Tips for Taking Standardized Tests
Although there’s no magic formula to ace the SATs, ACTs and other standardized tests, there are tried-and-true tips that can help you increase your chances of scoring well. Here are some of the best.
- Don’t cram. Space out your studying so you’ll absorb more and decrease your anxiety about being unprepared.
- Get practice tests. Both the SATs (www.collegeboard.org) and the ACTs (www.act.org) offer practice tests.
- Get a test-prep app. Apps range from free to $24.99 for a lifetime premium membership.
- Take a nap right after you study. A study from Saarland University in Germany found that a 45-minute power nap can boost your memory five-fold.
In The 24 Hours Before The Test
- Get plenty of sleep. Although naps are great, a good night’s sleep is better. Lack of sleep can make your brain seem foggy, and trying to make up for a lack of sleep by pounding a few energy drinks can do more harm than good.
- Eat brain food for dinner. Nutritionists recommend whole grains, veggies and fish the night before an exam to enhance memory and improve concentration.
- Eat a balanced breakfast. Choose healthy protein, such as eggs, peanut butter, nuts or lean turkey, with a small serving of carbohydrates.
- Practice meditation. Calming the mind has been used to decrease anxiety and increase focus since ancient times. Take a few moments to do some deep breathing and picture yourself doing well on the test.
- Pack your admission ticket, an accepted photo ID, two No. 2 pencils with good erasers, an approved calculator, and snacks and water to refuel during your break.
- Arrive early. Showing up at the last second will only add to your stress.
- Wear comfortable layered clothes and a watch. Don’t forget to turn off the alarm!
- Go to the bathroom. It’s hard to concentrate with a full bladder.
During The Test
- Scan through all the questions, and answer the easiest ones first. If you spend 10 minutes on one really difficult question, you’re borrowing time from the other questions.
- Budget your time. Review the number of questions for each section, and determine how much time you’ll have for each.
- Narrow down your choices. There’s not a penalty for guessing on the ACT or SAT, so try to narrow your answer down by disqualifying two possibilities. Fifty-fifty is good odds.
- Don’t look for patterns. It’s completely realistic for a test to have four B’s in a row as the correct answer.
- Stay in the (correct) bubble. Fully color in your answer bubble, and ensure your answer’s bubble matches up with the corresponding question. It’s easy to get off track simply by skipping a question with the intention to come back later.
- Review your work. If you have any time left, use it to go back over your answers. Don’t worry about other test takers who have already finished. It’s only a race against the clock.