Practice tests should be a part of your study routine, you may even have a few of them under your belt. If you haven’t incorporated PTs, start including them! But, let’s assume you’ve taken several by now, all under test-day conditions. You probably know how imperative it is to take and review them correctly. If not, you can find more information on how to do that on this blog post. Obviously, not all of your PTs will go well and it is important to understand why.
While getting an awesome score on your practice test can give you an important confidence boost, it has little pedagogical value. A 180 is all about bragging rights: it teaches you nothing. By contrast, a 142 says little about your potential, but it can teach you a lot. Indeed, the more your test scores fluctuate in the early stages of your test preparation, the more you can learn from them. Many students experience fluctuations of 10 points or more, which can be attributed to several factors.
Without taking a ton of practice tests, you cannot build the endurance and stamina necessary to complete a five-section test without mentally exhausting yourself. This is probably evident from your performance on the last section of your practice tests or on questions that are toward the end of each section. Don’t worry about it. By this time next month, you’ll be able to take a practice test and not even break a sweat. Sort of.
Your current pacing may be off. It’s probably way off. You might be able to finish some of your sections in time, but you probably rush through half the questions. Rushing is no good. Inversely, you may not be able to finish any of your sections, forcing you to guess on a good number of questions. Blind guessing is no good either. The appropriate strategy would be to approach each question correctly and setting aside only those you can reasonably expect to take an inordinately long time to solve. The goal is to finish your section without having to guess blindly and return to any outstanding questions if time allows. This strategy takes practice and it gets better with time.
At the early stages of your test prep, your accuracy is likely to be higher on the question types you’ve already studied than on those you haven’t. As you advance in your studies (whether you are taking a class or doing it on your own), you will achieve a more consistent accuracy level across question types. Ultimately, your accuracy should correlate most closely with the difficulty of the questions, and less so with their particular type.
When you took your first diagnostic test, you probably didn’t know much about conditional reasoning, causality, or grouping games. You were trying to “wing it,” so to speak, using common sense alone. Your accuracy may have been abysmal, but at least you covered more questions. Today, your recognition levels are higher: you know a conditional statement when you see one. That does not mean, however, that you can use that recognition to arrive at the correct answer choice quickly and efficiently. In other words, you haven’t turned recognition into automation. As a result, you are probably running out of time sooner than expected, further lowering your score.
If your scores fluctuate, there is no reason to panic. For better or worse, your most recent practice test score is an extremely poor predictor of what your scores will look like next week, or next month, or on test day. That said, every fluctuation is a chance to reassess what you have done right, and what you haven’t. Don’t blow it.