Doing simulations is a crucial step in preparing for standardized exams, including the SAT, ACT, GRE, GMAT,IELTS, and TOEFL. Simulations can help with any important test, though the details are different for those which aren't standardized. Taking regular simulations is an excellent way to maximize your speed, as well as optimize your emotional and mental state during the exam itself.
Benefits of simulations
Students tend to score lower on their actual test than what they showed on their practice tests. The reason is stress: many people become confused or slow when they're nervous, or rush to pick wrong answers because they're in panic mode.
Simulations reduce this phenomenon immensely, because you've gone through the test "experience" so many times that, by the time by you do the actual test, you're less fazed.
The digital age has disrupted our ability to focus for a substantial period of time; today's adult can focus for a maximum of around 20 minutes. (1) On the other hand, most standardized tests last several hours, and as a result, performance during the course of the exam tends to decline noticeably.
Simulations train the brain to focus for the time necessary to finish the test with optimal results. It won't eliminate tiredness and distraction entirely, but it might reduce it to a large degree.
3. Progress Tracking
The other benefits of simulations is that they allow you to track your progress as accurately as possible. Firstly, several studies show that people who track their progress regularly see significantly better results. (See here for more details.)
This is true of weight loss, budget control, and yes, exam grades. The reason is that you're more emotionally invested in your success. If your grades are rising - as they should, if you're studying correctly - it will encourage you to study more, and to study better. If not, it will hopefully give you the push you need to start putting in the work necessary for results.
How to take simulations:
1. Make sure you won't be interrupted. Lock the door, shut off your phone, and tell the people who live with you that you won't be available for the next several hours. Make sure you're in a quiet place! If there's substantial noise in your environment, find a quiet area like a library, or use noise cancelling earbuds.
2. Make sure you adhere to given times exactly as they will be in your actual tests - including breaks. Don't snatch an extra minute to finish the problem, or stretch out the break. Those small time differences make a substantial difference in performance, and you'll end up feeling disagreeably unprepared when you take the exam itself.
3. Conditions should be the same as in an actual test. For example, abstain from music, even if you usually listen when you study. Have snacks by your side, if you plan on doing so during the test.
4. If you plan on a paper-based test, use a paper-based simulation. If you're doing a computer-based test, use a computer-based simulation.
These two are very different things. The approach is different, technical possibilities are different, (Can you mark things that stand out to you in the reading comprehension section? Is scrap paper allowed?), and sometimes, question types and difficulty levels are different. (Some computer-based tests determine the level of difficulty based on your rate of success in the previous section.)
5. Don't use your phone as a timer. It's rife with interruptions and a tempting source of distraction. Use an actual timer.
6. Don't go out during a section - either to grab a snack, go to the restroom, or simply clear your head - unless you plan on doing that during the exam itself. Visit the restroom and prepare all your snacks beforehand. During breaks do as you like; just be careful not to exceed the time allotted.
Frequency and consistency
It's important to do these simulations fairly frequently. The ideal rate is once a week. Depending on your intensity and the amount of time left before your exam, the rate might change somewhat.
For example, if you have a year left before your exam, a more appropriate frequency might be once every two weeks.
The more important issue is consistency. Don't take these simulations sporadically during the course of your study time. Doing them sporadically is better than not doing them at all. But in order to reap their maximum benefit, try to take them at regular intervals which have been predetermined. An important note: do NOT use simulations to practice questions with. They're valuable and in limited supply. When you do take them, they should be done only under test conditions.
For more tips and methods, or to get help personally tailored to your needs, consider working with me. I've helped people from all over the world get into their dream school. In coaching you, I adopt my methods specifically to your personality, schedule, and learning style. For this reason, studying privately with a skilled coach is the best way to increase your test score.
(1) (Cornish, David; Dukette, Dianne (2009). The Essential 20: Twenty Components of an Excellent Health Care Team. Pittsburgh, PA: RoseDog Books. pp. 72–73)