Written by Annie Rose Stathes, Edited by Laura Morrison - November 2013
Preparing for standardized tests can be stressful. However, there are several things you can do to make the process easier:
1. Remove distractions
2. Start preparing early
3. Test your knowledge
4. Take frequent breaks
5. Keep yourself motivated
First, stay focused. Turn off your phone; log out of email, Facebook, and other forms of social media; turn off your TV and stereo; and devote your full attention to studying. If you have a hard time focusing and need an occasional distraction, study in small increments. You might want to try studying in 15, 30, or 45 minute increments and then allow yourself time to take a mental break – take 5 minutes to check Facebook, or go outside for a short walk to clear your mind. Or, if you can focus for longer periods of time, you may want to plan to study for 1, 2, or 3 hours and then allow yourself longer break. No matter how long your attention span, allow yourself increments of uninterrupted study time during which you focus on nothing but the material in front of you.
Second, study and prepare for you exam over time and schedule periodic study sessions well before the date of your test. Begin by considering the date of the standardized test, identifying how many subjects you need to study, and figuring out how often you need to study and for how long each time. Then, create a study schedule and stick to it. Don’t procrastinate and crash-study right before the test; allow yourself enough time to study the material over time and in reasonable increments.
Third, test your knowledge. Take practice tests and exams to see how much you know and don’t know. Measure your progress by taking frequent practice tests. Testing your knowledge will allow you to recognize what you need to study most, how much time you need to devote to each subject, and how prepared you are for the actual test. Practice tests are also a good way to work on your timing which may help ensure you are able to complete the full test on test day.
Fourth, study in cycles and take frequent breaks. Try not to study for 8 hours on a Sunday and then take 5 days off. Instead, study every day for an hour or every other day for 2 hours. If you decide to spend more than 2 or 3 hours studying in a day, take frequent breaks and stretch, exercise, talk to friends, or do something else to recharge your mind and body. Studying becomes less efficient when the mind is tired and the body cramped. Studying in cycles and taking frequent breaks will ensure you get the most out of your study sessions.
Fifth, get motivated. Let’s face it—taking a standardized test is almost never motivating in and of itself. Therefore, it is important to remind yourself why you’re taking the standardized test in the first place. Prior to studying for your standardized test, make a list of all of the reasons for doing so. Start by asking yourself the following questions:
What program do I hope to enter by taking this standardized test?
Why do I want to enter the program? What benefit will I derive from it?
What do I hope to achieve through this program? What are my academic and personal goals connected to the program?
What do I hope to do after I graduate from the program with a degree?
What wonderful opportunities may be brought into my life by earning this degree?
Keep the answers to these questions in a notebook or on an inspiration board. Then, when you’re feeling discouraged, unmotivated, or tempted to stop studying, you have a handy reminder of why you’re studying in the first place.
About the Author: Annie Rose Stathes holds a B.A. in International Affairs and an M.A. in Political Science from the University of Colorado, Denver. She is currently an instructor of writing at Fort Lewis College in Durango Colorado.
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