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As a student you’ve probably been taught not to walk into an exam room without prior preparation. From flashcards, to course videos, an array of study tools are available to you that may seem more appealing than buckling down and taking a practice test. While those options may help to deepen your understanding of the material, your test preparation will be left incomplete if you make the mistake of skipping the practice tests.

“I like to think of preparing for exams in a similar way as training for a marathon. You wouldn’t go out and run a race without first completing some practice runs,” says Elizabeth Barry, Director of Marketing at Peterson’s. To help you cross the finish line on test day, we spoke with Barry to understand why practice tests are your best bet when preparing for a standardized exam. 

Practice tests assess how well you know the content.

“Taking a practice test gives you a baseline for understanding where you’re starting from. You can use that as the basis for planning the rest of your studying,” says Barry. 

Factor in time for several practice tests throughout the duration of your study process. On average, Peterson’s recommends students start preparing for an exam at least six weeks in advance. Barry suggests using a multi-step approach when utilizing the practice tests that come with Petersons.com test prep subscriptions.

“For many of our exams, we have a series of three practice tests. I recommend taking the first one in a simulated environment to see how you perform. Based on those results, you can create a study plan and brush up on the areas in which you need help. This may include watching videos,  practicing with flashcards, or re-reading your reference material. The second test is good to use as a question bank for content study purposes, where you can tackle questions without timeline parameters and get used to different question types.The final test I would take in the confines of what would be the official test environment to see if you’re ready for test day.”

So to recap the multi-step approach:

  • Take first practice test to establish a starting point
  • Use second practice test as question bank for content studying
  • Measure your improvements with the third practice test

Looking for more study tips? Check out this blog post on the 6 Best College Study Habits.

Practice tests can help ease test anxiety.

Knowing what to expect on an exam can help boost your confidence and keep you calm come test day. 

“Many of us get nervous when we don’t know what is coming or what might happen. Taking a practice test can help alleviate some anxiety because it helps a student understand what they will face on test day.”

As Barry mentioned previously, try to stimulate your test day routine and testing environment when taking practice tests.  

“Students should try to mimic the test day as much as possible. Take the test in the modality in which it’s given. If taking a paper and pencil test, take the practice test the same way. I also recommend taking the practice test at the same time of day as when the student will be taking the test.”

And remember, just because you have access to more tools at home doesn’t mean you should use them.

“Make sure you have practiced on the resources you will have available to you on that day. If you can’t have a calculator during the test, you shouldn’t practice with a calculator.”

Practice tests help increase your mental stamina.

Don’t risk running out of steam on test day due to lack of preparation. Know what to expect in terms of the format and length of an exam. 

“Practice tests give you a good understanding of your endurance. For example, after you finished were you totally exhausted? In this day and age there’s not much that we need to sit still for, so I think practice tests give you a baseline understanding of how long you’re going to be focused for and if you’re going to need to practice that as well.”

Barry also reminded us that students can work their way up to taking a full exam.

“If it’s difficult to take a full practice test on day one then start with just one section. Then the next time you’re ready to study, do two sections and so on.” 

Practice tests help ease anxiety and bridge the gaps in course content. While they may seem intimidating at first, remember you have the option of completing the practice test in sections or retaking it entirely when studying. So the next time you find yourself preparing for a big exam, remember to use all the resources available to you, especially the practice tests.