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Handbooks and Study Guides and Practice Tests, Oh My!

Standardized tests and certification exams can be stressful. There's no doubt about it. When you have so much riding on one exam, the pressure can feel overwhelming. You know that studying can help you do well on these tests. But, the whole studying process can be a cause of stress in itself. Where do you start? How do you study? What do you need to do to prepare? These are all common questions, and we have the answers for you. This guide will give you study tips to help you properly prepare for standardized tests and certification exams so that you do your absolute best when it comes time to take your tests.  

Set a Schedule

Before you even begin preparing for your test, you should set a study schedule and stick with it. Set a date that you will be taking the test, preferably at least several months in the future. This way you have plenty of time to prepare. Then, write out a study schedule. For example, one hour a day, five days a week. Write this schedule on your calender. By making a study schedule, you are more likely to actually study, instead of putting it off until later.  

Know Where to Begin

Before you start studying for your standardized tests or certifications, you need to actually know what is going to be on these exams. The best way to do this is to go to the bookstore or public library and buy or rent a study guide or exam prep book on the test or exam you will be taking. These books go over what will be on the tests and usually have practice questions for you to look over and practice quizzes for you to take. Another good way to find out what the exam will cover is to look at the exam blueprints. An exam blueprint tells you how many sections will be in the exam, what subjects will be covered on the exam, what percentage of the score is given to each section, and the approximate number of questions in each section on the exam. Some study guides and exam prep books contain the exam blueprints. You also may be able to find them online or in the official candidate handbook, if your exam has one. After you take a look through the study guide, exam prep book or exam blueprints, you will have a good idea of whether you know the subject material that will be on the test and be able to gauge what areas you need to focus your studies on.  

Get Help

Time can be your enemy when it comes to remembering information. You may have learned everything that will be on the test at one point in time, but you may have forgotten some of the material. If you feel that you are weak in one of the areas that will be on the test, get some help. Hire a tutor, join a study group or take a class at a community college or online school to brush up on your skills. You can find many free courses online to help you study for your exam. A good way to locate free courses is to visit online forums for people who are taking the same exam as you. Online forums are not only a good resource for finding free courses, but they also provide you with an opportunity to talk with your peers and ask any questions you may have about the test or subject matter.  

Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3

Way before you take the real exam, you should take a practice exam. This way you can find out if you are ready to take the real test or if you need to do some more studying. This site has over 100 practice tests, including SAT, GRE, NCLEX and MCAT practice tests. You also may be able to find practice tests at your school or at the public library. If you don't do as well as you wanted on the practice tests, study some more and take another!  

Tick Tock: Preparing for a Timed Exam

Most standardized and certification exams have a time limit. Take a look at your study guide or the candidate handbook and find out if your test is timed. If it is, there are two things you should do to prepare for your test. One, you should time your practice tests. Set a timer when taking the practice from your exam prep book or look for timed practice tests online. If you can't get through all of the questions before your time is up, you need to study more to gain a more thorough understanding of the subject matter. The second thing you should do is take a look at the exam blueprint to figure how much each section counts towards your final score. This way, if you find that the clock is ticking a little too fast during the exam and you realize you aren't going to be able to finish the entire test in time, you can skip the sections that count the least and focus on finishing the sections that count the most towards your final score.