How to take a practice test

March 24th, 2015 by

Did you know that you can take a practice standardized test without even leaving your living room? Our intern Emily recounts her experience taking a practice test and shares her tips on how you can make it something beneficial to your learning.


During my spring break, I decided to take a practice online Graduate Record Examination (GRE) test through Kaplan because I am considering graduate school after I finish my undergraduate degree. I didn’t have anything to lose — the online test was free and all I had to do was sign up and register to take the test. There are many time slots available but the only time that worked for me was 9 p.m. on a Thursday night. The test took four hours, so I was online until 1 a.m.

I logged in 15 minutes early, as Kaplan suggests. As soon as it was time, my “teacher” Gene began talking to us. Gene communicated with us via webcam and all 70-80 people taking the test were able to see and hear him. There was a slide-sharing feature that allowed us to see what he was pointing at or writing and we had access to a public chat where we could respond to his questions or share our thoughts. Off-camera teachers were also there to answer any personal questions we had privately.

Gene walked us through the basics: what the GRE was, what we were about to see and what would happen after we took the test. We were then off to take the test; we would reconvene at 12:08 a.m.

In the practice test, you don’t do the two essays required when you take the real GRE. There are five sections — three quantitative reasoning (math) and two verbal. Each section had its own time limit. There are features that allow you to mark a question you want to come back to, a calculator to use for the math sections and the ability to turn off the timer. I left it on because it kept me on track.

Immediately upon finishing the test, you’re given your score. You can see which questions you got wrong, the time you spent on each question, the explanation of the answer and even if you had the right answer but switched it to a wrong one or vice versa.

When we were all done, Gene came back on and discussed the meaning of our scores and how easy it is to change percentiles. He used four questions to show us different strategies to use when we take the test and gave us tips. For example, it came as a surprise to me, but on some of the math questions, the test makers are looking for you to recognize similar values, not necessarily solve the problem.

The teachers stuck around after everything was completed to answer any personal questions in a private Q&A. I got off because I didn’t have anything pressing to ask and I was exhausted.

Taking this practice test really helped me. I hadn’t prepared much — just flipped through a few pages on my prep book, so the test allowed me to see what I should expect and what I needed to work on. Also the GRE will be the first standardized test I’ll take on a computer, so it helped to see the look and get an example of what taking a digital test will be like.

In addition to the GRE, Kaplan also offers free PSAT, SAT and ACT options for pre-college tests. Free medical-related test prep options include MCAT, NCLEX, PCAT, OAT, DAT and USMLE. Other free test prep options are LSAT and GMAT.

My suggestions for taking an online practice test:
• If it’s late at night, set yourself up at a table — if you’re in your bed, you’ll be tempted to close your eyes.
• Try to be in a quiet setting. I listened to music while I took the test because my family was still up at the beginning, but I won’t be able to do that in the test.
• Try not to talk yourself through questions out loud. It may seem helpful and normal because you’re on your own, but that’s also not allowed on the test.
• Have lots of scrap paper ready. You get this when you take the actual test, but don’t forget about it for the practice one.
• Take your time and remember it’s just a practice test. Just remind yourself that it’s practice – now is the time to take too long and miss questions, you’ll learn from this.

> For more, take the College Placement Tests course at Next Step Academy. 


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