Research shows that simulating the test-taking experience with practice tests can help protect memory against the negative effects of stress.
In a study at Tufts University, 120 student participants learned a series of 30 words and images. They studied either by taking practice tests or by using the traditional study method of reading over the material to memorize it. They were then asked to recall what they had learned in a stressful scenario (in front of two judges, three peers, and a video camera) and in a less stressful scenario.
The students who prepared with practice tests (also known as retrieval practice) remembered more words overall than those who studied with traditional methods. Furthermore, while the traditional study group’s performance suffered in stressful situations, the students who studied with retrieval practice were able to remember what they had studied regardless of whether or not the scenario was stressful.
Beyond this study, the idea of simulation for preparation applies to any stressful scenario you may face in life.
"If you’re serious about doing well at something, practice it exactly how it will actually be. You want as close a simulation as possible.” Brenna O’Neill, Test Innovators’ Director of Education and competitive runner, said. “Competitive runners will do a trial run in the weeks prior to their big race, simulating the distance, as well as the time of day. It is a different experience running at 7am rather than practicing at 2pm."
And for admissions tests?
"For students, especially students who may have testing anxiety, it will be most important to do simulated practice. This normalizes the testing experience.”
So, if you're preparing for an admissions test, make sure to use practice tests, the most efficient way to prepare for a stressful exam.
Get started with your prep by taking a full-length practice test!
Original post published Dec 7th, 2016. Updated on April 15th, 2021.