Preparing like a Pro
“The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare.” —Juma Ikangaa, New York City Marathon Champion
Now, with the perfect diet, discipline of steel, and top-notch study routines, you’re ready to start preparing for the upcoming test like a pro.
There is one fundamental principle that underpins a great test preparation: To be good at test taking, you must take tests. This applies to any skill. In order to master anything, your brain needs two kinds of practice:
• repetition of what you already know
• training just a bit beyond the limit of your current abilities to constantly push yourself out of your comfort zone
These two types of practice are ingrained in the four-step unfailing test preparation scheme below:
Step 1. After you’ve gone through the course material, it’s time to try the actual tests. Get as many practice and past tests as possible. Work through them diligently and understand the solutions well; don’t time your work at this stage. If test answers are in open or essay form, have a friend or a classmate read and rate your responses. If you can explain what you’ve learned to someone else, there’s a good chance that you have a solid grasp of the material. Every day that you practice, make sure to finish your session strong, i.e., ensure that the last set of problems or questions you work on are tackled brilliantly. This is important, as the brain will be rehearsing these last bits during the break or at night.
Step 2. Sit for mock tests. Recreate the conditions and environment of the actual test as much as possible. Time the test, and write out full answers with a pen on paper, as you would during the actual test. You might discover that your hand gets tired rather quickly, and you need to take frequent breaks; you’ll need to factor this information in for the actual test. If no mock tests are available, create them for each other with a friend.
Step 3. Grade your mock tests and analyze your mistakes and shortcomings. Isolate the areas you’re weakest at or the types of problems you struggle with most, and zoom in on those chunks. Practice problems specifically targeting these areas so you can improve. If you ran out of time during the mock test, analyze which problems took you longest and where you spent unnecessary amounts of time. Now, rinse and repeat. After working on your problem areas, take more mock tests.
Step 4. Feeling stuck and unable to reach your desired performance or score on a standardized test to get into the school of your dreams, despite doing all the above? Try this weightlifting technique known as “loops” to fight the dreaded plateau. When unable to reach a certain target, bodybuilders loop back to their initial weight and gradually rework upward to their target weight. When they reach it, they invariably break it and increase their peak performance. You can replicate this by “looping back” to your initial practice tests and reworking through all of them. This will solidify your knowledge and build your confidence. Once done, try yourself on a new mock test—your performance will always improve!
Daily task: Find the most difficult problem you can (ask your professor for help if needed), and spend time attacking it from multiple angles until you crack it. Take all the time you need (even several days), and ask for hints or guidance if necessary, but try to get to the solution on your own. This will truly make your problem-solving skills grow.
That’s it for today. See you tomorrow, when we’ll be looking at strategies to succeed at different kinds of tests you might encounter.
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