyone is thinking about themselves at this moment in time. There are lots of nerves flowing in these testing rooms, and that expresses itself in different ways. Some students will become super chatty, others will clam up and repeatedly bounce their knee or tap a pencil on the desk. 


Eventually, everyone will be in their seats, and the proctor will inform you that you’re almost ready to start. If there is a student on the roster that’s not there, prepare to wait for an interminably long period of time for this student to arrive. Either this will happen and your proctor will get the green light to begin, or the testing coordinator will walk up to the door and give a thumbs up.


Game on. 


Well, not quite. The next 200 hours will be spent listening to the proctor instruct you on how to bubble in your name, address, testing site, test form, date, eye color, favorite song, allergies, and blood type. After this is complete, the proctor will instruct you to open your book to section 1 of the test, read the instructions, and begin working. 


Game on.


For real, though. Depending on which test you’re taking, the proctor will give different warnings for timing. On the SAT, you’ll receive a warning midway through the section and then when you have 5 minutes remaining. On the ACT, you will only get a warning when you have five minutes remaining. 


A couple of points on this. First, five minutes is actually a good amount of time. It will feel like your time is over when the proctor tells you there are only five minutes left, but that’s not the case. If you time yourself perfectly on the ACT reading section, for example, you would take exactly 8 minutes and 45 seconds for each passage. That means that you should only be a couple of questions into the 10 questions when there are five minutes left. Second, five minutes is also a really short amount of time. Don’t dawdle. If you’re bubbling whole passages, you’d better get that information transferred onto the bubble sheet at this point. And we’d recommended bubbling each answer from here on out.  


At some point during the test, you’ll have your first break. Stand up at this point and feel your brain ooze out of your ears. You’ll be a bit fried from the first few sections. Have a snack, use the bathroom, drink some water, and move your body. Sitting in your chair and chilling is scientifically proven to turn your brain into a puddle. You’ll feel better if you stand up and move. 


After the break, it’s back to the grind for a while longer. During the second half of the test, you’ll probably have moments when you want to give up or stop paying attention. Fight through those. Otherwise you’ll be able to write the next blog post like this because you’re going to have to keep signing up for more tests if you want to hit your goals. But if you push through and remain vigilant, you can be done with this process sooner than you think.


Once the test is complete, the proctor will collect the test booklets and answer keys and then eventually dismiss you. You’ll be instructed to remain quiet as you walk through the halls because other people may still be testing. You’ll also be reminded to not discuss any test questions with others or with the internet. You’ll ignore all of these rules and talk to your friends about the test and post goofy SAT memes on social media. 


Pollak Tutors, LLC
New Providence, NJ