One of the many benefits of practice exams is that they can desensitize you to test-day stress. Many qualified people can (and do) fail certification exams simply because they didn’t include test-taking strategies as part of their preparation. Take the time to investigate how your certification test is delivered. For example, consider the following:
- Is the test delivered on paper or by computer? Do you have a choice in format? Some people perform better on exams simply because of the test delivery method. Understand which method (paper or computer) works best for you. If you’re given a choice of format, choose the test type that plays to your strengths.
- How long is the test? Test length may vary widely depending on the certification sought. Some entry-level exams take less than an hour to complete, many take two to three hours, and some last all day. Longer certification exams are not only mentally tiring but can be physically exhausting. Just as you prepare your mind for an examination, you need to prepare your body too. After all, you wouldn’t enter a marathon without weeks of physical training, would you? The same is true for certification exams. As the exam date nears, try to increase the time length of practice exams (as much as is reasonable) to simulate the real thing. Also, find out if you’re able to take breaks during longer exams. Taking power bars, fresh fruit, or other brain foods can help alleviate fatigue. Avoid sodas and sugars, which may result in a crash after the temporary sugar boost wears off.
- How are participants notified about remaining test time? Don’t underestimate the power of the mind to panic when you see a time clock counting down. One of your authors once sat for a computerized certification exam where the screen contained a two-inch clock that started at four hours and then quickly (or so it seemed) counted down to zero. As a visual person, the presence of the clock could have been enormously distracting, but because I knew about the clock ahead of time, I took all practice exams with a time-clock clearly visible. The strategy worked! A co-worker was distracted by proctors who called out remaining time at different intervals throughout the exam. These verbal interruptions disrupted the flow of concentration and made it difficult to resume. He prepared by deliberating setting alarms at predetermined times during practice exams to desensitize himself.
- What is the test format? Understand the test format. Some certification exams deliberately (as if they want to test your coolness under pressure rather than your knowledge) place very difficult or obscure questions at the beginning of the certification exam. Practice tests provide an opportunity to understand what to expect, and the discipline to move on until you reach a concept that’s familiar and comfortable.