Preparation depends on many factors, including the type of test, and the general academic background and confidence level of the test-taker. Do You Need a Preparation Course? Preparation courses can be helpful in several ways. Since study materials and sample tests are usually provided, it saves time otherwise spent gathering and organizing materials. Even more time is saved if the test covers content areas. The high cost of these courses often motivates students to take full advantage of study time and practice tests. The structured activities provide a systematic review for those who might lack self-discipline. There is often a feeling of psychological support from one's peer group and course instructors. Also, since many other students take these courses, an applicant may feel they are at a competitive advantage.
Which Preparation Course is Best for You? If you have decided to enroll in a preparation course, resist any impulse to sign up for the first course you learn about. Courses vary greatly and you will want to investigate thoroughly before committing to one. Some questions to ask include: What is the cost? Are there scholarships, even partial, available to students in need? How long is the course? How many practice and simulated tests are given during the course? Does the course rely on classroom instruction solely, or are there study materials, audiotapes, practice sessions or other activities offered? What is the background of test instructors? Have they taken the test themselves and scored well? Have you talked to your fellow students and obtained feedback on various courses? Does the course offer unrealistic promises or guarantees which they may not be able to meet? Can you take the test again for free or at reduced cost if you are not pleased with your actual test scores? Based on your study skills, test-taking ability and content knowledge, which course will meet most or all of your specific needs? After careful assessment, you may decide to prepare for the test on your own. But, if not, then your "consumer's" approach to researching courses will assure you of the best course for your needs and financial considerations.
Preparation courses are offered by both commercial services and university extension offices. Test Preparation Books and Software If you decide to study on your own, you may want to consider purchasing preparation books or computer software programs to assist you. These aids can be a good alternative to expensive courses, especially if you have good test-taking skills, a fairly low anxiety level about standardized tests, and the ability to discipline yourself on a regular basis. Preparation books are available for most standardized tests. In many cases, the organizations which administer tests offer you the opportunity to purchase preparation books at the same time you sign up for the test. Computer software is available for some tests from publishers of preparation books.
If you study on your own with commercial preparation books or software, be sure to plan time into your schedule to take at least three or four complete practice tests, under simulated test conditions. This will require a timer, a quiet place and lack of interruptions, ideally at the same time of day and day of week as the actual admission test you will be taking. Other Testing Concerns Many factors come into play when preparing for and taking standardized tests. Do you historically panic, freeze or become overly anxious during such tests? If so, learn some anxiety-reduction techniques while you are preparing for the test. Such activities as deep-breathing, muscle relaxation and guided imagery can be useful to reduce anxiety before and during tests. Certain kinds of food or drink can help or hinder your performance during a test. Be sure to avoid the ones that can hinder you, even during your practice sessions. Beginning several days to a week before the test, alter your sleeping schedule as needed so that you are used to rising early and being awake at the test start time and so that you get adequate sleep beforehand. Are you concerned that your entire future might rest on one test score? Find out from schools how important the test score will be for their programs. Will programs accept second, or even third, scores of the admission test? Will programs average multiple scores, or use the highest or most recent scores in assessing admissibility? Understand how the test you will be taking is scored. You could lose points on some tests for wrong answers (including guesses and quick "fill-in-the-blank" answers at the end of the test when time has run out).