Test-Taking Strategies

I can still remember when I was in school and feeling very overwhelmed the night before an exam. I had waited too long to start studying and I knew I would have to pull an "all nighter." However, my stress level wouldn’t end there.

The day of the test I was consumed with anxiety, nerves, and adrenaline on top of hoping I would remember everything, be able to understand the question, and have enough time to complete the test. After each exam, I vowed that I would not wait until the last minute, that I would be better organized; and yet, each time I would repeat the above-mentioned cycle.

To help you avoid this pattern, we have provided some useful test-taking strategies to assist you before and during your exam to make this process a lot easier. At first, it might seem overwhelming to use some of the strategies; however, you can start to implement a couple of strategies and it will make the entire process a lot easier.

Effective test taking involves:

  • Test preparation
  • Using different strategies to match the format of the test
  • Applying these strategies as needed

Test Preparation Strategies

Test preparation begins on the first day of class. It includes:

  • Studying
  • Completing homework assignments, and
  • Reviewing study materials on a regular basis.

The final few classes before an exam are important.

  • The teacher will probably stress the material which is most important.
  • It is also helpful to find out what test format will be used (e.g., essays, short answer, multiple choice, true-false, etc.).
  • Try to look at copies of previous exams—which may be available in the library—or through online resources (e.g., The University of Michigan's CTools).

Ask your teacher for guidance during the studying process.

Know how you learn best.

  • Does it help you to rehearse information out loud?
  • Do you work best with a study partner?
  • Are you a visual learner?
  • Does a diagram help you?

Outline what you think will be on the test.

  • Look for a general theme and tie the course materials together. Try to predict what might be asked on the exam.
  • It may be beneficial to show your teacher the outline, explain what you know, and ask if you’ve missed anything.

Organize the material into sections.

  • Try to see the main points of each topic as a whole before delving into the details.
  • Details will become easier to remember if you can understand how they fit within the larger framework.
  • Review the material by reciting it from memory orally, mentally, or in written version.
  • Choose the right study method based on what you have to review and the exam format.
    • For example, if you have a lot of facts to memorize, utilize note cards, review sheets, mnemonic devices, etc.

Test-Taking Strategies

  • Try to get a good night’s sleep and avoid last-minute cramming the night before. This type of studying is usually ineffective and it will add to your nervousness.
  • The day of the exam make sure you eat a good meal. This will help your blood sugar stay stable and will boost your brain capacity.
  • Keep a positive attitude while taking the test. If you’re unsure of an answer or begin to feel nervous, take a few deep breaths to relax.
  • Look through the entire test first and answer the easiest questions first. This will help to reduce your anxiety.
  • Read the question carefully and analyze what the teacher wants in the answer. If the question has several parts, use these parts to structure your answer.
  • Use the entire exam period rather than rushing through the test.
  • Bring a watch to the exam and keep an eye on the time.
  • Avoid focusing on one question and running out of time on others.
  • Try to allow yourself 10 minutes at the end of the exam to read through your answers. Check for mistakes or omissions.

You have now been given a "tool kit" for test taking. If you are able to implement at least some these strategies throughout the school year not only will you be academically ahead, but you will reduce anxiety, increase organizational skills, manage time more effectively, and achieve the results you want. Success starts here!