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Standardized Test-Taking Tips

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Senior International Specialist, The College Board

When, where, and how should you prepare for the SAT, ACT, and/or AP tests, even the TOEFL? One College Board expert gives her top tips for test-taking success!

  • Map out a schedule for dates to register and take the exams for the different programs needed for your applications. For undergraduate study, take tests for the first time in the fall of your 11th grade year, before your final year in secondary school. You will have time to retake them, and colleges generally look at your highest score.
  • If you need to take SAT Subject Tests, please note that these cannot be scheduled the same day as the SAT. You’ll do well on these exams if you take them soon after completing the subject course (e.g., physics).
  • Register early (at least six to eight weeks before the test, perhaps earlier), especially if you would prefer a specific test center location. When you get assigned to a test center, look up directions and see what time it opens on test day so you can get there early and relax.
  • Make a short list of the universities and colleges where you want to send your official scores. This may change as you refine your choices—keep track of past sent scores.
  • Check with each test sponsor about required forms of identification (passport or other)—you won’t be admitted without them on test day. Always bring your test admission ticket.
  • Find out what equipment to bring (or not bring) for the test: calculator and batteries, pencils, CD player and earphones for language tests, etc. Plan to leave your cell phone, camera, pager, PDA, laptop, and other gadgets at home or in a closed bag during testing. You can usually bring a drink and snack for breaks. Don’t forget to eat breakfast!
  • Familiarize yourself with the exam structure and sample questions; if you are not used to “multiple-choice” questions or filling in a test answer sheet, it will help to review this in advance. Try a practice test and “question of the day” services, if offered. All the leading test programs provide free materials online—take advantage of them!
  • Research the best test-taking strategy for each program. Consider the time allotted for each section and where to focus your attention. Often the most difficult questions are at the end.
  • Admission tests include a questionnaire for students to indicate their desired major fields of study and list their activities and interests; this helps colleges match you with their programs. You can always “opt out” of answering, but it’s a good way to highlight your qualifications.
  • If you’re prepared for the test and do your best, the resulting score and test feedback should provide useful information to help you find the “best fit” institution for you while pointing out areas where you need to put more effort to be successful. Don’t forget: it’s not a life-or-death experience, and you can always take the test again later.
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