Test Taking Skills

Most tests fall into two categories: objective (multiple choice, true-false, completion, matching) and essay. Both kinds have their advantages and both require their own study approach.

Most instructors will tell you what kind of exam they give (if not, former students will tell you). Make sure you know before it's time for the exam. Most instructors follow a pattern when they give exams. Taking the first exam may be a trauma, but after that you should be able to predict what type of questions they will give.

  1. If there is a test bank at your school, take advantage of it. If not, see if the instructor allows students to keep their exams. If they do, try to find someone who has their old exams and make copies of them. When you are preparing for a test, use the old exams as a study guide - DO NOT use them as your only study tool. If you do not have access to old tests, ask what they are like. Frequently, the instructor will tell you; former students can give you a good idea also.
  2. Your best defense for doing well on exams is to study on a regular basis. Do not plan on doing all of your studying the night before the exam. Pulling all nighters leaves you short on sleep and thus less able to perform well. It creates an unnecessary stress which again reduces your ability to perform. And it does little to help prepare you for long term memory. Learning only to take an exam is short sighted. If you are able to study on a regular basis, the night before an exam should require simply review of the material to refresh your mind and some extra work on the newest material or the most difficult material.
  3. Be on time for the test. Be in the classroom before the instructor. The only exception to this rule is if you have test anxiety. In that case, be outside the classroom and walk in with the instructor. That way, you do not have to hear all the pretest chatter that may confuse you.
  4. Have plenty of pens, pencils, paper - or whatever is required.
  5. Be prepared to work as soon as the instructor comes in. Be especially careful to listen to verbal instructions.
  6. When the test is handed out either listen to directions or read directions. If there is more than one part to the test read all directions before you begin.
  7. Make sure your name is on what is being turned in for grading.
  8. It is a good idea to read through the test before you begin to take it. When you read through the test, get a feel for the information that is ON the test, and for the amount of time you can afford to spend on any one part of the test. Budgeting time can be an important factor in getting through an exam.
  9. When you read through the test, pick out questions that you find "easy" - ie. you are sure of the answer. Answer those first. They build confidence and frequently get you in gear to reason through questions you are not sure of.
  10. Don't be afraid to use the test as a source of information. Often, another question will help you answer the one you are stuck on.
  11. Develop a sense of self confidence. You may not know every item on the test, but you DO know a good amount of information. Use the information you do have. For example, on multiple choice questions, if the answer doesn't pop out at you, use a process of elimination. Get rid of the questions that cannot be right, and then work with the ones that are left.
  12. On true, false questions, be careful of words such as NEVER, ALWAYS, ONLY. Such words put great restrictions on the statement. If you can think of one exception, the answer is false.
  13. Do matching much like you would a multiple choice. Do the ones you are sure of, and use process of elimination for the others.
  14. On completion, answer only what is there. DO NOT add anything or put certain qualifications on the statement.
  15. Unless you are sure that more than one answer is possible, do not put down more than one answer. Parenthesis around an answer that you think might be correct or the same as what you have already written could cost you points if it is wrong. Put down only what is necessary to be correct. Trying to impress the instructor is great, but if the additional information is wrong, all of your points could be lost.
  16. Go over your test when you are finished. When you go over the test, make sure you read the question correctly and you answered what was asked. Do not change answers unless you are certain that you made a mistake. If you are not absolutely sure the answer you want to change is incorrect, go with your first impression. Almost without fail, first associations are correct.
  17. Unless you are penalized for guessing, always answer all questions. If you don't know the answer, try to put down something that is reasonable. On multiple choice, if you truly cannot figure out the answer, put down answer C or D. On multiple choice questions, those are the most frequently used choices.
  18. If the question is the only one in the multiple choice questions with an "all the above" or "none of the above" for a choice, that is more than likely the answer.
Again, look for clues in other test questions.