How NOT to Take a Practice Test

prepmatters-vd-r04 prepmatters-vd-r04

Practice testing is a key part of the process of preparing for a standardized test. Students get the opportunity to try answering former or approximate test questions in a simulated testing environment. The feedback students generate when testing, as well as the stamina they build, are instrumental in helping them reach their ultimate score goals. As such, there are steps that students should take when preparing for or taking a practice test. Of course, there are also practices that are best to avoid when taking a practice test. Here is a brief list of behaviors to avoid when trying to get the most out of your diagnostic experience.

How Not To Take A Practice Test


It is estimated that the human brain takes about 90 minutes to reach optimal operating levels from a sleep state. We don’t want to try following a narrative about a summer in the forest or the migrating habits of beetles with our eyes half shut. Let’s plan to get up early enough to have plenty of time to clear out the half-formed thoughts.


Although it is not as obvious as before an overtly physical or athletic event, we need to make sure we are properly fueled before testing. Taking a multi-hour exam is a physiological challenge. Yes, your brain is doing 80% of the work. However, our brains are part of our bodies, and the adrenaline, dopamine, and cortisol that will be flowing through our bodies will require calories to properly allocate. Have your normal breakfast, and where appropriate, bring snacks to the test center. You will be thanking yourself after the first break when you have to return to your seat and perform. 

Dressed to…Hang Out? 

We don’t want to roll into the test center in our pajamas and sporting our own brand of bed head. Our brains and our bodies are connected, and it is crucial to remember that information flows both ways. What type of signal are we sending ourselves if we’re dressed like we’re going to a slumber party? You don’t need to dress like you’re going to the prom or to a job interview, but shower and put on clothes that communicate ‘I am here to get something done.’ You’ll be surprised how well your brain responds to those cues. We should still be comfortable, just not as relaxed as we would be at home.

Going in Cold, Part I

As of 2018, testing for the college entrance exams happens all year long. This means that you may be testing when there is snow on the ground or when the holidays are a distant memory. Additionally, there is no way of knowing if your test center will be ready for the warmer weather or still pumping out heat for a late winter morning. Therefore, it is prudent to dress in layers: sweaters that zip up or sleeves that can roll up or down. That way, you are prepared, no matter what the inside and outside temperatures may be.

On The Lam

Earlier, we mentioned waking up on time. It is equally important to know the route to your test center. Most of the time, this will be no problem. You’ll be testing at your school or tutoring location. However, we want to allow ourselves plenty of time to get through any traffic, unexpected weekend construction (Hello, DC!), or parking or drop-off delays. Running into your test as if you were trying to make the last transport from the rebel base is a sure way to have a subpar first section and greatly reduce the chances you’ll do your best on your practice test.

Going in Cold, Part II

The purpose of a practice test is to assess how well your tutor has communicated information to you and how well you are able to apply what you have been learning and practicing. It is not necessary to know how to do each possible question perfectly, especially on your early tests. However, the value of the test increases dramatically if we know just a few basics before we test. What sections are on the test? How long is each section? Is it better to guess or leave a question blank? Can I write on the test? Are the questions weighted equally? Having just a few facts straight ahead of time will give you a surprising level of confidence as you make your way through the test. 


A key feature of standardized tests is that they are designed to measure and sort you, not teach you. What this means is that we can’t approach the tests with the same level of familiarity that we do Mr. Kasenow’s English exam or Ms. Friedman’s trig midterm. We need to give the tests our full focus. They are trying to test us, and, at times, trip us up if we aren’t paying close enough attention. This means that it is not a good idea to sit near those friends who will try to talk to us between (or during!) every section. Of course, we will want to turn our phones completely off while testing: no vibrating, no audio notifications whatsoever. In an emergency, your parent will reach the center. 

This list isn’t comprehensive. In short, you’ll want to avoid any behavior that is not likely to be acceptable on testing day, including unscheduled breaks, checking the answers to verify, and working after the proctor says to stop. The more you can make the test as realistic as possible, the better prepared you’ll be on test day.

We know that taking a 2, 3, or 4 hour test is not the ideal way to spend one of your weekend days. That being said, if your goal is to perform better on an official standardized test, why not make the most of the time you’re giving to the process? In the end, this may actually shorten the number of weekends you’ll ultimately sacrifice to the testing gods. Good luck and have a great test!