Taking a Test

Taking a Test

This section covers:
1. Getting Started
2. Answering Different kinds of questions
3. After the test.

Getting Started

1. If you are feeling nervous, try slow deep breathing to help you relax. Tell yourself that you pencil and test answer sheetdon’t need to worry. You have studied hard and are well prepared. You should relax and enjoy yourself, knowing you will do well.

2. Start by writing your name on the exam or answer sheets. Do not wait until the end when you might forget. Some teachers automatically give a zero to students who forget to put their name on a test, even if they know whose test it is. That zero will definitely teach you to start by writing your name.

3. If the teacher begins by giving directions, listen carefully. Is there anything that you didn’t already know?

4. Do not just start answering questions. Take your time. First read the directions on the test very carefully. It often helps to read the directions twice.  The directions for a multiple choice section might ask you to pick all correct answers. This doesn’t happen often, but you need to be sure. The essay section might ask you to answer only two of the six essay questions. You will feel like an idiot if you rush through all six and get a poor grade because none of them were well done. READ the DIRECTIONS.

5. Plan Ahead. Skim the entire test. Does it tell you how many points are possible for each kind of question?  Create a simple time schedule. You might allow 15 minutes for each  of the two essays, 10 minutes for the 10 short answer questions, and 20 minutes for the multiple choice questions. Be flexible but a schedule will give you a feeling of control.

6. Plan how much time to  spend in each area. You might also plan which questions you should answer first. It is usually best to start with the easiest questions – using the true-false, multiple choice, and short answer. Some students prefer to do essay questions first while their mind is clear. Then they can relax.

7.  If you feel tired or nervous during the test, you can stretch your arms and legs. You can tighten muscles and gradually release them. Take a few slow, deep, breaths. Don’t take too long. Tell yourself you are doing pretty well. Smile and get back to your test.

Answering different kinds of questions

1. Essay Questions

For essay questions,  read the question, then stop and think. What is the teacher looking for? Do not try to write everything you know on the subject. Write a clearly stated answer to the question that was asked.

You might brainstorm a quick list of ideas and organize them into a short outline. You might use a concept map or other visual organizer to organize your ideas. You can usually do this on the back of the test or in the margins. If you aren’t sure, ask ahead of time. Then, with your organization clear, write an interesting introductory paragraph, a short paragraph for each of your three or four main points, and a good summary or conclusion.

Do not ramble on and on. Make your points clearly. Give reasons or evidence that support these points. Do not use big words if you aren’t certain you understand them. Teachers are not impressed by big words.  Short sentences that get straight to the point are best, especially for topic sentences.

Your spelling and grammar should be good, your handwriting neat and legible. And of course, your thinking should be outstanding.  If,  for any reason, you have run out of time, do not just write a few things you know on the subject. Write your outline or concept map .

If you have time left at the end of the test, proofread your essays and make any corrections.  It may not seem fair, but grading an essay is somewhat subjective. You sometimes find that students with the best handwriting get a higher grade, even for writing the same information. The handwriting makes the teacher believe you have written a good essay.

If your writing skills are weak, ask if there is a study skills center on campus where someone will help you learn to write a good essay. If there is no such place, you could ask the professor for advice or ask a friend who makes good grades on essay questions to help you learn.

2. For Multiple Choice Questions, be very careful when you see words like, all, everyone, always, none, no one,  or never.  Ask yourself if exceptions might prove these statements false. Things are rarely true all the time or none of the time. Better answers are more likely to say someone, some people, or sometimes.

The usual advice is not to over-think a question.  It is usually smart to go with your first idea unless you are certain it was wrong.

3. True – False Questions

True – False questions can be harder than they look. Read the sentence at least twice. Think of any GOOD REASONS why the sentence is false. This doesn’t include little picky reasons. But do take your time looking for exceptions. Here are two examples.

All dogs are animals.
You think about stuffed animals. That is silly. When they say dogs they mean real dogs not toys. It is true.

All cats make excellent pets.
This sound true doesn’t it. But wait a minute. Lions and tigers are large cats. This isn’t a silly idea. This sentence is false. You might also consider feral cats, those that have been abandoned and are now wild. They don’t make good pets either.

4. Short Answer Questions – Fill in the blanks

These questions range from simple to very hard.  You probably know the answer to the first question, but what about the second question?

a. _________ discovered America in 1492.

b. Franklin Roosevelt was elected president in the year ______

Answer questions you know early in the test. Sometimes, as you read other questions, you’ll realize you know another answer.

5.  Problem Solving

Some tests are mainly problems to be solved. This is true in math,  physics, sometimes in chemistry, and in business classes.  The problems are likely to be similar to those you did for homework.

If you needed to memorize formulas, you might write them in the margin of the test as soon as you get the test. Read the directions next. Most students start with the most simple problems. You can move through these quickly and this will increase your confidence.

It is important to show your work clearly. Many teachers will give partial credit if you set up the problem correctly, if the process was right, even if you made errors in calculation.

When you finish a question, ask yourself if the answer makes sense. Could you have put the decimal in the wrong place? if it does not make sense, check your work. Finally, be sure that you have indicated the units if necessary. The answer may not be 27 but 27 miles per hour or 27 centimeters.  Many teachers take off points when you leave off the correct unit.

After the tests

After the test, either think about your experience or write in your journal.

  • What did you do especially well?
  • What should you have done differently?
  • What did you learn about the tests this teacher writes?
  • What did you learn about preparing for tests?
  • What did you learn about taking tests?

When you get back your graded paper, look it over quickly to see if your teacher made any mistakes in grading. Maybe you did include units in a math problem, not where you did the calculations but further down where you wrote your final answer. If the teacher is answering questions, you might want to ask about something on the paper. Then put the test away carefully.

When you have more time, take it out and study it carefully. Make a list of what you should do  differently for the next test. How will you prepare differently, knowing what kind of questions you did poorly on? How will you use your time differently?  What questions will you ask the teacher before the test? Reflecting on our good and bad experiences is a very important part of learning.

What a shame  so many students throw their tests away without looking at anything but the grade.
Taking Standardized Tests


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