By Carla Kirkland, Chan Cleveland

You have to cram a lot of information into your brain before you take the Praxis Core exam: math formulas, grammar rules, citation styles. What’s a person to do? Here are ten tips that can come in handy while you’re taking the exam. If you forget the details of a rule, these hints just may jog your memory and help boost your score.

Trust your ear

When it comes to the Praxis writing test, there’s no such thing as learning too many rules. Any grammatical rule under the sun has a chance of coming up at some point. But all that memorization has a way of making your head spin, and it’s important that, no matter how jam-packed with rules your head gets, you never forget to trust your ear. Remember that you are, after all, someone who speaks and writes English, and you read things in English all the time without failing to understand them. You also write things in English all the time without anyone telling you that he can’t make heads or tails out of what you wrote. Believe it or not, you do have a pretty good acquired sense already of what “sounds good” or “sounds bad” in English. So when it comes to those grammar questions, never let some hazy memory of something you think might be a rule convince you to shy away from an answer that sounds good in favor of one that sounds bad. If you think something “sounds funny,” it’s probably for a good reason, even if you can’t explain what rule is at work.

Watch out for solo prepositions

On those “No Error” questions in the middle of the Praxis writing section, four portions of the sentence are underlined. Either you select one of them as containing a grammatical error, or you select the “No Error” option if you think the sentence is correct. Anything goes on these questions, but one red flag to watch out for is a preposition underlined by itself. If you see one, and the sentence doesn’t contain any other obvious errors, there’s a good chance that the preposition should be a different one, and that this is the error.

Don’t be afraid of the “fancy” punctuation marks

You’ve known about commas and periods seemingly forever, but most people are a little shakier when it comes to the rules for other punctuation marks, like colons, semicolons, and dashes (be they double or single). While an answer choice with a fancy punctuation mark isn’t any more likely to be correct, such an answer isn’t any less likely to be correct either. If four of the choices contain only commas, but you suspect they’re all wrong (because they contain comma splices, for example), don’t shy away from the choice with the colon in it just because you’re afraid it might be breaking some mysterious colon rule you’ve never heard of.

Don’t stop typing

When it comes to the essay portions of the Praxis writing test, a lot of test-takers want to make sure every single sentence is perfect before typing it. But all that leads to is a woefully short essay. Remember, the big picture here is that you’re trying to come off as someone who likes writing and feels confident doing so. If you get into the habit of second-guessing every thought you have, you’ll freeze up. You shouldn’t write everything that pops into your head exactly as the thought presents itself, but it’s better to do that than to endlessly analyze everything that pops into your head. If something occurs to you while you’re writing the essay, it probably occurred to you for a reason. As long as it’s relevant to the topic, type it and press on! If it wasn’t the most brilliant thought you’ve ever had, so be it — maybe the next thought will be. But you’ll never have the next thought if you sit there worrying about the first one.

Don’t use an unnatural tone

You’ve heard the expression “write what you know,” right? Well, when it comes to the essays in the Praxis writing section, the name of the game is to write how you know. If you’re suddenly trying to sound very formal when you don’t normally write that way, you’ll become alienated from your own sentences and run out of energy. You’ll probably make more errors that way too — remember that “simple and correct” is better than “fancy and incorrect.” As long as the way you normally write is comprehensible and punctuated, sounding like yourself with confidence is better than trying to impersonate an Oxford Don and screwing it up.

Don’t just read — hear

If you were allowed to bring a friend to the Praxis reading test and have her read all the passages out loud to you, you’d probably get a perfect score. After all, you don’t have any trouble understanding people when they talk, right? Well, it may sound obvious, but remember that writing is just talking that someone wrote down. Rather than letting your eyes scan all over the passage for keywords and transition words as though the passage is written in some kind of secret code, learn to develop a voice in your head in which you hear the passage, as though someone were speaking it to you. You can imagine a friend’s voice, a favorite TV character’s voice, or any voice you feel comfortable listening to. Ultimately, words are words, so the main idea of a written paragraph that you read is the same as if you heard someone say it to you.

Think about what would be a correct answer

If you ever get stuck trying to figure out what the right answer is on the Praxis reading test, try thinking about what the right answer would be. Remember that the test has politics like anything else. None of the passages are going to present an opinion that is potentially offensive or controversial — the people who write standardized tests can get in trouble that way. So if you ever see an answer choice that borders on being politically incorrect or too critical of a certain demographic of people, it’s almost certainly wrong. The author cant be saying that, because if he were, the people who make the test wouldn’t have picked that passage. The right answer tends to be what the people who make tests would want to be true.

Practice making your own questions

This may sound crazy, but have you ever tried to write a grammar or a reading-comprehension test yourself? It might not be a bad idea. After all, if you were playing defense in a sport, you’d probably try to guess what the offense would do by thinking about what you’d do in that position. They may not be as much fun, but standardized-test questions work in much the same way. The next time you’re reading a magazine article for pleasure, pick a random paragraph and write out what the main idea is. Then try to come up with four false statements about the main idea, as though you were writing a multiple-choice question and had to design four wrong answers to go with your right one. Do this enough, and you’ll begin to develop a pretty good sense of the ways in which the people who write the wrong answers try to trick you.

Avoid careless errors

One of the major downfalls people have in answering math questions is the tendency to make careless errors. Making one mistake in working out a problem usually wrecks the entire process. Careless errors are very sneaky attackers. Although caution is not one of the categories of Praxis Core exam questions, you’re tested on it when you take the exam. Your level of caution is tested every time you answer a math problem. The most important thing you can do to exercise caution against those mischievous careless errors is to work every entire step of a problem. When you feel like you can work a problem in your head, you probably can, but doing so is risky. While working each step, you should be constantly making sure that every detail you write is correct. Talking the problem out in your head adds an extra means of taking note of what you’re doing and lowers the risk of careless errors. You can test solutions to equations by putting the solutions in for the variables and determining whether the resulting equations are true. Also, you should use any extra time that you may have to check back over your work and answers. Why sit and do nothing when you could be pushing up your score?

Draw pictures of visual scenarios that are only described

On the math test of the Praxis Core exam, many of the questions are about situations involving spatial arrangements of objects or figures. Some of those questions don’t come with visual representations. Any time you come across that, draw a picture to give yourself an extra level of understanding about the situation. If you don’t draw the picture, your subconscious will try to create a picture in your mind. The picture will be easier to keep fully together and analyze if it’s on paper.