Six Ways to Improve Your Test Taking Skills

Top Exam Preparation Tips

Many people know that they need an additional degree if they want to move ahead at work. But they are put off by the idea of taking the necessary exams to get into graduate school. At the undergraduate level, many colleges are now waiving the need for exams such as the SAT and ACT. This is not true at the graduate level. Tests like the GRE, the GMAT, and the LSAT are still an important part of graduate school admission.

Being a good test taker is not just a matter of luck or nature. It’s a skill that can be learned. There are many ways to improve your test taking skills and your scores.

1. Start Studying Anything

School and tests work your brain in a different way than everyday life. You might be great at remembering the grocery list, or negotiating a complicated contract, but then find yourself struggling with math equations you learned in high school. That’s normal. The parts of our brain that we use the most are the parts that stay the sharpest.

If you’ve been out of school for several years, one important step you can take is to simply start studying. Take out some old text books, or pick a new subject and get your brain used to that kind of work again. A prep course specific to the test you’re taking can also be a great way to prepare. Look for a test-specific course that helps you learn both the material necessary to take the test and also helps you understand how to take the test. Thanks to Covid, more people are now seeing the possibility of going to school online. For example, there are now programs where you can earn an online MBA in two years. Going to school online is different than going in person. So, if you’re considering an online graduate program, you may want to consider taking an online course to help you study.

2. Practice Mindfulness

For a lot of people, what stands in the way of a good test score isn’t knowledge, it’s anxiety. If you have test anxiety then meditation, yoga, and deep breathing can all help you get in a better mindset before the test. If your anxiety is severe, you may want to consider working with a therapist. Speaking of therapists, most standardized tests are timed. If you have a disability such as ADHD or a processing disorder that makes these requirements difficult, talk to your doctor or therapist about it. It may be possible to receive a medical diagnosis that would require the testing company to give you additional time on the test.

3. Take Official Practice Exams

Different tests are scored differently. On some tests, you are penalized for wrong answers. On others, guessing can help your score. Some tests, like the practice test at, allow you to go back and review your work, others do not. This is why it’s very important to understand the specific test that you’re taking. One of the very first steps you should take in preparing for any standardized tests is to take a practice exam. Taking a practice exam will show you where you currently stand and give you a more realistic view of the work you need to do before taking the test. Taking a practice exam will also help you better understand your own personal test-taking style. Some people move too quickly through a test and make careless mistakes. Other people spend too much time over-analyzing every question and run out of time. Learning about your own test taking style will help you decide what improvements you need to make.

Once you start studying and taking additional tests, watching your scores go up will also help keep you motivated. You may even want to create a reward system for yourself. For example, you could treat yourself to a special meal, or a new pair of shoes, every time you improve your score by a certain amount.

4. Buy Prep Books

Test preparation courses can be expensive. Books about test taking are much less of a financial investment than a course. They can also supplement any course work you’re taking. If your timing for going back to school is still unclear to you, then starting with a low-cost book may make more sense than diving into an in-person, or online, class. Make sure to choose a current book as tests and test rules change over the years. Many books also include practice tests, making it a good idea to buy a new book as opposed to borrowing a friend’s copy.

5. Join a Study Group

Studying with others can help keep you accountable and motivated. Working through questions together, and sharing different approaches to problem solving, can be very helpful. Going back to school can be emotionally difficult, especially if you have a family, or other obligations. Working together with a group of like-minded go-getters may help improve your scores and calm your anxiety. If your work is encouraging you to go back to school, or asking you to take a certification test, consider asking about starting a study group at work. Your employer may allow you to use work time for studying.

6. Talk to Previous Test Takers

Everyone you know with a graduate degree has been where you are right now. They too debated going back to school and worried about taking the necessary tests. Friends and colleagues may be able to provide more specific and personal advice than books and teachers. The more you know about the testing process, the less nervous you’ll be taking the test.

Even if you have been out for a few years, don’t forget to check with your undergraduate college, or a local school, about any resources they may have for graduate exams. Many schools have a free library of test taking prep, offer discounts on courses, or can connect you to other alumni who have taken the same test.

If you think pursuing a graduate degree will help you reach your professional goals, don’t let a test stand in your way. There are plenty of ways to improve your skills.

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide for Students

The Skills You Need Guide for Students

Skills You Need

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About the Author

Boris Dzhingarov is a passionate blogger. He is the founder of