Tick, tock, tick, tock … You lift your head up and stare at the massive digital clock as its minute digit approaches the time limit. Using their loudest indoor voice, your proctor breaks the silence by declaring a final countdown. Adrenaline spikes; you flip through the booklet and realize there is still an entire section of questions you have left unread. You hastily fill out the answer sheet by making your best intuitive guesses. Time runs out; that was it. You reluctantly put down your No. 2 pencil and close the test booklet. It feels like you have not performed to your best abilities. How could you have prevented this from happening?

Such situations can be avoided by practicing proper standardized test-taking strategies. Despite extensive test preparation and test-taking time management skills sounding cliche, specific steps to mastering these strategies remain elusive to most students.

So, how exactly do you strategize? To begin:

  1. Do not cram all of your reviewing the day prior to taking the test. Try to plan for regular review as soon as you receive your test date information. 
  2. Objectively evaluate yourself when doing mocks/practice tests to recognize and focus on your weaknesses.
  3. Try to switch around preparation locations so your test mode is not glued to a single study spot.

To maintain a healthy physical state and mindset, try to:

  1. Sleep fully and eat a balanced meal before the test. Do not stay up late for review; it only messes with your alertness. 
  2. Relax before the test—meditate, go for a jog, listen to some music, or stretch. Do not overwork your brain before the test (even) takes place. 
  3. Adjust your mindset to reject negative stress talk. “I am so nervous” or “I think I’m going to fail this test” can pressure and agitate yourself and the people around you.

During the test, there are multiple time management techniques you can utilize. The best strategy varies for different people depending on their usual habits. But, generally:

  1. Do the easy questions first.
  2. Jump ahead if you are stuck on a difficult question. Move on and make sure that you at least finish all the questions you know how to do before committing time to that single hard one.
  3. Get an estimate of how much time you have for each question/section and space your time out accordingly.
  4. Plan out a slot of time for the end to review and double-check your answers.

You can also: 

  1. Eliminate all the obviously wrong responses first when answering multiple-choice questions if you are not able to figure out the best answer right away.
  2. Focus on yourself. Disregard other people’s speed or completion status.
  3. Do small-scale physical stretching and relax your eyes by closing them in order to release stress. Watch out for your physical health just as much as your mental health during an exam.
  4. Be patient when double-checking your answers in order to go over your thinking process once again.
  5. Avoid negative stress talk after the test, such as “I think I got all of these questions wrong” or “I am going to feel so bad after the results come out.” Patiently wait until the results come out. Reflect afterward and recognize your strengths and weaknesses. You will never improve by focusing on beating yourself up.

These strategies can help you significantly reduce the impact of external factors, such as stress and time constraints, during standardized tests. By utilizing them, you can perform to your best ability without unfavorable circumstances that scale down your actual abilities. Wishing you all best of luck during your next exams!