The Science Of Test Taking – Decoded

Test prep is the process you undergo while preparing for any test.

An essential component of test prep is conceptual prep. The objective here is very simple: try and maximise your ambit of knowledge. Know as many things as you can. Know them as deeply as you can. Pretty much all students planning on taking a test go through conceptual prep.

Also, most students preparing for aptitude tests also take a bunch of practice tests. These tests help students get a feel of what the actual test may be like. This practice helps them build stamina, and be better prepared for the test day.

Now, for most students that I have come across during my teaching career, test prep consists of only these 2 parts: conceptual prep, and practice.

Although both these parts are vital, there is a very important link missing here. It is this link that often is the difference between acing the test and just missing out.

I call it test taking prep.


Conceptual prep: Maximize level of knowledge

Test taking prep: Maximize score with the given level of knowledge — maximise potential

Test taking prep establishes the all important link. With foundation based in concepts as well as mental acuity, test taking prep is the core ingredient that would help you master your test.

“So, what is test taking prep? And why haven’t I heard of it before?”

The truth is, it actually isn’t anything new. The basic premise is to simply do more than just practice for all the other required ingredients: speed, accuracy, stamina and concentration.

What more can be done? Well, the first step towards trying to improve anything is to know where you currently stand — A current status snapshot.

Realise, just a high-level overview is not enough though.

“I finished Test 1 in 90 minutes, and it took my only 80 minutes to finish Test 2” — This cannot mean with any means of certainty that your speed has improved. There are numerous factors that need to be considered (and more data points) to be able to make such a statement.

What you need is an in-depth analysis into each of these factors/ components. E.g., which modules are you the slowest in? Does your speed vary disproportionately with difficulty? How does difficulty impact accuracy? Could you afford more time on some questions that you got wrong? Did you spend too much time at some places?

Only once have you done a deep dive,can you start to chalk out a path towards:

  • How to improve speed
  • How to increase accuracy
  • How to build stamina
  • How to grow concentration

Let us try to understand this with help of an example. Say your accuracy is low in a particular module. You first need to figure out the underlying reason for this. Could the low accuracy be because of time pressure? Did the questions have anything else in common (word problems, say)? Do you usually get questions from this module wrong while practicing?

Now, let us pick one of these cases. Say you figure that it could be because of the imposed time limit. Confirm this. Forget time limits. Try and get answers right. Take as long as you need. Stick to a question until you are sure you have given it your everything. First build accuracy; speed will come after.

Note: This in-depth analysis should not only be from practice test to practice test. If your prep is continuous, why shouldn’t your analysis also be continuous?

No doubt, the entire exercise is painstaking. However, if you are able to handle it, the rewards are certain and bountiful.

Test taking prep is essentially the prep of everything other than concepts that you need to master your test.

Practicing tests is simply not enough. Test taking prep — Because it matters.

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Anish Passi

Anish Passi is the founder of Test Cafe. With 99th percentiles in both the GMAT (760/ 800) and CAT (99.55 percentile), Anish has a keen understanding of how aptitude tests work. He has shared his conceptual and test taking expertise with students for over a decade, and has helped them master their tests, and shape their careers.
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