How to Review a Practice Exam

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When you finish a 3.5 hour-long practice test, the last thing you want to do after scoring it is to go over the questions you got wrong. But reviewing practice tests is ridiculously important. It’s as valuable as taking the practice tests in the first place, if you go about it strategically.

First of all, don’t review your test right after you score it. You’re tired and frustrated – at least in my personal experience. I recommend reviewing each test the next day. At that point, you’ll still remember the gist of the questions, but you’ll also be able to see them with fresh eyes.

The first step is to do a “blind review.” To do this, you have to score your answer sheets without marking up the test booklet. Just identify which questions you got wrong without marking the right answers. This will let you re-do the questions you got wrong or had to skip. Giving yourself the opportunity to figure these questions out yourself, rather than just looking up the answers, is great practice and can help build confidence. It will also give you insight into what’s going wrong. If you get a lot of these questions right on your second pass, your main problems probably have to do with anxiety and time management. If you get a lot of questions wrong on your second try, you probably want to revisit the relevant fundamentals.

The next step is to add your wrong answers to your “error bank” – the running list of questions that you get wrong. Keeping this list helps you learn from your mistakes and avoid repeating them. I use a table in Microsoft Word, but use whatever format is easiest for you. Information to include: the test and question number, the question type, a summary in your own words of what went wrong, and a takeaway, something that you will try to remember on similar questions in the future. Here’s an excerpt from my error bank, back in the day:

PT 58, 1.24, LR – Weaken: I was looking for an alternative explanation to a correlation/causation fallacy. Actually they slipped in an equivocation. The premises were about the preserve, a part of the valley. The conclusion was about the valley. The answer choice was about how the valley has seen a decline in population, so of course the valley’s population won’t increase. Be hyper-attentive to the terms in the conclusion and keep in mind that there can be more than one flaw in a given argument.

PT 58, 4.7, LR – Explain: The best place to dry popcorn is in the sun. I dry it in my house, though. Explain? The two answers I looked at were a specific one – it’s cloudy during the time of year when you need to dry popcorn – and a general one – there are other effective ways to dry popcorn. The latter must be true – there’s sun drying and in-house drying. We know there are multiple ways. So adding that as a premise doesn’t help. Sure, there could be multiple ways – but the sun is still the BEST way – so why doesn’t the farmer do it? We need a positive answer, something that gives you a reason to dry popcorn in your house, not just establishes that it’s an option. Think about logical force and don’t confuse operation and implication question criteria. The answer on an operation question is not something we already know.

Writing out your errors is tedious, but it’s really useful for the same reasons that your English teacher made you hand-write the vocab words you had to memorize. You don’t have to add every wrong answer to your error bank. Choose the ones that you think you can learn from, and as the list grows, review it every few days.

Note: the less time-consuming alternative is to cut out or take photos of your wrong answers. That’s good too.

The last step is to analyze your test to look for trends. Identify the question types on which you’re underperforming. Also analyze your pace. I like to write down time markers periodically throughout a practice test – at the end of each game and passage, and after every few question on Logical Reasoning. Review these time markers to see where your pace is slackening and which question types are slowing you down.

So remember not to skip reviewing your practice tests. It’s like you’re a football player reviewing the tape from yesterday’s game. Only more glorious.

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