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Succeed on Exams

General Tips for Taking Tests

The seven strategies discussed in this section may be used for most types of tests in nearly every subject. They are arranged in the order in which they should be used when taking a test. The strategies should become part of every student’s test-taking plan.

Seven Strategies for Success in Taking Any Test

Dump information

Quickly write down any information you might forget or confuse at the start of the test.

Read the directions

  • Pay special attention to words like “and,” “or,” “have to,” “may,” and “best.” Take note of what questions are to be answered, if answers may be used more than once, or if there is more than one answer for each question.
  • Flag tricky directions by circling or underlining them so you don’t forget to follow them carefully.
  • Don’t try to do even simple math in your head; that’s the way mistakes are made.

Scan the test

  • Pay particular attention to the number of questions and the amount of information required to answer each. Look at the point values for each section or question.
  • Decide if the exam is a “speed test” or an “accuracy test.” Speed tests are tests that only the best students will be able to finish in time. Accuracy tests are graded on content and organization.

Develop a plan

  • Budget your time for completing each section or question, and stick to your schedule. For accuracy tests, spend more time on the questions worth the most points. Make sure you stay on schedule.
  • Start with the material you know the best, or the type of question on which you do the best.

Read the questions carefully

Break down complicated questions into more manageable parts and then work on each part individually.

Ask the instructor to interpret or reword a question if you don’t understand it. Don’t over interpret the questions or look for hidden meanings.

Make educated guesses

  • If you don’t know the answer to a question right away, circle the question and go back to it later after you have worked through the entire test once. Avoid rereading questions over and over again.
  • Look for clues in the questions and the answer choices.
  • If two answers look correct, and the directions indicate that there is only one correct answer for each question, pick the most obvious answer. If no answer seems to be quite right, pick the closest one.

Watch out for careless errors

  • Reread the directions to make sure you have completed each section of the test correctly.
  • Reread answers to make sure that you wrote what you intended to write and that you answered all parts of the question.
  • Double check any math calculations.
  • Make sure all answers are in the right places and be sure all questions have an answer.

Test tips adapted from Muskingum University

Test anxiety is the feeling of nervousness and distress you experience before or during an exam. Students who suffer from test anxiety report difficulties with concentration, mental blocks, and distractibility. Counseling & Testing Services provides information and help for managing test anxiety.