Should I Prepare for My Standardized Admissions Test?
If getting a good score matters, the answer is usually yes. While your investment of time, effort and money may vary depending on a variety of factors, if you want to maximize your score, you should probably pay at least some attention to test preparation for admissions tests like the LSAT, MCAT, GRE and similar exams.*
Test preparation has several important benefits. First, preparation can help you to perform "up to par." Familarity with test format and procedures can help you to reduce test anxiety, and avoid errors that may lower your score. Second, preparation may also boost you score. If you are already familiar with the test, you can spend your time to answering questions rather than figuring out the test format and rules. And the tips and strategies you learn while preparing can further raise your score.
That said, there may be cases where maximizing your score is not particularly important--for example, if you know you will be admitted to a program, and you just need to obtain a score to satisfy admissions requirements. In these cases, preparation may not be a good use of your time.
To determine your preparation strategy, it is usually useful to know how test scores will be used by the academic program(s) that you will be applying to or dealing with. This information can be obtained from the individual academic programs.
* Recommendations for education tests (FCAT, Teacher Certification) may differ.
This page provides a general overview of test preparation, with links to resources and information for a variety of widely-used tests. For more information on any specific test, click on the link in the box to the left, or click the appropriate tab category directly above this box.
Approaches to Preparation
If you decide to prepare for your test (See the box to the left, "Should I Prepare?") there are several basic approaches that you may want to consider, alone or in combination.Your choice will typically depend on the strength of the score you are shooting for, and the time and money you are willing to spend preparing.
The simplest and cheapest approach is to do your own preparation. Self-guided study typically involves obtaining books, CD's and other materials, and then working through them on your own or with others.
This has several advantages. It is usually the least expensive option (free if you can use materials distributed by the test organization, or from the library) and you can work at your own pace, following the lessons in the workbooks. The disadvantage is that it can take more motivation to work on your own, and you will probably have limited help and guidance. But if you are willing to put in the time and effort, self-preparation can be highly effective.
Test Preparation Courses
You could also consider taking a test preparation course. These courses are offered by a variety of commercial companies. For the GRE, short courses and reviews are offered by the University of Florida Teaching Center. To find a course, you can check the links on the Test Preparation Resources page.
Courses are usually taught either in-person or online.
Finally, you could consider hiring a tutor. Many commercial companies offer tutors, and a number of private tutors are also available. To locate a tutor, you can check the links on the Test Preparation Resources page, or else use a search engine to find what's available on the internet.
While standardized admission tests vary in some of their particulars, the general approach to test preparation is similar. Generally speaking, you should have some idea of the format of the test, including general test content and question types, and the rules that will be used to adminster the test. It also help to learn some tips and strategies, and to take at least a couple of practice tests.
Rules of Test Administration
This means the rules that govern actually taking the test. For example,it's useful to know the length of the testing periods (most tests will have multiple, timed sessions), when you will get a rest break, and what kinds of materials you are allowed to bring with you into the testing center.
The Layout of the Test
Here you should know the basic organization of the test. This includes the number and type of sections that are included, the question types, and the number of questions in each kind of section.
Tips and Strategies
For any test, there are a host of tips and strategies that can help you to maximize your score. You usually won't get these in mterials provided by the test administrator, but they are a prominent part of most commercial test preparation products.
Practice tests are an important part of almost any test preparation program. Working through a practice test helps you to become familiar and comfortable with a test, and helps you to identify areas where you may want to work on improvement.
There are two basic kinds of practice tests: genuine ones, from the test administrator (typically these are previously administered tests) and simulated tests, which are produced by commercial test preparation companies. The quality of simulated tests varies widely, so if possible, it is virtually always a good idea to use *genuine* practice tests if they are available. If genuine practice tests are not available for the exam you are taking, you should try to choose the highest quality simulated tests that you can get.