How to prepare for the SAT, GRE or GMAT years before you actually take them?

The three top standardized tests in the world are important necessary conditions for anyone to succeed in any career; more than 95% of the leadership of the top institutions in the world has given one or more of the SAT, GRE or GMAT. Given that these are so important, it would be great if you could acquire skills needed to crack the tests, well before you actually start formal preparation.

Fortunately, there are multiple ways by which you can acquire these skills many years before you need them in a test situation, without spending much time at all. It’s almost like an EMI – instead of preparing all at once, you get to spread your prep time input thinly over a large period of time – reducing stress and improving output.

As many wise people have said, prevention is better than cure. Rather than suffer from below average language skills and subpar numerical skills that you then have to improve before taking a standardized test, why not equip yourself with the tools needed to become a test taking star every day of your life?

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Become better at estimation, by guessing, rationalizing, and later validating

A lot of the skills needed for any important standardized test worldwide are essential daily life skills. Once such is that of estimation.

Every day, you find yourself having to make guesses with very little data to go on; all you have is some base knowledge and common sense. If you get good at estimation, you will also get better at calculating (or accurately estimating) mentally, and will also be able to immediately tell if a number is in the correct ballpark – if it is approximately what it should be. These are essential skills to quickly eliminate wrong answers in a multiple choice question.

So how can you get really good at estimating quantities, years before you have to use this skill in a test situation? Well, you first need to identify and grab opportunities. If you are walking with a friend and see a bus headed to Jaipur pass by, either of you might wonder how far away Jaipur is, in terms of distance rather than time. You can easily see that multiple such opportunities present themselves every day.

Next, you have to make as logical an estimate as possible – focus initially on accuracy rather than speed, and note what assumptions you are making at every stage. Finally, long after you have made your educated guess, at the end of your day, you need to check your estimate, using the best self prep tool: Google. If you got the steps right, that is the key thing; the values that you got wrong will help you make fewer errors the next time.

Make non fiction reading a part of your daily routine, in small or large doses

Whenever you are given a passage in any standardized test, it is unlikely to have been taken from the latest action thriller In the market. It will probably be serious, on a topic you probably do not know much about; some would call such a passage ‘boring’. You do not need to fear this, however: you can learn how to tackle a ‘boring’ passage, and distill it to its key constituent elements, in a fun way.

You will always be interested enough in some topics to get over a dry form of writing; you can start by finding out what these topics are, for yourself. After this, come up with a way to give yourself a regular stream of non fiction on that topic. For instance, if you are interested in sports, you could start reading a regular, heavy, analytical column, or pick up a detailed set of autobiographies of your favourite players.

Once reading these becomes a regular part of your daily or weekly schedule, you will automatically pick up all the skills needed to read a dry passage on a topic not to your interest: you will be able to reduce it to its main messages, and cut through the extraneous matter. The best part is that you will be able to do all this without having to read any more ‘boring’ passages than necessary!

Watch news shows on YouTube at accelerated speeds, and try to keep up with the subtitles

One important skill that will hold you in good stead in any standardized test is the ability to read fast, and assimilate most of the meaning of what you are reading.

This is a very rare skill – but, luckily, you can practice it a decade before you put finger to mouse on a standardized test. Take your favourite topics, and start watching a few YouTube shows on them, and leave subtitles on. Now, turn the audio off, and double the speed of the video. If you are able to read fast enough to follow the meaning of the video, great! If not, reduce the speed slightly, till you get to a level at which you can read comfortably.

Keep increasing the video (and hence subtitle) speed in small increments. As you acquire more and more speed and confidence, you will realize that you are one of the few people who has ever used YouTube for anything productive!

Use apps that award you points for vocabulary, speed reading or word games

With the ability to learn while you pass time on a short or long journey, you have advantages that aspiring test takers never had in past decades. Look up the highest rated puzzle apps, and choose a popular word game, in one of the categories that is likely to help you in a standardized test.

Ensure that you choose one with a high rating so that its interface will force you to keep playing; it is highly rated because it has gone viral within a large audience. This is one use of your mobile that will only pay you rich dividends!

Use such an app at least once a week; at the end of a year, you will be so much better than you were a year before, that you will not recognize yourself.

Read difficult opinion pieces and try not to lose focus even once

This is another exercise in the vein if the earlier one, on ensuring a steady stream of non fiction reading – it is, in a sense, the logical evolution or next level.

Opinion pieces are almost always hard to read, even if you agree with the opinion. This is possibly because they are a lot like a textbook – there are arguments, sub-arguments, and evidence presented for each of them. Therefore, you will probably not be able to make them part of your weekly reading diet, but it is good to read one from time to time.

Every time you do this, you are taking a skill that you have acquired while reading non fiction of your choice / interest, and applying it to an area where you have to read a dry passage that is possibly not interesting to you – something that you will have to do often in the SAT, GRE or GMAT, even though that might be years away.

Practice writing short (~300 word) email reviews of movies you watch to your friends; ask them how coherent your reviews were

An important, though often underplayed, part of most standardized tests is the Analytical Writing component.

You do not have to train to be a Shakespeare for years before you think of giving a test; the level of writing required is not that high. All you will need is the ability to express yourself in simple, concise, coherent English.

A good way to do this is to get good at writing emails, and you can have some fun with the format as well. For example, if you do not want to go through all the trouble of creating a blog, you could just review something that you and your friends and re interested in, and get an expert’s opinion on how your writing can become more clear (not necessarily on how it can become better, from a literary point of view).

Figure out a way to give yourself a ‘Word of the Day’ fix

At some level or the other, every standardized test requires you to have a good vocabulary. Since short term cramming of large word lists (even if you are efficient about word memorization, like we are in our Jamboree coaching) is always difficult, it is best to build your vocabulary from very early on.

The easiest way to do this is to give yourself a Word Of The Day ritual. Think of it – if you can read a new high complexity, high test probability word every day for three years, you would have internalized over a thousand words, any of which could help you through a tough question on a test.

There are many ways to do this conveniently. For example, you could use the app route again, and have a word, its meaning, and suggested usage pop up on your screen every morning while travelling, for example. You could also invest in a set of flashcard posters, and put up a different one in your room every day. Finally, you could exchange Words of the Day with friends of yours, who are also interested in sustainably improving their vocabulary over a long period of time.

Volunteer to teach someone written English and vocabulary

You never know how to learn in the easiest possible way till you have tried to teach someone.

One good way to start is to teach verbal and comprehension skills to someone from an underprivileged background who is eager and quick to learn. This way, you will be able to test your understanding of the source matter in every possible way, given that you will constantly be questioned. In addition, when you think of ways to make things easier to understand for the person you are teaching, you will simultaneously also get better at time saving tactics for yourself.

Of course, this technique of improving your own skills has the best pay off of all – that you are helping someone to improve essential life skills, and seeing social impact happen in front of your eyes!

Take a sample GRE, GMAT or SAT test ‘just to see what it’s like’

A large part of test performance and excellence is familiarity – you can do well only if you have immersed yourself in both formats and question psychology. It is often a great idea to look at a sample test years before you plan to take it: your brain will internalize more about the format and required skills than you ever thought possible. Subsequently, it will self acquire relevant skills in all its learning experiences.

Basically, you have to put in very little work or time input – just the couple of hours that you will need to give the sample test. Your subconscious will do all the rest, and give you an inbuilt advantage years later, when you actually get around to giving the test seriously.

We hope that this Jamboree in depth feature has been useful to show you that test prep can become a part of your daily life that is barely noticeable. We have seen these, and many other, creative solutions work wonders for students across experience and skill levels; they will work for you, too.

If you would like access to all of our accumulated experience and wisdom on test prep and coaching, do get in touch with us.

All the best!

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