Master Standardized Tests

The months preceding college or grad school might sometimes seem like they're filled with one test after another: PSAT, ACT, SAT, GRE...

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

Learn the structure and directions for the test ahead of time

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.

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.

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, 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

Write out a pacing schedule in your test booklet if you need to.

If you have to write an essay, remember that it's quality, not quantity, that counts

A simple 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.


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