Sure, everyone knows you should study to do well on a standardized test, but what does it take to get a top score? Are there certain study habits that correlate with better scores?
We wanted to find out, so we surveyed more than 400 Magoosh students who scored in the top 10% for the GRE, GMAT, SAT and ACT. Here’s what we learned about the way they prep for test day.
The Big Takeaways
- Lone wolves get awesome scores. 98% of respondents said they chose to study alone when asked if they preferred to study solo or with a group.
- Top scorers give themselves enough time to study. 84% of students in the survey studied for a month or longer for their exams.
- Spending thousands isn’t necessary to get a high score. When asked how much they spent on test prep, 88% of respondents said they spent $300 or less. A majority also reported that they performed better than they thought they would on test day.
- There’s no need to cram. 71% of respondents said they gave themselves a break the day before the exam instead studying to the last minute.
- Scores benefit from the silent treatment. When asked if they preferred listening to music while studying, 63% of students said they chose to study in complete silence rather than with any kind of music or background noise.
- Top scorers do sometimes leave the library. 68% of respondents said they exercised at least 1-2 times a week while studying.
- It’s possible to score big the first time around. 68% students nailed the exam the first time they took it.
The Survey Also Suggests…
Money doesn’t guarantee satisfaction. More than 20% of students who spent over $500 on test prep said that they felt like they performed worse than they expected they would on test day. In contrast, fewer than 9% of students who spent less than $500 felt that way.
Paying more might actually stress you out. A majority of the students that reported paying more than $1000 felt nervous on test day. In contrast, fewer than 35% of students who paid less than $1000 felt that way.
Your study efficiency might decrease after 6 months. Fewer than 5% of respondents who studied between 1 and 6 months performed worse than expected on test day. That number jumped to 16% for those who studied for more than 6 months.
Most Common Advice From Top Scorers:
1. Once you know how long you have to prepare, develop a study routine and stick to it.
Many students from the survey said it was helpful to work a strict study schedule into their daily routines. It helped them manage the workload and spread their study time out evenly across their few months of prep. At Magoosh, we recommend giving yourself 3-6 months of prep time. That’s because studying more than that might burn you out, but anything less than that might mean you’re inadequately prepared for the exam. In addition, make sure you manage your intensity and try not to study for more than 4 hours in a single day.
2. Dedicate a significant amount of time to learning from each question you miss.
A large handful of top scorers from the survey said that while studying, you should be mindful of the mistakes you make. Try and learn from each and every question you miss, and — above all — avoid rushing through them. Several students also mentioned that keeping a log of their errors helped them learn and move on from each mistake.
3. Study strategically by focusing your weak spots.
After your diagnostic test, review your answers and identify the types of questions you struggle with most. Top scorers from the survey said that while studying, you should single out your weak points, then practice those question types until approaching and solving them feels like second nature. (Don’t be alarmed if you start dreaming about certain test questions after a while.)
4. Timing is everything.
Knowing how to approach a question is great, but if it takes you five minutes to get to the answer, that won’t help you on test day. Top scorers from the survey said it’s critical to be able to complete questions under intense time constraints. At the beginning of your studies, work slowly and focus on developing technique, but start timing yourself toward the end to prepare for the realities of test day.