8 Tips to Help You Pass a Standardized Test

Taking a standardized test isn’t exactly what most would consider fun. Whether you’re a high school senior preparing to take the SAT, a college senior who’s thinking about continuing your education into graduate school, or an adult learner looking to demonstrate your proficiency in a topic, testing can be stressful.

standardized test taker, VFS Digital Design

Photo by VFS Digital Design.

There’s no secret formula or magic to passing a standardized test. Just take a deep breath, read through our test prep advice, and rest easy knowing that you’re doing everything you can to make sure you do well – starting with reading these testing tips!

  1. Start studying. Good study habits and studying consistently – say, for an hour a day over the course of several weeks – is much more effective than cramming for a test the night before.
  2. Related to that – get a good night’s sleep! Studies like the one conducted by researchers at UCLA have shown that the lost sleep from your cram session the night before does more harm than whatever benefit you’ll get from studying late into the night. It’s better to spread your effort out over time so that your brain will have more time to absorb the information and you’ll show up to the test refreshed and positioned to do your best.
  3. Mix up your study activities. Decided to get a head start on your studying? That’s great! …Now what? Should you just keep rereading the same textbook? Of course not! Change up your study activities. Read a chapter out of a textbook one night, then take a practice test on another, and watch an instructional video the following night. The more often and different ways you can expose yourself to the material, the better you’ll retain it – and the more likely you are to pass your exam.
  4. Try to understand the test from the perspective of the test writer. That's how test prep expert and founder of Stratus Prep, Shawn P. O’Connor, puts it. A content-based test – one that asks you to answer questions by providing facts, like a history exam – will require a different kind of studying than a skills-based test, like a math test or the SAT or LSAT, where you'll need to understand and demonstrate the use of a critical thinking skill (for example, by applying the correct formula or demonstrating comprehension of a complex text). 
  5. Understand how the test is scored. Are you penalized for an incorrect guess? How much time do you have to answer all of the questions? If it’s a digital test rather than one administered with pen and paper, can you go back and review your answers?
  6. Set yourself up to succeed on the day of the test. Have a good breakfast – skip the sugary cereal and go for scrambled eggs or some yogurt and granola; something with some protein and that will keep you from crashing five questions in. Show up early. Use the restroom before hand – there’s nothing worse than being distracted by a pressing need to answer nature’s call. Make sure you have whatever you need for the test – pencils, lucky talismans; whatever’s going to put you at ease and let you perform your best.
  7. Review your answers. You may have been told by teachers in the past that you should always trust your first instinct and only change an answer on a multiple-choice exam if you’re certain that you misinterpreted the questions. Recent research on the topic by researchers from University of Illinois and Stanford University and as discussed by Alex Mallory, however, has revealed that making well-reasoned changes helped students’ test scores nearly three times as often as it hurt them – 54 percent to 19 percent – even though a whopping 75 percent of students reported having assumed they would be hurting their score by changing an answer. The moral of the story: don’t be fooled by your first instinct; if more thought on a particular question leads you to a different conclusion, it’s OK to make the change.
  8. Finally, and most important, don’t panic. If you feel yourself struggling with one question, skip it and move on. You can come back to it later. If you’re getting anxious, take slow, deep breaths and remind yourself that you did your work and you’re prepared for the test. Don’t worry about the people around you and whether they already finished – smart people know they should use all of their time to double-check their work.

Now that you feel comfortable facing a standardized test, why not try applying these testing tips by taking a practice DSST exam? So long as you follow these 8 test prep tips, you’ll do just fine!

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