3 Steps to Maximize Your Practice Tests

If you’re taking the SAT, ACT, GRE, or another standardized test, practice tests are an extremely helpful way to get ready for the actual test day. Practice tests help you become more familiar with the test format, question types, time allotted, and so on. But they are only as effective as you make them out to be! Here are a few ways you can maximize your practice tests.

1. Plan a schedule

Map out how you’re going to study leading up to the actual test, including and beyond practice tests. It’s a great idea to set your test date first so you can work backwards from there. Six weeks of study is common, but you may want to study more or less depending on your study habits, personality, and amount of content on the test at hand. Then, you’ll want to plan out when to take your practice tests. When you first start out, you may not want to take a full practice test in one sitting. Try a few sections or half of the test to build your stamina. Then, later, plan on taking a whole practice test on a free morning or afternoon. Because they may last up to two or three hours, blocking out a weekend morning works great, as you will have relaxed and rested up.

2. Mimic test center conditions

Practice tests are most useful when you are able to simulate the actual test day experience. This will help prepare your mind and body for the real test day. Specifically, follow the time guidelines and don’t give yourself more or less time than allotted; you’ll get a sense of how you work under a certain time pressure. It can be tempting to snack during a practice test, but hold off until the mid-test break that would be scheduled during the real exam, and be sure to eat a good breakfast beforehand (as you also should on test day!). Finally, arrange your environment so that it’s quiet and orderly: clear a table or desk space, put away all distracting screens, and let any family members know you’ll be out of touch for a few hours. If desired, you could even go to your local library to take the test, as some libraries have designated quiet rooms that are great for this purpose.

3. Review your answers

After finishing a practice test, you’ll probably—and deservedly—feel spent. But it’s still important that you take the time right away to go over skipped or wrong answers, and try to figure out why they ended up that way. Reviewing answers is a great way to figure out what you did wrong, which will ultimately help solidify the correct logic in your mind. If you feel too tired to carefully review everything immediately after the practice test, don’t force yourself to keep going. Instead, mark the questions you’d like to go over later and then spend the adequate time with them the following day or day after. Don’t wait too long to do this, however, as it’ll be most effective when the test is still fresh in your mind.

Test prep is like working on any new skill toward a goal. You’ll want to give it the appropriate amount of attention required, make the effort to go the extra mile, and ensure you have practiced to your best potential. The above steps can help you maximize your practice tests and ultimately assist you in reaching those test day goals. (If you’re preparing for the SAT or ACT, consider going through some additional lessons and practice problems in the Varsity Tutors SAT Prep Book and ACT Prep Book)!