Taking practice exams is one of the best ways to learn for an exam. They help students develop the skills needed to do well on an exam by practicing time management and identifying gaps in their knowledge.
The word “practice” can send a shiver down the spine of many students (in much the same way as Britney and Justin’s VMA denim on denim appearance). However, research in psychology and education shows that practice exams are vital.
They Help Build Confidence
If students are familiar with the format of their upcoming exam, they will be more confident in tackling the material. Using a free practice test that mimics the actual exam structure and length will help prepare students for what to expect on test day.
Practice tests are a great way to implement spaced retrieval practice, where students have to actively recall information from their memory (like during a real exam). This helps to harden that knowledge in the long term.
Taking a practice exam will also help students determine areas that need additional work. When students find it difficult to work with a concept or have anxiety when recalling the information, it is important to take the time to address that area of weakness.
When it comes to writing practice exams, imitating testing conditions is key to achieving the best results. This means waking up at the same time, wearing the same type of clothes and eating the same breakfast as you would on test day and finding a place that simulates the ambiance of a library or other test venue.
They Help Students Develop Test-Taking Skills
Students can take practice exams at home, in their favorite study spot, or even in a library to simulate the conditions of test day. This will help them feel more prepared to take the exam and lower their chances of getting bogged down by unfamiliar questions or subjects.
Good test-taking skills are just as important as knowing the subject material. The ability to budget your time, read questions carefully, and eliminate incorrect answers are all essential skills for scoring well on standardized tests.
Developing these skills takes practice, but the payoff is huge. Students who take a few minutes to think before answering each question and don’t try to rush will score much higher on the exam than those who don’t. Also, avoiding cramming for the night before will make it less likely that you’ll run out of time during the actual test. This will prevent you from having to go back through the exam and answer any questions that you missed. It will also make the time you do spend taking the test more productive.
They Help Students Identify Knowledge Gaps
Using practice exams can help students identify knowledge gaps and focus their study efforts. For example, if students do poorly on the analogies section of the exam, they can refocus their studying and work to improve their understanding of the topic before the final test.
In Study 1 we regressed performance as well as three metacognitive judgment accuracy measures on the frequency of participation in practice tests. Although we did not control for students’ prior knowledge, the results were clear: Participants who engaged in more practice testing performed better on the actual exam. This result was consistent across two relative efficiency scores of judgment accuracy.
In contrast, in Study 2 where we controlled for students’ previous knowledge, the number of practice tests taken correlated with sensitivity, but not with specificity. We can speculate that the fact that students who participated in more practice tests exhibited higher sensitivity reflects their ability to learn from feedback about incorrect answers and thus more effectively monitor their performance. However, additional questions about preparation, post-processing and perceived usefulness of practice tests with or without feedback would be needed to confirm these speculations.
They Help Students Develop Time Management Skills
Taking practice exams helps students develop time management skills, which will help them during their exam. Having these skills will allow them to complete their exam within the designated time frame and also leave enough time to check their answers. This will help them avoid making silly mistakes in a panic and ultimately improve their score.
Another important way that practice tests help students develop time management skills is by allowing them to test themselves in a similar environment as the real exam. This means that they should wake up at the same time, wear the same type of clothes, and even try eating the same breakfast on their practice exam day. It will simulate the stress of the real thing and prepare them to cope with any annoyances like background noise or other distractions.
Practice exams will also show students which areas they need to focus their studying efforts on. For example, if they frequently miss questions on a certain topic, it is likely that they will need more in-depth study material or targeted practice questions.
They Help Students Reduce Exam Anxiety
Most students experience some nervousness or anxiety prior to taking a test. This is normal and can even improve performance by helping them stay focused on the challenge ahead of them. However, when these feelings become overwhelming and distracting, they can hinder the student’s ability to take a test effectively. Practice exams help reduce these feelings by providing students with a realistic experience of what to expect on the actual exam.
Whether the format of the practice exam is a PDF or an online classroom response system like Squarecap, these tools are designed to mimic the look and feel of the course’s graded midterm or final exam. This helps students get a sense of what to expect on test day and allows them to practice their memorization strategies in a familiar environment.
Additionally, practicing spaced retrieval with practice tests promotes slow but steady learning, which is a more effective study strategy than cramming the night or week before the test. This approach also alerts students to topics that they do not understand, making them more confident and prepared for the exam.