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Last-Minute Test Prep Tips

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

No matter whether you're taking the SAT, ACT, PSAT, or another exam, there are certain things you can do in the days before to ensure a successful experience. It makes sense to review what you've learned, but eating well, sleeping, and taking time to relax go a long way, too.

Test prep involves taking care of yourself

In order for your brain to function at its best on test day, there are things you can do to help your body get the test preparation it needs.

Sleep
It is important to be well rested. Make sure to get a good night's sleep in the few days before the test.

If you don't sleep well the night before the test, don't worry about it! It is more important to sleep well two and three nights before. You should still have the energy you need to perform at your best.

Diet
Don't change your diet right before the test. Now's not the time to try new foods, even if they are healthier. You don't want to find out on test morning that yesterday's energy bar didn't go down well.

In the few weeks before the test, try to work a light, healthy breakfast into your daily routine. If you already eat breakfast, good for you — don't change a thing.

Stress can negatively affect test prep

Being too stressed about the exam can negatively impact your performance. Part of your test preparation should include getting mentally and emotionally ready.

Be aware of whatever anxiety you're feeling
The first thing to remember is that this is a natural phenomenon; your body is conditioned to raise the alarm whenever something important is about to happen. However, because you are aware of what your body and mind are doing, you can compensate for it.

Relax
Spend some time each day relaxing. Try to let go of all the pressures that build up during your average day.

Visualize a successful experience
You already know what to expect on test day: when you'll get each test section, how many questions there are, how much time you'll have, etc. You also know where you are strong and where you are weak. Picture yourself confidently answering questions correctly, and smoothly moving past trouble spots - you can come back to those questions later.

Talk about it
Find a family member or trusted friend with whom you can talk about the things that stress you out about the test. When this person tells you that everything is going to be OK, believe it!

Test prep for test content

You'll also need to be prepared for the types of content you'll see on the exam. This often includes familiarizing yourself with question types, reviewing subjects, and answering practice questions.

Verbal questions
Verbal or reading comprehension questions appear on many exams, including the SAT, ACT, and PSAT.

For passage-based questions, first work on detail questions that you can easily locate the answer to. Then move on to inference questions, questions that ask what the author intended, and main idea questions.

If a question involves a tough vocabulary word, use the surrounding clues in the text to determine what it means.

Writing questions
Not all exams contain an essay question, but there are many that do. Remember that a few spelling or grammar mistakes are tolerable, but you want to try to eliminate as many of those as you can. Try to vary your sentence length and word choice.

Before you begin to write, spend a few minutes brainstorming ideas and outlining the argument you want to make. Planning will help you to write a well-organized and cohesive essay.

Practice and review
Whatever you do, don't cram for the test! It is a bad test preparation strategy because you aren't going to remember most of what you "learn" while cramming, and the odds are slim that the few things it will help you to remember will happen to be on the test. Save the energy you would have used to cram for test day.

In the few days before the test, do a review of the skills and concepts in which you are strong. Be confident as you review everything that you know — and remember that confident feeling as you take the test.

There are plenty of free resources, like practice tests, available out there. Be sure to use those resources to practice and review well in advance of the test, as well as to remind yourself in the time closer to your actual test date. The free practice tests for the SAT, ACT, and PSAT available here at Peterson's are perfect for this purpose.

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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