To me, the secret of life is rehearsal. While you can’t always rehearse and you can’t always eliminate mistakes by rehearsing, you can minimize the number of mistakes and prepare to handle the inevitable. Ideally a standardized test is just about you and your ability to answer the questions in front of you, but that is just not the case. There are nerves and accidents and forgotten number 2 pencils. I found however that the best way to make an actual standardized test as successful as possible is to do practice tests, not just to know what kind of questions are coming at you, but under what sort of environment. Here are some tips on how to mimic that environment so that you can prepare for the actual test:
1. Prepare days before. Let yourself think about how you’ll feel the days before your actual test. Some people get super nervous, others suppress it until the last minute and then fall apart the night before, and some just eat more. Whatever it is, acknowledge how you will respond and think if it will help or harm you, and then find solutions.
2. The night before, don’t go out, relax! You would not go to your friend’s party the night before the real test, nor should you if it is the night before a practice test. If you are taking a practice test via an organization, it’s probably going to be on a Saturday morning, just like the real one. If you are administering your own practice test, try to do it at least once on a Saturday so that you can prepare to say no to this or that party. Depending on the event it can be really frustrating to have to keep yourself in, and so if this is going to be a problem for you definitely incorporate it into your practice routine! Instead of going out, do something brainless and fun such as watching a movie you’ve see six times or baking cookies. Don’t try to study because you don’t want to get into the habit of possibly making yourself more nervous.
3. Wear the same outfit that’s super comfy. Figure out what you want to wear for your real test and try it out on your practice test. I personally like taking advantage of those rare moments when it is socially acceptable to wear absolutely whatever, and one of those exceptions is a 7 AM test. Wear sweatpants if that’s what makes you happiest. See what it’s like to wear a bathrobe in public. Go barefoot; it’ll throw everyone else off. For me, it was as simple as a really comfy pair of stretchy jeans and a black cashmere sweater. Super physically comfortable may not make you mentally prepared to take a test, so find out what does and go with that.
4. Do the test at the same time. As I mentioned earlier, try really hard to do at least one practice test on the exact same schedule as the real thing. Wake up when you’ll need to wake up to get to your test site. Start the test when it’s supposed to start. Don’t move onto the next section until the appropriate amount of time has passed.
5. Have the same breakfast. I love food, and I really love breakfast food, and so this was always my favorite part of the practice test process. They always say you want a good breakfast before a test, and so practicing this means more good food. Figure out what will actually make you somewhat excited to get up at that ungodly hour and make it happen. Ask your dad if he can make his perfect pancakes for you, or go to a nice deli somewhere and get a bagel. I liked getting a muffin and glancing over a review sheet in total peace. Make sure that whatever you do doesn’t take up too much time, and that it can be recreated when the real test comes.
6. Be someplace quiet. Whether at an institute or your house, try to get find something that mimics a real testing site as closely as possible. Ideally your spot won’t be super noisy, but not so quiet as to make the sound of half a dozen other people scribbling away on test day surprise you. If you’re taking it at home, avoid the temptation of doing it on your couch! Find someplace almost uncomfortable so that you can focus on the task at hand and not on nuzzling your head again the pillows.
7. Get someone else to keep time. Time keeping can be an issue during a practice test and the real deal. During a practice test it’s hard to keep track of your time and work simultaneously while not giving yourself an extra minute or two. During a real test it can nerve-wracking if you’re not used to someone lording over you as master time keeper. If at home try to get a parent to call time for you or use your phone so you don’t have to worry about it.
8. Make mistakes. Nothing is more realistic than a mistake. You can never be sure if you will forget you calculator, or a fire alarm will go off, or you will accidentally skip a page. While you want to eliminate unrealistic errors, if something goes awry, don’t fix it in a way that you couldn’t during a real test. Fix it how you would if it happened on the actual day so that you know what to do in similar situations.
9. Don’t cheat. While you may think this goes without saying, I can’t tell you how many practice tests I took where someone checked the internet via their phone for the answer, or nudged their neighbor. I too have been tempted, but it really does no one any good. While you or your tutor might be bummed that you did not do as well as you hoped to, it’s worse if you make mistakes on a practice test that you don’t go over because it’s marked as right.
10. Celebrate the same way! A close second to a practice great breakfast is a practice celebration. You just sat for however many hours writing like a mad person and numbly filling in bubbles. You deserve whatever you want. If you’re burnt-out take the rest of the day off, and if you want to celebrate with a dozen of your closest friends, you do that.