Preparing for standardized tests like the SAT and TOEFL was very stressful for me, mostly because of poor planning. Here are a few lessons I learned as an international student taking these tests as part of the U.S. college admissions process.
1. Prepare early: Once you have decided to study at a U.S. university, plan your test dates. Check online for available dates and locations and then evaluate your readiness. This includes thinking about where you should take the test and whether you prefer the morning or afternoon – considerations that can help reduce stress and panic.
Mark down the dates and create a countdown on your phone – this helps you plan your study schedule. Set a regular study period and evaluate what you have studied each time. Take notes that you can review.
2. Make good use of free resources: Besides taking test-preparation classes, there are a number of free resources you can take advantage of. For example, you can look up past exam questions online. The official SAT website provides a question every day.
Also, the local library in my hometown had test-preparation books to check out; while they were not the newest editions, they allowed me to familiarize myself with the format of the tests. There are also online forums for test-takers to share their tips, and where you can also find emotional support.
3. Check your documents: Make sure to check the different requirements for each test. Some tests might need your passport, while others might not. I didn’t realize that I needed my passport for the TOEFL, so I had to ask my aunt to deliver it to me. I was so worried during the whole wait. That greatly affected my performance on the test, too.
4. Research testing center locations: Plan your travel to the testing centers, and make sure you have an alternative form of transportation in case your original plan doesn’t work. Bring snacks with you if there are no restaurants around.
It’s never a bad idea to get a map too, so you can make sure you know where you are. When possible, visit the testing center before your test so that you don’t have to worry about getting lost on test day.
5. Focus on yourself: There will be many other students in the testing center with you, some of whom will look very confident. Don’t lose focus, though, and trust in yourself. You have prepared for a long time, and you’re one step closer to your dream. Relax, and concentrate on the exam. You will do great.