I recommend saying "past simple" rather than "past tense", since the former is unambiguous.
Past simple. Let's say you've just arrived back at the office after taking a 2 week vacation. First thing you do is go chat to your manager. She says, "What do you want to work on, do you want to finish that report?" You say, "Oh, I finished that report" or "Oh, I finished that work right before I left for vacation" or "I did that". You're drawing attention to the fact that the time you did the work is in the past. And you can optionally say exactly *when* in the past with this tense. If you want to try and remember this, think to yourself "is what I'm trying to communicate just SIMPLY that I did something in the PAST?" if so then use the SIMPLE PAST (or "past simple").
Past perfect. "It had started raining by the time the bus arrived". "Had started raining" is past perfect. Past perfect is very often used when two events happened in the past. You use past perfect to describe the earlier event. If you mention the later event at all, then you can use the past simple for that. If you want to remember this, you could first remember that everything in the scenario is in the past. You are inviting the listener to join you in remembering the PAST. Then, if you remember the standing-in-the-rain-waiting-for-the-bus scenario, you could sarcastically say, "Great! PERFECT! It all happened in the PAST and it had started raining by the time the bus arrived!".