Eight Essential Strategies for Succeeding on Standardized Tests

By Huntington Learning Center

Careful preparation and utilizing smart standardized test taking strategies are the first steps to ensuring a high score and success on a standardized test. It is unwise to sit for a standardized test without thorough and thoughtful preparation. This preparation should start early and continue to the testing day to ensure the highest score possible.

Some of the most effective standardized test taking strategies include:

  1. Giving yourself plenty of time to prepare Cramming for the standardized test is both foolish and ineffective. Your brain needs time to reinforce existing concepts and to connect to new learning. Expecting a few short weeks (or days) of test preparation will be enough is a common mistake made by students. Many students spend months preparing for the test and are incredibly well prepared on assessment day.
  2. Planning your preparation Careful preparation should include an established plan to ensure all subject areas are covered. You should also allow time to practice each test section because the types of questions and response formats will vary. Establish a schedule that provides plenty of time to review and practice every section and each subject area. 
  3. Practicing under testing conditions Simply answering practice questions isn’t enough. You should spend some time simulating actual testing conditions. Set aside time in a quiet setting to practice under conditions similar to what you’ll encounter on the actual testing day. You should also familiarize yourself with the directions and structure of the test during these simulation sessions. 
  4. Eliminating the unforeseen Don’t risk your success on the standardized test by not preparing for the unforeseen. Get plenty of rest before the testing session, have directions to the testing center ready, gather your materials ahead of time, and don’t forget to eat so you avoid being hungry. Success on a standardized test will be difficult to achieve if you’re rushed, frantic, hungry, or anxious. 
  5. Previewing the test Before you dive in and begin answering questions you should spend a few moments previewing the test. Glance through the booklet and determine the total number of questions, the type of questions asked, and any potential pitfalls you can identify. Make notes, as allowed, on sections that seem the most difficult or in areas of the test you are concerned about. 
  6. Using materials wisely You should make good use of the test booklet and scratch paper as allowed under the testing guidelines. Use the test booklet like a workbook as permitted under the directions by circling key phrases, underlining important concepts, drawing a line through incorrect answers, and working the math problems near the test item. Be careful though! Review the testing directions to ensure this allowed.
  7. Pacing yourself Since standardized tests are most often designed around a time limitation it is important to pace yourself. You want to complete the exam and ensure you have answered all the questions you definitely know the answer to. If a problem or question seems too hard you should skip it and come back. You’re better off completing all the questions you know for sure instead of dedicating too much time to an unknown question. 
  8. Using process of elimination Many standardized tests rely on multiple choice questions as the main evaluation tool. You can employ a process of elimination strategy when answering multiple choice questions. If you are unsure of an answer take a moment to eliminate the options you know are incorrect. Cross them out and then refocus on the remaining answers. You’re more likely to choose a correct answer if you’ve eliminated ones you know are incorrect. This also cuts down on careless mistakes that can negatively affect your score. 


What are some additional standardized test taking strategies that you’ve found especially beneficial?


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