By Julia Wasson

Avoiding needless mistakes on college entrance exams may seem like common sense. Even experienced test takers, however, may make several typical errors when taking their college entrance exams. By knowing about these 10 testing mistakes before you enter the testing room, you will feel more confident and prepared.

Mistake #1: Not being familiar with test directions.
The test directions are the same on every form of a college entrance exam. Why waste precious time reading them on test day? Know them before you go.

Mistake #2: Not knowing fundamental rules and processes.
From foundational math formulas and processes to basic grammar rules, you should know the fundamentals going into the test and be prepared to use them effectively. If you have taken a traditional series of college preparatory courses, you should have learned all this information in class and will only need to review.

Mistake #3: Not having proper time-management techniques.
PSAT/SAT and ACT prep classes focus a portion of the coaching sessions on time management skills. Of course, it’s important to get to the test early and pay attention to start-and-stop times for each test section. You should also know the most effective strategies for pacing on each of the subject-area subtests so you have ample opportunity to demonstrate your abilities on the exam. 

Mistake #4: Not looking out for the particular challenges inherent in each subject-area subtest.
Your ACT or PSAT/SAT prep should provide strategies for each test section and type of question. For example, “Read the question first” is great advice for the math portion of college entrance exams but not such a good recommendation, in most cases, for the reading sections.

Mistake #5: Not being physically prepared.
Late-night cram sessions fueled by soda and junk food aren’t setting you up for a successful test day. Adequate sleep, hydration, and healthy food, however, make a big performance difference. Taking practice tests also helps to build endurance for test day so you can stay alert the entire time.

Mistake #6: Not answering the question being asked.
It’s common for questions on college entrance exams to be worded in a way that requires the test taker to read very carefully and thoroughly. Careless reading can easily lead to answering the wrong question. You must be able to understand the questions as presented and answer them accordingly.

Mistake #7: Not marking up the test booklet.
Several effective tips involve making specific types of notes in the text. Mark up the testing booklet to eliminate answer choices, do calculations, and mark important words and phrases in a question or passage. The booklet is the only “scratch paper” provided, even for math problems.

Mistake #8: Not wearing a watch.
A watch is an effective tool to help you know the stop time and implement a time-management plan during the test. Because most students carry smartphones now, you may not normally wear a watch. You won’t be able to use a phone to check the time on test day, however - and the clock in the testing room (if there is one) may not be reliable or in a convenient location. Wear a watch!

Mistake #9: Not knowing how or when to guess.
ACT and PSAT/SAT prep classes show you if, when, and how to skip difficult questions and revisit them later to try again. You also need to know when it is to your advantage to guess if you don’t know the answer and how to apply partial knowledge to improve their odds of guessing correctly.

Mistake #10: Not maintaining composure.
With a lack of adequate preparation, it’s easy to panic on test day. If you do the work and take the time to practice, you'll have a confident and positive attitude when that day arrives.

College entrance exams don’t have to result in pressure-filled months of useless worry and unfocused studying techniques. When you go into your test prep with a systematic, discerning approach, taking the real test won’t seem nearly so daunting.

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