Test Taking Guide

These tips will make preparing for exam day more orderly, predictable and a lot less stressful for you so that test taking can become a part of the classroom learning experience that you face with confidence.

General Study Hints

  • Plan your study time well in advance. Last minute cramming is non-productive.
  • Several review sessions are better than one long one.
  • Be rested; have a good study area—free of distractions, take breaks, stay away from pep pills or caffeine-laced items.
  • Group study is most beneficial only after individual study. Be mindful; do not allow group study to drift into casual conversation.

Develop a 4-Day Study Plan

4 days ahead — Get ready to study, organize books, pencils, and notes.  Complete any reading or assignments not done.

3 days ahead — Begin to study, 4 hours divided into 2-hour blocks (with breaks on the hour).

2 days ahead — Practice for essay exam, if applicable.  Make a word outline from a practice essay.  Focus your review on material you haven’t completely learned.

The day before the exam — Review cards, outlines, etc. to answer practice questions.

Day of the exam — Don’t study one to one and one-half hours before the exam.  Practice relaxation right before the exam.

Suggested Review Techniques

  • Compare lecture notes to the textbook or readings. Topics stressed in both are usually sure to be included on tests.
  • Try to recall main headings of chapters, or try to remember sub-headings and main ideas of each.
  • Use 3x5 cards for review of terminology, formulas and other brief facts.
  • Review reading and lecture notes by turning headings into questions and seeing how complete an answer you can give.
  • Try to make an outline of each section of a chapter. Write a few summary notes.
  • In sciences, be sure you include laboratory notes in study. Combine all notes on each topic as you study.
  • Try to formulate questions that might be asked and prepare answers.
  • Prepare study aid sheets for the most important material, coordinating reading and lecture notes.
  • You are well prepared if you can give a 15-minute summary without looking at your notes.

General Test Hints

  • Have a positive attitude. A test is an opportunity to show what you know.
  • Be sure you have a pen or pencil with you, if possible wear a watch too.
  • Arrive at the exam 3 or 4 minutes ahead of time, so that you are settled before the test is handed out. Do not talk about the material just before the test.
  • Read the directions carefully.
  • Look quickly through the whole test and plan time allowance. Allow time for rechecking.  There is no advantage to being the first one done—take all the time allowed.
  • Pay attention to the number of points per question. More points = more time.
  • Answer the questions you know first. Then go back to others.
  • Watch for qualifying cue words in the questions, such as: one, best, most or generally.
  • Answer easiest questions first.
  • Be aware of the questions that might have information that answers other questions.
  • Be very sure before changing any answers.

Different Types of Questions:

Questions that require you to tell all that you know use terms such as:  comment on, describe, discuss, review or state.

Questions that are looking for specific characteristics, or limited facts, use terms such as: compare—likenesses, contrast—differences, diagram—charts and tables, illustrate—concrete examples, prove—show why by evidence, explain—restate in your own words, define—tell meaning, qualities, characteristics.

Questions that are looking for important facts without elaborating ask you to:  enumerate, list, tabulate, trace, summarize, or outline.

Questions that are asking for your supported opinion ask you to:  evaluate, interpret, justify, select, choose, or criticize.

Essay Questions

  • Plan your answers. Jot down ideas, a brief outline and basic organization before you start writing.
  • Plan your time on the basis of points if possible. Set your watch where you can easily see it.
  • Make your answers specific and direct. The first sentence is the direct answer; the rest are support for that statement.  Use technical terms wherever possible.
  • Be sure you are giving the information that the question asked for.
  • Write legibly. Leave space between answers for possible additions.

Short Answer Questions

  • Generally follow rules for essay questions.
  • These questions usually require two sentences. The first identifies the term and the second states why it is important.
  • Read questions carefully.
  • Recall specific facts.
  • Understand what is being asked.
  • If unsure, stick with your first answer.
  • Be brief and to the point.
  • Don’t leave a question blank—write in something, your intuition may be good.

Multiple Choice Questions

  • Try to supply the answer before reading the alternatives.
  • Cross out the choices you know are wrong.
  • Be careful with “all of the above” or “none of the above” type answers.
  • Read all the choices to be sure you have the best answer.
  • Refer choices directly back to the question for relationship.
  • Identify the key phrase in the question.

Matching Questions

  • Recall any related facts and look for associations.
  • Cross out the choices as you use them.
  • Pick the answer that is the most closely related.

True/False Questions

  • Read the whole statement; it must all be true.
  • The broader the statement, the greater chance that it is false.
  • Beware of the double negative and the necessary change in thinking.
  • Words that are usually a clue to a true statement: usually, probably, sometimes, most or some.
  • Words that are usually a clue to a false statement: always, never, all or none.

Follow-up after the Test

  • Try to determine why you got wrong what you did.
    • Is it an indication of poor preparation?
    • Did you not answer the questions asked?
    • Did you misread the directions?
  • Did you accurately predict the type of questions that would be asked?
  • As soon after the test as possible, check on the material you were in doubt about.


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