It can be overwhelming to study for standardized tests. However, with a reasonable study plan and supportive resources, standardized tests aren’t that bad after all.
Check out the following tips to melt your stress away:
1. Alter your study plan based on how much time you have till the test day.
Depending on whether you have 6 months till the exam date, or just two weeks, you should be approaching the studying process differently. Having more time to study may mean revising all of the topics and doing in-depth practice for the concepts or topics that you need more work in.
On the other hand, having less time to study for an exam may mean solely reviewing topics that you know you struggle with. When you are on a time crunch, it may not be the best option to spend time reviewing topics you already know.
Whatever your situation is, it is always a good idea to create a general study plan and try your best to stick to it. For instance, if you scheduled yourself to take a timed practice test on a certain Saturday, make sure you push yourself to do it - even if you are not particularly motivated that day. Trust me - it will pay off in the long run!
2. Do lots of practice tests before taking the actual exam!
• The actual exam that is going to be scored should not be the first time that you are taking the test. Make sure you put in the time to do some extra practice by taking the practice tests that are available - whether that be through online resources or via prep books.
• Practice tests also help you learn the structure of the exam. This way, there will be no surprises when you sit down for the actual exam.
For instance, if you going to be taking the SAT, know that the test has four sections and then an optional essay section (if you choose to take it). You should also be familiar with how many questions there are in each section as well as how much time you are given to complete each section.
• Timing yourself while taking practice tests will help you pace yourself during the actual exam. For instance, after taking 2 to 3 practice tests, you may find that it is best to complete the multiple choice portion of an exam in 45 minutes and then spend the next 45 minutes working through the writing portion.
• After taking a practice test, take the time afterwards to score your performance. If you are taking the practice test online, often times, the website will score the test automatically. If you are taking the test on paper, however, you may have to pull up an answer key and manually correct the questions yourself.
• If you get any questions wrong, go through each of the questions and try to understand why you made the mistake and why the correct answer is the better option to choose. Thinking through each incorrect question will reduce the chances of repeating the same mistake again.
• Lastly, keep track of your scores on each practice test. Refer back to these scores to see whether or not your performance is getting better with each try. If your scores are remaining stagnant or even decreasing, it may be a signal to change your study strategy.
Rather than just taking practice test after practice test, try to do some shorter and more focused review on some topics before taking another practice test. For example, if you notice that you are repeatedly making mistakes on circle theorems, take the time to review circle theorems more deeply.
3. Figure out what resources you can use to prepare for the exam!
Before diving into studying for the exam, give yourself some time to explore the resources that are available. While one student may find the resources on websites like Khan Academy to be extremely useful, another student may find that sticking to prep books and textbooks is a better option for them.
Whatever your preference is, I do strongly urge you to check out what Khan Academy has to offer. If you are preparing for the SAT, Khan Academy has 9 practice tests that will be automatically scored for you. If you are going to be writing the optional essay, the website also offers two practice essay prompts that an algorithm will score for you! Along with that, there are tons of practice questions on a variety of topics - anything from right triangle trig to effective language use - that are recommended to you based on your performance on the full-length practice tests.
If you are worried about taking AP exams at the end of the year, Khan Academy has your back on that too. It offers tons of resources on everything from AP Chemistry to AP Computer Science Principles! Essentially, Khan Academy creates a personalized study plan for you - and all for free!
If you are more of a prep book-kind-of-gal, make sure you look at the reviews of the prep book before you purchase it and make sure that you choose one with lots of practice questions included!
On a final note, don’t forget that your teachers at school are an excellent resource too. If you ever find yourself unable to understand why a particular answer is correct or if you really want more review on a topic, commit to staying after school with your teacher in the corresponding subject and go through the problem with them.
If most cases, teachers are more than willing to support their students and ecstatic when students come to them with questions on challenging topics - especially if the student is motivated and eager to learn!
4. Try to organize study groups and sessions with friends!
If anyone else that you know is taking the test on or around the same date, schedule to meet together and review topics!
If a friend is struggling on a math problem for instance, it can be excellent review for you to walk through that problem together. If you are studying for the AP US History exam, it may be helpful to list the effects of the civil war together - your friends may think of something that you would have never thought of!
Studying together in a group or in pairs will also increase your incentive to study for the exam. If you know that your friends are struggling through the process with you, you are far less likely to give up in the middle of a study session.
5. Give yourself a reward after a study session!
After putting your mind through a stressful study session, make sure to give yourself a well-deserved break and reward. Whether this be eating ice cream or taking a walk with a friend, take the time to relax. After all, you are one step closing to acing your exam!
Take a deep breath and remember that your scores don’t define you - whether you do incredibly well or not as well as you’d hoped. Stay focused and organized and know that achieving a great score on a standardized exam has never been more possible with all these resources at hand. Good luck!