The art of taking tests... and passing!
While there is no "silver bullet" for students in taking tests, there are a number of techniques and strategies that are appropriate for each type of test. The following section provides tips and suggestions for helping you become a more efficient and effect test-taker.
Preparation, as anyone will tell you, is the key to success. If you try to leave everything to the last minute, or keep disorganized notes, you will find that passing each test becomes progressively harder.
So we've put together some key tips for you.
This page is divided into 2 sections: general preparation, and test preparation. In later pages we also have strategies for the actual tests themselves, along with specific tips for multiple-choice tests, true/false tests, short answers and essay papers.
- Make sure you understand everything as it is taught - ask questions of the instructor, or other people in your class. Waiting till a few weeks or even months after the class won't help.
- Make sure you take good, comprehensive notes.
- Keep your notes in order. (Most people find it easiest to separate notes by subject and class.) You might prefer to type your notes on to your computer, or to keep them in a 3-ring binder or have a separate spiral notebook for each class.
- Cross-reference notes from different classes where appropriate. The ability to bring ideas from different subjects together in a cohesive argument is highly sought after.
- Condense your notes: emphasize a few key points for each topic, and write them down separately - either as a header, or using a flash card. Make sure you can remember the key points.
- Form a study group with other students in your class. Discuss concepts, facts, data and experiments raised in your class, making sure you understand them.
- Schedule short but frequent study sessions; it's easier for you to remember information in short learning bursts.
- Don't plan on learning everything the night before. Your brain will overload and you won't remember half of what you read.
Before the test
- Get copies of past test papers if possible. Read them through. (If there aren't any available, ask the instructor for some example questions to practice with.) This will help you think in the right manner.
- Are there certain types of questions which tend to recur regularly?
- What are the key terms used?
Look for words like analyze, compare and contrast, evaluate, discuss. Each of them expects a different style of answer.
- What format are the questions? Multiple choice, essay, etc.
- How many questions are there, and how much time is given for the whole paper?
- Practice answering essay questions. This sounds like a lot of work, but practice really makes a difference. Make sure you can get all the pertinent information into a coherent essay within the alloted time.
For example: If you have to write 3 essays in an hour, spend no more than 20 minutes on each. Practice writing 17-minute essays: this also gives you 3 minutes to read the question, jot an outline and have a quick read-through at the end.
- Ask your instructor if s/he would look over your practice answers and let you know if you're on the right track. (Don't expect a full workup complete with scoring - just a general idea!)
- Get everything you need the night before the test so you don't have to scramble to find a pencil or calculator in the morning.
- Last but not least - don't stay up late the night before! Try to get a good night's sleep, and remember to eat something in the morning!