Strategies to Prepare for Test Day

Last updated: Jan 17, 2023

The pandemic has added a whole new set of concerns when preparing for college and graduate school admission tests. If you’re getting ready to take an exam, having solid strategies for tests is more important than ever. From scheduling to delivery format to availability, the past year has thrown many changes your way that have probably made a stressful time even more difficult.

With so much uncertainty today, it’s never been more important to manage those aspects of the test that remain under your control. Whether you’re preparing for the SAT, ACT, GMAT, GRE, or LSAT, getting ready for the big test can be divided into two pieces: preparing beforehand and handling the stress on test day.


Female student studying strategies to prepare for test day on her laptop.

Test-Taking Strategies Before the Exam

In the weeks and months leading up to the exam, your test-taking strategies should focus on equipping yourself with the academic and health foundation to earn your best score. Your success on the test will largely depend on two factors: how much time you give yourself to prepare and how dedicated you are to the process.


Reserve the Right Test Day

This is one of those tasks that may have become more challenging in recent times. Due to COVID-19, many test dates and locations were scrapped, leaving you with far fewer options. When picking a test, you need to consider two important factors that can impact your test-day performance: the testing location’s distance from your home and the amount of time you’ll leave yourself to study.


Put in the Practice

This point sounds obvious, but there are ways to practice that will set you up for success:


  • Start early to give yourself as much time as possible.
  • Invest in a test prep course that offers valuable tips and strategies.
  • Keep an eye out for unfamiliar vocabulary words that may appear on the test.
  • Take official practice exams and simulate test-day conditions.


Make Your Test-Day To-Do List

Before test day sneaks up on you, make sure you eliminate any uncertainty so you can focus on your exam prep:


  • Request time off of work for travel, taking the exam, and decompressing afterwards.
  • Pack everything you need for test day. The most common items include water, snacks, No. 2 pencils, an approved calculator, photo ID, and admission ticket.
  • Research what to avoid bringing into the testing location. This generally includes phones, tablets, cameras, and digital watches.


Pay Attention to Your Physical Well-Being

Earning your top score on the test demands physical preparation as well:


  • While preparing to take the exam, stay physically active. It’s been shown to improve test scores.
  • Get enough sleep the night before test day. Remember, most standardized tests are scheduled first thing in the morning.
  • On test day, make sure to fuel up with a balanced breakfast. This includes a combination of protein, carbs, and fat. Coffee or tea can also help you focus.


Student using meditation as a strategy to prepare for test day.

How to Handle Test Day

Once test day arrives, it’s time to trust in your preparation, manage your nerves, and incorporate the best exam strategies:


Prepare Yourself Mentally

Earning your top score requires you to get into the right mindset. To achieve that state, test-day meditation is a great way to encourage yourself and focus. One technique involves calming your inhale-exhale cycle to deliver the most oxygen to your brain, which aids your focus and decreases stress.


Use the Exam Strategies You Practiced

Now that the real test is here, remember to use those test strategies that helped you earn your best score on practice tests:


  • Use the process of elimination to narrow down your choices and help find the best answer.
  • Read for key words by glancing at the answers first, then read with those choices in mind.
  • Check your answers, if you have time left, to ensure you didn’t leave any questions blank or get out of order on your Scantron sheet.


Give Yourself Permission to Celebrate

Prepping for an exam and then taking it requires a commitment of months or more. During this time, you probably made many difficult sacrifices, so take a few moments to reflect on the struggle you just made it through.


Taking the test also represents an educational and career milestone that you should stop to celebrate. No matter what the outcome, it’s important to applaud yourself for all the work you put in before moving on to your next step.


Download USF’s Test-Taking Strategy Guide

Your best test results depend on your preparation and exam-day game plan. Take advantage of these test-taking strategies anytime with our streamlined guide.


Download Test Taking Guide