The advent of September means many things: the beginning of football season, pumpkin spiced lattes, leaves changing color and, of course, the first wave of standardized test dates. For seniors, these coming dates signify their last chance(s) to squeeze in these tests or improve their scores before application deadlines begin hitting. For juniors (and perhaps an ambitious/anxious sophomore), it’s the start of a year filled with number 2 pencils, scratch paper and interminable test booklets. To help ease the anxiety these exams often conjure, we figured we would offer you some test taking tips (you’re welcome).
Get a good night of sleep. A classic piece of advice perhaps but it still should be stated nevertheless. A good night’s sleep will allow you to wake up feeling refreshed, invigorated and focused. Additionally, clocking in at just around four hours, these tests are a bit of a marathon. You’ll need energy to get yourself through. Plus, if you walk into the test site groggy, you’re likely to make careless mistakes.
Don’t spend the evening before furiously cramming. Logging hours of study and test prep is a good thing. However, we advise against cramming the night before the big exam. You’re more likely to work yourself into a ball of stress and anxiety than actually have a productive study session. Instead, put the books away, kick back and try to relax. Trust that all the hard work you (presumably) put forth before this evening was enough.
Make sure you arrive early. Leave yourself plenty of time to get to the test center. You don’t need to increase your anxiety tenfold by having to race to the site and franticly search for parking. After all, it’s best not to get your pulse racing even before you take your seat. Arriving early will give you time to adjust to your surroundings, take a few deep breaths, use the bathroom (very important!) and get yourself mentally prepared to kick butt!
Don’t linger on a question. Don’t forget – these are timed tests. You don’t want to get tripped up or distracted by a single question. If you’re having difficulty discerning an answer, move on to the next question. If time permits, you can always revisit the question.
Keep your eye on the clock. As we just mentioned above, these are timed tests. While it certainly doesn’t behoove you to be a clock-watcher, you should be aware of both the time allotted and when you begin a particular section. This will allow you to pace yourself accordingly and hopefully ensure you get through each section in its entirety.
Make educated guesses. As you might already be aware, the SATs penalize you for incorrect answers. Therefore, if you have absolutely no clue how to answer a question, it’s best to leave the question blank. However, if you can confidently eliminate at least one or two of the available choices, it is in your best interest to guess. With regards to the ACTs, there is no penalty for guessing. Therefore, you should never leave an answer blank.
Don’t try and simply race through the test. There is no prize awarded to the person who finishes a section and/or test first. Colleges won’t see the speed with which you tore through the booklet. In fact, rushing through the test could very easily lead to misread passages or directions and careless errors (like filling out the wrong answer grid). Instead, we recommend you take your time. While there’s no need to labor over a question (and as we said before that can also prove detrimental), allow yourself the opportunity to fully consider each question, even if you think you instantly know the correct answer.
Don’t try and sniff out the experimental questions. Both the SATs and ACTs plant experimental sections and/or questions somewhere within the tests. These are questions that might potentially be used for future tests. However, they are designed to remain well hidden. Indeed, you will never know if the question you just answered is part of your actual test or an experimental test question. And to that end, you should attempt to answer everything to the best of your ability.
Relax. We saved the most important piece of advice for last. We realize it’s easier said than done of course. But if you can manage to relax, you’ll do yourself a world of good. If you’re able to remain calm, you’ll be able to remain focused. Try not to put so much pressure on yourself. Even though this might feel like the most important test of the century (aside from your driving test of course), it’s still only one test. It’s important to keep that in perspective. It’s only one test. It will not define who you are and it will not define or color your entire future. So just walk confidently into the classroom, take a deep breath and give it your best shot. Ultimately, that’s all anyone can do.