A couple of things to consider:

Lighting makes a huge difference. A print viewed in full sunlight or bright light may have luminous, detailed shadows, but that same print indoors with weak(er) incandescent display lighting may look heavy and muddy, with dark featureless shadows.

Then there is drydown, which can really make a difference, especially when a print had subtle bright highlights. I tried all that drydown compensation stuff and it simply does not work; a dry print has much different reflectance characteristics than a wet one. And, if you tone, you need to learn how to leave a bit of "room" for the print to change density as it tones. It's all very subjective.

My suggestions. Use less light over your fixer tray (to get closer to the right test-strip exposure)and try to evaluate prints that are approaching "finished" dry. I evaluate the test-strips wet, since they just get me in the ball park anyway. I find that a 60W bulb 5-6 feet from the fixer tray makes a good compromise. Often, however, I find the strip exposure want and print it a bit lighter (10% or so) for the starting print.

For evaluating prints close to "final," I recommend drying the prints down. Prints change in tonal relations as well as getting somewhat darker when dry, so just reducing exposure doesn't cut it. You may have to change contrast or your manipulation scheme as well. I usually concentrate my printing sessions into the summer months, so I take my prints out into the hot sun and dry them down. When I print in winter, I'll air dry a print in front of the darkroom heater or, if it's not a keeper, zap it in the microwave for a while. In both summer and winter, I try to go outside with the dry print and evaluate it under sunlight. Then I take it into the darkroom and tape them up under the weaker incandescents (60W bulb, 5 feet or so from the print). If I can make a print that still works under both conditions, then I'm happy. Usually, though, I have to print to an optimum lighting condition somewhere in between. In galleries, I like lots of light on my prints, so I often err on the side of losing shadow detail in lower lighting conditions, but not always. It's highly subjective...

Although I work with one print from beginning to finished print in a session, I spend lots of time just sitting and looking at slightly different dry prints taped up next to each other on the board. Two good prints a day (6-8 hours) is about my average, and that doesn't include the toning sessions that I do later.

Also, I often keep a number of prints at slightly different exposures/contrasts, and discard the ones that don't "sing" later. While I think a reference print is a good idea for beginning printers, after a while you find that each print has its own "will" and wants to have more open or darker shadows, more glaring or subtle highlights, more or less separation in the mid-tones... you get the idea.

A good experiment: take a print you like and evaluate it under many different lighting conditions. A bright incandescent on a dimmer is good, but you can just carry it around to different places too. One learns a lot about visual perception this way.

Hope this helps,

Doremus Scudder
www.DoremusScudder.com