3 Best Ways to Prepare for Standardized University Admission Exams


Photo by Unseen Studio on Unsplash

Photo : Unseen Studio on Unsplash

Whether it's the SAT or ACT you're studying for, such tests can help get you accepted to great colleges and universities. Or perhaps you're preparing for one or more of the myriad AP exams offered, which can earn you credit when you get there. Outstanding standardized test scores can also help you qualify you for merit-based scholarships and grants. They provide a quick snapshot that allows admission officers to see how you fare among your peers.

Over a million U.S. high school students go through this process every year. If the schools you're applying to accept a variety of tests, see which format works best for you. Some students take the SAT and/or ACT a couple of times and submit their best score. 

Whatever exam you're about to take, cramming the night before isn't helpful. Stressing about it isn't a great idea either. Here are a few tips on taking the anxiety out of this rite of passage.

1. Establish a Study Schedule Early

Don't wait until you begin junior year of high school to start thinking about the university admissions tests. Depending on the classes you take in high school, it's often a good idea to start practicing from sophomore year.

Often it's not what questions are on the test, but how quickly and accurately you can answer them. Speed and accuracy can often only be improved with repetition. Starting early allows you to get solid months of practice under your belt. 

If you wanted to learn to drive or improve your backhand, you'd find someone to show you how. The same holds true for standardized test prep. Just as you'd hire a driving instructor or tennis coach, seek out online tutoring. Not only can trained teachers help you hone your skills, you'll also be held accountable. When you set a study schedule to complete worksheets or join a class, you're less likely to waste time.

Online tutors have structured syllabi that you can follow instead of hopping from one free website to another. They can conference with your parents and share progress reports so that you all stay on the same page. Online classes are convenient if transportation or bad weather is an issue. They're also helpful if you need one-on-one time with a tutor. 

2. Choose the Right Study Setting

By starting early, you can identify any areas of concern sooner and address them. You might be a whiz at math but struggle with the language portion of a standardized test, or vice versa. To bridge that gap, you'll have to pinpoint your problem areas. And to practice them, you'll need to find the right way to study. 

Some students get the most done when they study on their own. They require complete focus to get the job done. If that's the case for you, be aware that you'll need to be very disciplined. Without a friend or group to ensure accountability, it's easy to slack off and become unmotivated. 

Other students thrive in a group study setting. They enjoy the dynamics of working with others and learning from each other's successes and mistakes. If this approach appeals, be careful that group learning doesn't become distracting. The occasional joke or snack can relieve stress, but too much goofing around with friends will slow your progress. 

A buddy system is often a happy medium between solo study and a large group. However, you must choose the right one - and that may not be your best friend. You need to find someone that either studies like you or complements your strengths. They should have the same goals and discipline you do so you're not nagging one another all the time. That said, you should still remind each other to take periodic breaks and fuel up. 

3. Take Care of Yourself

Faring well on a test is not all about how many answers you know. It is also about your state of mind. An exceptionally bright student might not test well because of anxiety, lack of sleep, or dehydration. So while knowing the Pythagorean theorem is important, taking good care of yourself is also crucial. 

Junk food and sugary snacks may give you a temporary high, but you will crash soon after. Focus more on protein-rich foods that you can digest slowly. Snack on nuts and fruits instead of chips and candy. Water with electrolytes is better than soda and energy drinks, which include more harmful ingredients than you'd like to imagine.  

Working out at the gym or even a brisk stroll outside is great for your mental and physical health. It can get your mind off the test for a while and release endorphins. That can improve your mood and get you in the right frame of mind. 

Finally, ensure you get enough restful sleep - and not just on the night before the exam. Sufficient high-quality sleep on a consistent basis will improve your cognitive function and memory. So establish a sleep schedule along with your study schedule to ensure you perform your best on the big day. 

The Whole Picture

Following these three steps will help you earn better scores on standardized tests. However, remember that those scores aren't the only thing on your college application. A stellar essay, solid volunteering record, and extracurricular participation all make for a well-rounded application. And don't forget to request recommendation letters from teachers and supervisors at an internship or job. Along with good test scores, these factors can make you shine within a sea of applications.

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