Standardized tests like the SAT, ACT, ISEE, and HSPT create a great deal of test anxiety for students, and for good reason; these tests often determine a student’s eligibility for certain private schools and colleges. This high-stress testing environment is far from ideal for students trying to perform at their peak. Some students may freeze on test day and shut down entirely, while others rush through the test, making numerous careless errors. Studies have shown how important it is for students not only to take practice exams, but also to take them under realistic testing conditions. 

You may wonder, how exactly do practice tests help prepare students to deal with performance anxiety on test day? In her book Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To, Dr. Sian Beilock takes a scientific approach to understanding human reactions to high-pressure situations. Beilock, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago, expounded upon ways to combat test anxiety in this NPR interview:

“The key is to really be accustomed to dealing with whatever sort of reaction that you might have so that you’re ready in the high-stakes situation for whatever comes your way. And that really gets at how you’re practicing for these sorts of important pressure-filled situations. We often spend a lot of time, say, studying for a test, just going over our notes, but we rarely sit there and actually take a practice test, like, that’s very similar to what we’re going to find in the high-stress situation.”

The New York Times has also cited research that substantiates the educational value of testing. The benefits of practice tests are particularly potent for admissions tests. Tests like the SAT and ACT cover a broad range of material. While there are many strategies for increasing scores, taking realistic practice tests is perhaps the most important element of test preparation. As Beilock explains,

“Students and parents spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on test prep courses, where the goal is to get the secrets of the test, but one of the main reasons I suspect that those courses up the scores of some students is because every week, they sit and take practice tests in essentially the same environment they’re going to face on testing day.”

At Cardinal Education, simulating the test environment is a core tenet of our approach to test prep tutoring. We offer proctored practice exams every weekend. All of our test prep students take several full-length practice tests before sitting for the actual exam. Beilock’s research supports this approach:

“You don’t have to practice under the exact high-stake situations you’re going to face in competition or an interview or even a test. It’s hard to mimic those in reality. Just getting a little bit of pressure in these practice situations can actually be enough to get people accustomed to performing well when the stakes are high.”

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