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Test Prep Strategies for Standardized Tests

By Peterson's Staff updated on Thursday, April 17, 2014

The months preceding college might sometimes seem like they're filled with one test after another…PSAT, ACT, SAT…

The subject matter might be different for each of them, but there are some general test prep strategies that can help you conquer any one of them.

Learn the structure and directions for the test ahead of time

Use your test preparation time to become familiar with the test. You can save yourself a few seconds on each part of the test by doing this. That may not seem like much, but if you only have 35 seconds to answer a question, those few seconds could mean the difference between scratching your head and earning another point towards a higher score. You can become familiar with the test by using free practice tests like those for the SAT, ACT, and PSAT available here at Peterson's.

Mark your answer sheet carefully

Blacken ovals completely; erase answers completely. If you skip a question, put a check next to it in your answer booklet — NOT your answer sheet because marks on there might confuse the automated machine scoring. The check mark will help you find the question easily if you have time to come back to it.

Use your test booklet for scratch paper

You may not be able to bring scratch paper, but you can mark all over your test booklet if you need to try out an idea or work out a problem. The answers on the answer sheet are the only answers that count, so scribble in your booklet to your heart's content if it helps you get through the test. Be sure to use scratch paper during your test prep as well; that can help you get used to working out problems on paper instead of in your head.

Take an educated guess

If an answer doesn't come to mind immediately but you do know something about the content of the question, eliminate one or two answer choices you know probably aren't right. While it's true that on some tests, like the SAT and PSAT, wrong answers can result in quarter-point deductions, you would have to miss four questions to lose a full point. Just one correct answer gets you a full point.

Pace yourself

As part of your test preparation, set up a pacing schedule so you'll know how much time to spend on each question. Write out the schedule in your test booklet if you need to.

For an essay, it's quality, not quantity, which counts

A simple test prep strategy is to devise a five-paragraph essay — an introduction that sets up your idea, three body paragraphs to support it, and a concluding paragraph that sums it all up.

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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