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In college, tests are unavoidable. Having strategies for taking different types of tests can improve your performance. By understanding what is expected for each test-type, you can gain confidence, which will trickle down into better test performance and lessen test anxiety.

Preparing for the Test

There are some general strategies that you can take to be successful for a test in any subject.

  • Prepare Early – Start on the first day of class by practicing good note-taking strategies, attending all classes, arriving on time, and staying until the end of class.
  • Know Expectations – Reading the syllabus can give you great information on the instructor's expectations and testing format. A large part of fear and anxiety comes from the unknown. The more you know about what is expected  in your evaluations and exams, the more at ease you will be.
  • Keep Up – Manage your time and keep up with daily reading, homework, and assignments. NEVER CRAM!
  • Ask Questions – Do this in class, as you read, and as you review. Constantly think of possible questions that the instructor might ask on a test.
  • Review Early – Preview chapters before every class and review notes after each class.
  • Review Weekly – Spend about an hour each week reviewing class notes, reading notes, chapter questions, note cards, mind maps, flash cards, a checklist of items to study, and summaries written in your own words.
  • Final Review – About a week before the test, conduct a major review: practice test questions, compare concepts, integrate major points, and review with a study group.

During the Test

  • Arrive Early – You don’t want to be frantic and late before a test. Arrive a few minutes early, practice deep breathing and affirmations, and visualize yourself relaxed and completing the test successfully.
  • Organize yourself – Write your name and then “brain dump.” Write words, facts, formulas, dates, principles, or statistics in pencil on the back of your paper or in the margins as soon as you get the test.
  • Read instructions – Sometimes missing a word or part of a question can cost you valuable points. Be sure to read and understand the instructions before answering the question.
  • Pace Yourself – Make your time count. Look at points for each question and determine the importance that should be given to each section. For example, you will want to spend more time on an essay worth 25 points than on a multiple choice worth 5.
  • Review – Once you have finished, re-read the test and check for careless mistakes or spelling errors. Stay the entire time, answer extra-credit questions, and fill in details, if time permits.

Not sure if you suffer from test anxiety? Take this survey and find out. If you do have test anxiety, use the strategies laid out on the Handling Stress page!


Strategies for Multiple-Choice Questions

  • Read the question carefully - Are you being asked for the correct answer or the best choice? Is there more than one answer? Preview the test to see if an answer may be included in a statement or question.
  • Rephrase the question - Sometimes it helps to rephrase the question in your own words. You may also want to answer the question yourself before looking at the possible answers.
  • Eliminate choices - Narrow your choices by reading through all of them and eliminating those that you know are incorrect.
  • Go from easy to difficult - Go through the test and complete those questions for which you know the answers. This will give you a feeling of confidence. Don't use all your time on a few questions.
  • Watch for combinations - Don't just choose what appears to be the one correct answer. Some questions offer a combination of choices such as "All of the above" or "None of the above."
  • Look at sentence structure  - Make sure the grammatical structure of the question agrees with your choice.
  • Pay attention to details - Read dates, names, and places carefully. Sometimes the dates are changed around (1494 instead of 1449) or the wording is changed slightly. Any changes like these can change the meaning.
  • Watch for qualifiers - Watch for absolute words such as always, all, never, and every. The question is often false because there are almost always exceptions. If you can think of one exception, then the statement is false.
  • Watch for faulty cause and effect  - Two true statements may be connected by a word that implies cause and effect, and this word may make the statement false.
  • Always answer every question - Unless there is a penalty for wrong answers, answer every question. There's always a chance you'll get it right even when you're guessing.
  • Trust your first choice - Often the answer you choose first is right. Don't change an answer unless you are certain it is wrong. Don't spend time pondering until you have finished the entire test and have time to spare.

Strategies for Essay Questions

  • Read All Questions - Read all the questions through rapidly, jotting down beside each question any pertinent facts or ideas that occur to you. This will give you a good overview of the entire test and help ensure that your answers do not overlap each other.
  • Plan Your Time - Estimate the time that you have for each question according to their relative difficulty and importance. Then keep track of time so that you don't get carried away answering any one question.
  • Answer the Easiest Questions First - Answer the easiest questions first and concentrate on answering one question at a time. Getting down to work on something you can handle is the surest way to reduce your anxiety about tests.
  • Make an Outline - To ensure good organization and prevent careless omissions, make a brief, logical outline for your answer before you start writing. Remember, it's not how much you say but what you say and how well you say it that counts.
  • Understand the Questions - Decide what kind of answer each question requires before you begin writing. A different kind of answer is required by such action verbs as "illustrate," "list," "define," "trace," "compare," "identify," or "explain."
  • Answer All Parts of the Question - Sometimes questions may have two or more parts to them. Double check the question when you finish writing your answer to ensure that you have not overlooked part of the prompt.
  • Get to the Point - Avoid long-winded introductions. Your aim in answering most essay questions is to provide the largest amount of point-earning information in the time allowed. A long, irrelevant introduction won't help your score and only wastes your time. Start developing the topic in your first paragraph.
  • Include Facts - When appropriate, include factual details to support your answers. Facts demonstrate to your professor that you know what you are talking about.
  • Be Neat - Take time to write legibly and make your corrections, if any, as neat as possible. Most professors react favorably to neatness, so let this work for you. Besides, if your writing is unreadable, few professors will waste their time trying to decipher your answer.
  • Allow Room to Expand - Leave space between your answers. You may need it for new ideas or additional details that occur later when you return to reread what you have written.
  • Check Your Work - Leave enough time to check all your answers for completeness and accuracy of content. Also, make sure that there aren't any careless mistakes in grammar, spelling, and punctuation. You could raise your score simply be correcting an error or adding another fact.

Preparing For Finals

Finals are particularly challenging since they involve studying so many different topics for tests that take place within the same time period.
In order to successfully prepare for finals, you should be doing the following things all semester:

  • Attend classes regularly
  • Take effective notes
  • Review after each class
  • Read & understand the text
  • Do all mandatory and suggested homework
  • Ask questions, get clarification