If you're taking a standardized test soon, whether it's the SAT, ACT, MCAT, GRE or one of the other tests, there are a few tips that can help you prepare. Find out how to make the most of your prep time by following our advice.
1. Practice, practice, practice. The more you practice, the more
familiar you will be with the test format, and the less likely you
are to panic when you take the test for real. Practice also gives
you an opportunity to get rid of all the bad habits that lead to
careless errors. The more you practice, the more likely you are to
recognize careless errors. Try to practice with practice tests
realistic testing conditions.
2. Studying for the test over an extended period is much more
effective and lasting than cramming for the test at the last
One of the best ways to build your vocabulary and understanding of
current events is to ready a daily newspaper. It is best to start
doing this as a high school freshman. But even a few months of
close reading can help, probably more so than memorizing vocabulary
lists. It is important to understand the meaning of a word in a
real context. Word-a-day drills are only effective to the extent
that they provide memorable examples of the word's use in context.
3. Bring two sharpened, soft-lead number two pencils with you to the
test. Make sure they have good erasers. Bring a sharpener with you.
4. Eat a good breakfast
the morning of the test. Avoid eating sugary
foods. High-protein foods like scrambled eggs are often best for
aiding concentration and minimizing fatigue.
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5. Visit the bathroom 15-30 minutes before the test. Do not drink
water or other beverages for an hour before the test, as a full
bladder will affect your concentration.
6. Get a full night's sleep
before the test. Do not pull an
all-nighter cramming before the test. A lack of sleep will affect
7. Wear comfortable clothing.
8. Don't panic. If you start getting anxious, take slow deep
breaths. Don't worry about other people finishing early. Smart
people know to use all available time to double-check their work.
9. Pace yourself. Calculate the amount of time you have to answer each
question and avoid getting bogged down on any one question. A watch
with a countdown timer can be very helpful for budgeting your
time. You might also take a minute at the start of the test
through the questions, so you can know what to expect.
10. Answer the easiest questions first. Most tests arrange the
questions in order of difficulty, but sometimes you'll find that
later questions are easier for you. If you're stuck on a question,
move on to the next question (but be sure you skip it on the
answer sheet). You can always return to the question
later. Sometimes returning to a question after answering other
questions can give you a fresh perspective.
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11. If you have time left over at the end of the test, review your
answers. Don't second-guess an answer unless you are certain that
you misread or misinterpreted the question. Watch out for careless
errors. Also double-check that you wrote all of the answers in the
correct locations. (If you skipped a question, make sure you
didn't misalign the answer to the next question.)
For math questions, sometimes it can help to calculate the answer
in two different ways. Also use estimation techniques to ballpark
the answer as a sanity check. For example, instead of multiplying
412 by 24 to arrive at 9,888, multiply the most significant digits
(400 by 20) to arrive at 8,000. You know that the answer is a
little more than 8,000; this helps you recognize smaller answers
12. Read the question in full before trying to answer it. At least
some of the answer choices will be designed to trap students who
don't read the question fully. Also identify the answer first
before looking at the answer choices, since some of the choices
will be designed to prime you into misinterpreting the
question. Don't jump to conclusions.
13. Eliminate any answers that you know are incorrect, especially on
questions where you are having trouble arriving at the
answer. Eliminating a few wrong answers can increase the chances
of a random guess being correct. The ACT does not have a penalty
for wrong answers, so there's no harm in guessing. The SAT
assesses a 1/4 point penalty for each wrong answer, so a purely
random guess will not improve your score on average. However, if
you can eliminate one or more of the answers, making an educated
guess among the remaining answers is worthwhile.
14. Consider all the answer choices before writing down your final
answer. If one of the answers is an all-of-the-above choice, make
sure there isn't more than one correct answer. If you've
identified at least two correct answers, choose the
Answers that are positive are more likely to be correct than
answers that are negative.
Answers that are more informative are more likely to be correct.