When it comes to standardized tests one of the real killers is test fatigue. While each individual section of a test is manageable, putting them together turns an already a stressful test into a marathon. A lot of students find their scores decreasing the first time they go into a real test because of test fatigue. By the end of the second-straight hour of multiple choice questions your brain is going to start to feel like mush.
So how do you solve this problem? You build up your stamina. And how do you build the stamina? You practice.
Taking practice tests is a great way to build your stamina. After you’ve done a few full exams, the timing won’t feel like a drag anymore; it will feel normal, which will help keep your brain at tip-top condition on test day. Here are a few ways to get the most out of your practice tests.
1. Study Space
Finding the right study space will make or break your test. You want to find a space that is first and foremost quiet. If you’re taking a practice test in your house, a locked door is ideal. Don’t be afraid to put up a post-it on the door that says “TEST IN PROGRESS, COME BACK IN 3 HOURS.” If you’re going to go into a public space, avoid any places with noise. If you like to go to the library aim for the quietest room.
Privacy is also incredibly important; interruptions will hinder your ability to take the test. Finally, make sure you’re at a table or desk with a chair. I like doing homework in bed as much as the next person, but get used to sitting still for that long.
Time your sections to test accurate times. Give yourself the right amount and length of breaks. If you’re early in your test prep you might be encouraged to finish sections even if you go into overtime. While this is an option, it will add time to your test—make that call on your own. You can always go back and answer the questions you didn’t finish on another day.
I timed myself using my kitchen timer. I strongly advise against using your phone—it will be a distraction, it will buzz, it will ring, and you’ll be tempted to answer. Use a watch, a kitchen timer, or use anything that’s not electronic.
3. Test Conditions
This is a big one, and it goes back to not using your phone. Do this test under real test conditions. Don’t bring anything into the practice room that you can’t use in a real test (like your phone). Use your breaks how you’d really use your breaks. Don’t get up in the middle of a section to use the restroom, wait until a break. Don’t listen to music in your 15 minutes or make a phone call. Stretch, walk around, or get a drink. You want your brain to know what a real test feels like, so give it as close to the real thing as you can.
I recommend doing at least 3 fully timed practice tests before the big day. After my first month of prep I started doing all of my practice sections as model tests. This meant that sitting in a 3 hour exam didn’t bother me when it came time to take the real thing, it was normal.
Obviously, it requires making a real chunk of time every week. I set aside Friday afternoons to do my tests every week because I didn’t have to deal with homework, and my house was likely to be quiet. You might want to try doing practice tests in the morning if you’re a night-owl to get your brain used to functioning at that hour.
This was something I didn’t figure out until the end of my test prep.
Do not correct your test right away. Walk away, take a nap, eat dinner, and do it in the morning.
I often fell into the, “Oh wait, no, I was between those answers, I’ll count this one as right” trap when I was correcting my tests. If I waited a day to correct the test, I didn’t have that issue because I didn’t remember.
A practice test is draining, no matter how used to them you are. Don’t be afraid to take a break and come back to it another day.
Practice tests are an extremely useful tool for test prep. So make sure you’re utilizing your prep time to model real test conditions and take practice tests.