How to Prepare for Standardized Tests

Preparing for standardized tests can be overwhelming, especially if you get caught up thinking about their importance to your college application. While there’s no one single way to ensure you ace your tests, there are some things you can do to set yourself up for a successful test-taking day.

Know the Test

Understanding the demands of the specific test that you’ll be taking is essential. Start preparing by finding the answers to these questions as they’ll help you plan how you’ll practice for the test:

  • What is the test’s statement of purpose?
  • Is it computerized or a paper-and-pencil test?
  • How is it scored?
  • Where and when will it be administered?
  • What content is being tested?
  • What skills are needed to answer the questions?

You can find the answers to many of these questions on the internet and you can also contact the sponsoring agency and get clarification if you have any additional questions.

Know Yourself

Do an in-depth and realistic assessment of your background knowledge, formal coursework, skills and attitudes as no one knows how much you have learned better than you. The key word is “learned.” Anyone can tell what courses you have taken or what grades are on your record; your transcript reveals that information. However, there may be a gap between what the record indicates and what you possess as knowledge and skills.

If there are requisite courses you need to complete the test successfully, take them. Are there classes you should repeat? Get going on them.

Some tests may require proficiency in certain skills. Do you know that you are proficient? Ask yourself that question and make sure you are honest in your answer. If you need to improve those skills, plan to do it.

Leverage Untimed and Timed Practice

Untimed practice can help you gain confidence in your abilities to answer the questions. You can also monitor your strategies for handling questions, identify areas that require more attention and change approaches that don’t work. Try these strategies:

  • Restate the question in your own words to ensure you understand what it is asking.
  • Answer the question first without reading the options. This is helpful if you become distracted by the answer choices and miss the meaning/intent of the question.
  • If you are taking a reading comprehension test, there should be a passage with multiple-choice questions. Try answering the questions without reading the passage. This makes you focus on the question without interference from passage information. It is also a good exercise in reasoning through the choices.

Timed practice permits you to modify approaches that may have seemed effective during your untimed sessions but are too time consuming. It also will help you get used to the pressure you will feel on test day when there is a time limit. Try these strategies:

  • Work through a problem set under a time limit. Then, before checking your answers, repeat the problem set without a time limit. Compare the number of correct answers under each condition. If you correctly answered more items under the untimed condition, you need to learn to reason more efficiently while under a time limit rather than spend more time reviewing the material.
  • Work up to desirable time limits gradually, starting with a generous time limit and then decreasing it gradually. Impose a generous time limit at the beginning and then gradually decrease it to the actual time limits of the test.

Learn when to guess and go on. It is never to your advantage to become stuck on a question.

Remember: You Can Do This!

Finally, once you’ve done all the preparation and put the work into making sure you’re ready for test day, don’t forget the effect that your attitude can have on how you do on the test. Make sure you are thinking positively about your skills and knowledge. If you have assessed yourself honestly and determined that you have the knowledge and skills you need, tell yourself that you are prepared and ready for this exam. Talk with others who can reinforce that message for you. You’re going to do great!


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