The best way to prepare for a standardized test is to give yourself lots of time. You should register for your test as far in advance as possible, in order to give yourself the maximum amount of preparation time. Before you take the test, find out the details such as subject matter, time limits, permitted tools (i.e., calculators, dictionaries), and create a detailed study plan.
Know your test. In order to best prepare for your test, you must be familiar with what information it covers, the style of the questions, how it is graded and how the test is administered (paper-based or computer-based). Know how many sections it involves, time limits and how many times and how often you can retake the test. Without this basic information, you cannot prepare for your test. Take notes on all this information and save it in a text document as "Test Preparation Information" or keep it in a three-ring notebook labeled "Test Preparation Material." All of this information is available on standardized tests' websites and the test registration materials. Do an online search for standardized tests like the ACT, MCAT, LSAT and others. You can find all kinds of free preparation materials, personal testimonies, and forums where other test takers discuss their tactics. Take note of any websites or materials and add them to a resources section in your notebook or text document.
Create a study plan. Make an outline of the various subjects which will be on the test. Go to a local or online bookstore or even your local public library and check out the wide variety of guide books and computer programs for your test. Use these books as a framework for your study plan. Plan to study a different test section or area each day. In addition to a general guide book or computer program, buy or borrow a book of practice tests. These tests are similar to the actual exam and include correct answers and explanations for further clarification. After a few weeks of study, take and review a test, once a week.
Take a practice exam. Some practice tests are available online, and most guide books and programs include practice tests. The easiest option may be a CD with practice tests. These programs usually score your exam for you, and some even have the option of going back through your test with explanations. If your standardized test is computer-based, practicing on your computer is a great way to get prepared. Some standardized tests like the ACT have free online resources. Once you have your practice exam score, mark up the test areas in your test document according to priority. You must dedicate more time and effort to your lowest scored areas. Mark them as priority with a star system in your outline of test sections. Lower scores are highest priority and recieve a maximum of four stars. Higher scored sections receive fewer stars. Review stronger areas, but to a lesser degree than weaker areas.
Refine your study plan. Spend more time on your weak areas but do not totally neglect other areas. Use a timer to monitor your time use. If your study plan calls for 20 minutes of math and 10 minutes of English, use a timer to make sure you stay on schedule. Be realistic about how much time you can spend on test preparation. Make sure to vary your test preparation. Alternate between practice tests, different materials, computer, online, and paper-based preparation. Meet occasionally with another student or group of students who are also preparing for the test. They may be able to help you.
Devise strategies. Dedicate some of your time to studying the question types and tactics for eliminating answers and choosing the best answers. Buy or borrow a strategy guide for your exam. Add a section to your study outline for "Test Preparation" called "Strategy." Spend at least a half an hour each week studying strategy. If you have a hard time structuring your study time or understanding the material, seek out professional help in the form of a tutor, teacher or test preparation class. If you enroll in a class, don't forget to study on your own time as well.
Practice good study habits. Set aside a specific time to study daily, or as often as you can manage, once a week minimum. As the testing time nears, study more often, but don't cram. Be sure to study in a space that is comfortable, and quiet, where distractions are at a minimum. Study in a place with good light, at a time when you are awake, aware, and ready to learn. Turn off your phone, the television, and other electronic devices that interrupt your concentration. Avoid studying when you are ill, sleepy, jet-lagged or otherwise impaired because of physical or emotional circumstances.
Learn from your mistakes. After your first few weeks of study, take a practice test once a week or every other week and keep track of improvements and repeat errors. Circle words and concepts you didn't understand. Look up these words and concepts and keep them in your "Test Preparation" document or notebook for future reference and review. For the first two or three tests ignore time limits and focus on answering all questions. On later practice exams obey time limits.
Prepare the night before. Go to bed early and get at least eight hours of sleep. Double check forms of ID required, what you can and cannot bring to the testing site, and how early the site opens. Set your alarm and get up early enough on test day. Arrive at least 15 minutes ahead of time. Don't forget to consider possible delays because of traffic, or problems with public transportation. Eat breakfast and drink plenty of water. Dress in comfortable clothes. Make sure to bring the required forms of identification and test supplies. Without the correct photo ID, you will not be allowed to take your exam. Don't bring items that aren't needed for the test.
- Register for your standardized test as far ahead of time as permitted, and use your preparation time wisely.
- Meet with a study group once a week or month to discuss any questions or doubts about the test.
- Enroll in a test-preparation course if available.
- Standardized tests are expensive. If you don't take preparation seriously, you may have to repeat the same exam. Some exams limit the number of times in a set time period you can take the test and many exams send out your entire test score history when they send your scores to employers and educational institutions.
Based in Barcelona, Spain, Chris Ciolli has been writing professionally since 2003. Ciolli's work has been featured in "The Tipton Times," "The Joplin Independent" and LaVanguardia.es. She received Bright Flight and Curator's scholarships in 2001 and was a Fulbright finalist in 2005. Ciolli holds a dual bachelor's degree in communications and Spanish with a minor in English from the University of Missouri-Columbia.