Top 5 Grad School Test-Taking Strategies

Sometimes you just can't avoid graduate school admission tests. Make sure you're prepared for these important exams with these five test-taking strategies.

They say you can’t avoid death and taxes. For students heading to grad school, you can add tests to the list, from exams leading to program admission to the tests required in individual courses. Obviously you want to do well in any testing situation. But how can you make the most of these common (some would say too common) occurrences? Here are a few helpful tactics.

1. Take practice tests

Just as great pianists or free-throw shooters develop their skills through repetitive practice, effective test-takers benefit from repeating the experience. For standardized tests such as the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT), you can benefit from books that include practice tests as well tips on taking them. Guides such as Kaplan's GRE Prep Plus and The Princeton Review’s GMAT Premium Prep are available in bookstores and online.

As an alternative, check out online sites providing test prep info. At 4Tests.com, you can take a variety of practice exams at no cost. While some are targeted to high school students, there is also a section featuring the GRE General, GMAT, LSAT, and MCAT. Similarly, TestPrepReview.com offers educational, computer, and professional exams. These include practice exams for nursing (NCLEX), teaching (Praxis), human resources (PHR & SPHR), and more. Even tackling short “freebies” such as an online vocabulary quiz can help make you more comfortable with the overall process of taking tests.

Related: What You Need to Know About 5 Common Graduate Admission Exams

2. Prepare

Nothing beats good preparation when it comes to testing. Be sure to put in the necessary study time. For in-class exams, read all assigned materials then look over headings, bold-faced items, and other info that has been highlighted to show its importance. Also review any notes you have taken. For standardized tests, bone up on areas where you may have a weakness or where some time has passed since you've studied a given subject area. This might include undergoing a math review or working through vocabulary exercises.

3. Anticipate

Before taking any test, try to find out its format. Then adjust to the type of questions posed and take yourself right back to the first tip: practice! Familiarize yourself with best practices when dealing with the particular types of question asked (i.e., save the hardest questions for last, or focus on first and last paragraphs of longer reading passages). There are many such test prep tips to be found online. The websites for each individual test usually offer helpful resources on taking it.

Related: Guide to Grad Admission Tests: GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT

4. Pace yourself

More often than not, tests come with a time limit, which can be a major cause of the stress that often comes with an exam. To be successful, pacing yourself is vital. If you take too long on any question or series of questions, you could end up rushing toward the end and making otherwise avoidable mistakes. Or worse yet, you could leave some questions unanswered. The smart approach is to take the overall number of questions and the time allotted for the exam, calculate how many minutes you can spend on each one, then hold yourself to that standard while taking the test. If cell phones are not allowed, be sure to bring a watch to the exam site.

5. Build confidence

The more you know about something, the more confident you'll become. That goes both for the content of the exams you'll take and the test-taking process itself. Put in the work and you can tackle those exams with more confidence than ever.

Related: How to Start Your Grad School Search With Confidence

Grad school tests may seem intimidating, but they’re nothing you can’t handle with a little advice and guidance. Using resources to discover strategies and learn more about the exam will help prepare you for anything test day may throw at you. Study hard and stay focused. Grad school is within your reach!

While you’re studying for admission tests, make sure you’re on track with the other steps in the application process with our Essential Grad School Search and Application Timeline.

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