Standardized Test Prep: Here's how to raise your score

Standardized test prep works wonders. The last time I took a standardized exam, I scored in the 99.7th percentile of the GRE. Here, I explain how you can prepare to master tests and make good use of support resources.

Test-taker, know thyself

First, ask yourself some key questions about your study methods. Be honest with yourself! Pretending that you'll study every morning when you know you won't really do it is a setup for failure.

1. How have you studied for a major test successfully in the past?

2. What study strategies seem to work better for you--writing things down, playing games, reviewing materials, having conversations about subjects, seeing visual reminders, or something else?

3. How can you rally social support for your standardized test prep project? Yes, your mom wants you to pass the bar, but that kind of pressure isn't all that helpful. If you get friends and family excited about your study plan and supporting you in keeping it going, however, your chances for success increase dramatically.

4. How much structure do you need? Lots of options exist: classes, tutoring, study groups, workbooks, online programs, and more. If you're highly self-disciplined, a workbook and a few practice tests may be enough. But many people need extra support in the form of classes or one-on-one coaching.

Your test-taking timeline

Chances are, you have some flexibility about when you can take your test. Plan for at least six months of standardized test prep for a major exam such as the bar, GRE, SAT, or MCAT.

I recommend starting with a big overview of the test. Understand how it is structured and take a couple of practice tests for diagnostic purposes.

Next, map out a plan to make your way through the material. Break up the information you need to digest into smaller bites, and make a schedule.

Personal accountability is a big factor in sticking to a standardized test prep program. Whether it's your sister calling to check on you, a study partner you don't want to disappoint, or a tutor who is coming at 5 p.m. and expects you to have finished the chapter, making other people part of your plan really helps.

Every month or two, take a diagnostic test again to track progress. This will both familiarize you with the test and give you a real picture of what you know and where to continue working.

Test prep tutoring one-on-one

An experienced test preparation tutor will be extremely helpful. Classes are good, too, and several organizations (such as the Princeton Review) offer quality programs. A tutor who knows the test and can work with you individually is even better, though, and may be more cost effective.

For more information, investigate the links below. They're all part of this site and designed to help students who want to succeed.

My tips for finding a tutor

Info on working successfully with a tutoring center

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