by John Moscatiello

One of the most common mistakes I see in test preparation is the failure to practice well. You may know all the presidents and all the facts and all the words, but if you don’t perform well on test day, all your hard work will be in vain. You have to be prepared to bring together your knowledge and skills on test day. The best way to do this is to take full-length practice tests.

But it’s not just about sitting down and taking tests. You have to practice well, so that you can identify your mistakes and learn how to improve. In this article, I’m going to explain how to take a practice test like a pro and really get ready for test day.

Here are five tips to help you get the most out of your practice tests:

1. Schedule a specific time. If your schedule is packed with AP® classes and extracurricular activities, it’s going to be hard to find the time in your schedule for a test that lasts three hours. You have to find a few consecutive hours when you won’t be interrupted by anything. Preferably it will be in the morning, but remember that half of AP® exams are in the afternoon, so the morning may not actually reflect the actual testing environment. To find out what time your exam date is, see our article on exam dates.

2. Take it in stages. If you really can’t block out three hours in a row to take a full-length test in one sitting, then divide the test into the multiple-choice section (usually around an hour), and two free-response questions. If you end up breaking the test up, try to take all those sections within the same 48 hours so you stay in a similar headspace for all of them.

3. Find a quiet place. Stop lying to yourself. You can’t study well with the TV on, while your cat and your dog fight on the floor in front of you, while your phone is sitting there on the table. Your Instagram account will always be more interesting than the DBQ on APUSH. You have to find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted by anything. Get rid of your phone—put it in another room—and time yourself with a conventional clock. Pocketwatch, hourglass, sundial…whatever you’ve got! Anything that doesn’t have a touch screen is good.

4. Study the instructions before you take the test. Since the instructions and rules are almost always the same, you don’t need to waste precious time during the test reading all the instructions. Pay attention to when the breaks fall and exactly how the time is distributed. Not only will studying the instructions save you time on test day, it will help you to familiarize yourself with the test format and be more confident overall.

5. Let go of perfection. The AP® exams can be stressful and intimidating. What makes AP® uniquely stressful is that the questions are so extremely difficult. They’re difficult to the extent that getting only 70 percent correct on the multiple-choice section can still be enough to earn a score of 5 on the exam. A score of 50 percent is often enough to earn a score of 3. So don’t feel bad if you’re not scoring quite as high as you would in regular high school tests. The AP® tests are hard for a reason, but the more you practice, the better.

John Moscatiello

John Moscatiello is the founder of Marco Learning. He has been a teacher, tutor, and author since 2002. Over the course of his career, John has taught more than 4,000 students, trained hundreds of teachers, written content for 13 test preparation books, and worked as an educational consultant in more than 20 countries around the world.

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