When people say, “Practice makes perfect,” they don’t always clarify what kind of practice they imagine as the gateway to error-free execution. Neither do coaches who asset, “You play like you practice,” though they clearly aren’t talking about sloppy, inconsistent, unfocused practice. Deliberate practice–the kind that gets results–depends on careful attention to detail in order to simulate real challenges and competition. As someone who personally proctors 50 or more practice SAT & ACT exams a year, I strongly believe in the powerful benefits of practice testing under simulated test conditions. But test takers looking to make the most of a practice session should do more than just show up. Instead, make the most of a valuable opportunity by paying attention to the critical details:
1. Get a good night’s sleep and show up fully awake.
So much of performance depends on focus and energy. Most teens are wired to stay up late, but high stakes standardized exams are usually administered in the morning. Something has to give, and you can bet that it won’t be the test! Arrive at a practice test the way you need to arrive at a real test: rested and ready.
2. Manage your energy with the right fuel.
Peak performance on undesirable tasks (which definitely describes testing for most teens) requires willpower. Willpower requires fuel, specifically proper amounts of performance nutrition. Always eat a healthy breakfast before a practice test, and be sure to bring high-quality snacks like water, fruit, and protein. Skip the coffee, though, as both an excess and a drop in caffeine levels can kill focus.
3. Get there on time.
On test day, late arrivals are turned away at the door. We don’t treat tardy test takers quite so harshly at our practice exams, but maybe we should. After all, arriving late not only messes up the first section of a test but also sets a bad tone for the rest of the experience. Strive to arrive 10-15 minutes before the start time. That length of time allows for an unhurried opportunity to settle in and get ready for a strong start.
4. Pack everything you need the night before.
Another error that might ruin a real SAT or ACT is the failure to provide an admission ticket and acceptable photo ID. Practice tests don’t stand on that level of ceremony, but other items besides the aforementioned water and snacks carry equal importance. Don’t forget essentials like a calculator, watch, and proper attire. Smart practice testers bring their own official tests, usually out of The Official ACT Prep Guide or The Official SAT Study Guide. Retaking an exam you’ve already taken may not be a complete waste of time, but it probably won’t have a big impact on improvement either.
5. Make every minute count.
Positioning yourself for a perfect practice test is only half the battle: you still have to take the test with as much focus, commitment, effort, and energy as you can muster. Treat each test question as an opportunity to internalize strategies, strengthen content recall, and develop insight and good judgment. Also, proctored practice exams provide the ideal setting to work on issues like pacing and time management. Begin ready to win, and play to the final whistle.
Taking practice tests might not be the only steps necessary for a teen’s peak performance on the SAT or ACT, but nobody earns their very best scores without this kind of practice. Carving out the four-hour block required for a full practice exam isn’t easy. Then again, nothing about excelling on these tests is easy. But setting aside that time and then making it count paves the way to real improvement and maximum success!