Practice tests are critical to any successful test preparation program. Taking practice tests can provide real-time snapshots of your progress and areas for improvement, help you identify potential problems (such as test anxiety or stamina issues) early on, and give you multiple opportunities to experiment with and practice strategies.
You should take practice tests regularly with enough time in between to review and master new concepts. If you have a tutor, they will set the pace for you, but, in general, you should plan to take practice tests once every few weeks but no more than once every two weeks. Too many practice tests can lead to burnout and don’t give you enough time to learn from your mistakes or master new skills.
Keep these tips in mind when taking practice tests.
- Practice how you play because you will play how you practice. Practice tests are most effective if you treat them as seriously as you would the real test. If you wouldn’t stay up until 2 AM the night before test day, you shouldn’t do so the night before your practice test, either. Make sure you are taking your practice test seriously and not just slacking off because it’s only practice.
- Stick to the right schedule. If possible, start your practice test as close to the time that you would take your real test. For example, the ACT and SAT tests usually start around 9 AM, so you should start your practice test around that time to ensure that your level of alertness is the same as it will be on the official test. Don’t start your practice test after an exhausting day or late at night. Also, follow the testing timetable that you will have on test day, including breaks. You may find it helpful to ask someone at home to proctor you. If you are timing yourself, you should have a watch or clock nearby, ideally not your cell phone.
- Limit distractions. Take the test in a comfortable environment with minimal distractions. Avoid areas with lots of traffic, such as the kitchen. If there is nowhere in your home where you can get peace and quiet, consider reserving a room at a public library. Also remember to silence notifications on your phone and computer.
- Prepare your tools. Use the approved tools that you’ll need on test day. For example, use the calculator you’re going to use on test day. Don’t use pens if they’re not allowed. If you’re taking a test on the computer, your computer should be plugged into an outlet. If you’re taking a paper-based test, print out all of your materials beforehand.
- Reflect on your experience. Practice tests can reveal much more than just your score. When you finish your practice test, reflect on the overall experience while it is still fresh on your mind. You may find it helpful to write down not only your pain points but also any small victories. For example, note when you started feeling tired or when you felt confident applying a new strategy. Share your reflection with your tutor, if you have one, to further build on your strengths and workshop solutions. Then, before you know it, it will be time for your next practice test!
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