Although aptitude tests such as the SAT purport to measure a student's natural aptitude for various subjects, studying can still help to improve scores. Aptitude tests don't just measure aptitude; they also measure test-taking skills, ability to quickly solve problems and ability to synthesize the information you've learned. By preparing for college aptitude tests several months in advance, you may be able to significantly boost your scores.
Know the Test
Knowing how the test is scored is key for maximizing your score. The SAT, which is the most popular college aptitude test, penalizes students for wrong answers. A wrong answer reduces your score by a quarter point, while a blank answer neither reduces nor raises your score. On the ACT, by contrast, there's no penalty for guessing. When you take the test, start with questions you can easily answer and then, when you're finished, return to the more challenging questions.
Learn the Material
No matter how smart you are, if you don't know basic math formulas or don't have a good vocabulary, you won't do well on an aptitude test. Review test-taking books and past tests to get a feel for the type of material that's on the test. Then work on memorizing formulas and increasing your vocabulary. The SAT math section, for example, test students on basic arithmetic, algebra I and II and geometry.
Regular studying can help you get comfortable with the material and give you an idea of any areas of weakness upon which you need to improve. Many high schools offer test preparation classes; you can also enroll in an independent test prep program. If you're struggling with a particular section on the test, a private tutor can help you improve your performance.
Master Test-Taking Skills
In addition to mastering the test material, mastering test-taking skills can help you improve your performance. Focus on reading each question carefully the first time so that you don't waste time re-reading it. Cross out obviously wrong answers and, if you're still unsure, return to the question after you've completed the other questions. For algebra questions, try plugging in each potential answer to see which one fits best if you're unsure of how to solve the problem or which formula to use. On the reading comprehension section, try reading the questions first so you know which material to look for in the piece you're reading.
Take Practice Tests
Practice tests can help prepare you for the big day. Take several practice tests in the same or similar environment in which the real test will be administered. Sit in a quiet room, free of distractions, and don't take any food or drinks with you. Time each section of the test as you take it, and keep taking the test until you're able to take it without running out of time. If you take several tests, you may begin to see your practice test scores improve.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.