Test Taking

What are the best ways to prepare for tests? Attend class regularly, keep up on assignments, participate in discussions, and review notes and readings regularly. However, strategies abound for boosting test taking skills.

For more information about test-taking watch this short video TEST TAKING (.wmv) or make an appointment with one of our study skills tutors:

Preparing for Tests

Taking Tests

Study Checklist

Make a checklist about a week before each exam, and use it to schedule study time.

  • Test Date:
  • Test will cover (chapters, concepts):
  • Assignments/reading I still need to do:
  • Study tools I will use to prepare:
  • Things to do/review (break tasks listed above into things you can do in about an hour. Be sure to prioritize):

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Study Tools

We learn more by actively engaging with information instead of just re-reading it. The following study tools have been proven effective for many college students—which tool to use depends on the individual and the material to be learned.

  • Flash Cards
    Write vocabulary words on the front and definitions on the back, or questions on the front and answers on the back. Creating flash cards helps you learn and remember the material, and using them to self-test is a very effective way to review.
  • Summary Sheets
    Condense a large amount of information (e.g. several weeks of notes or a chapter from a textbook) into a page or two. This organizes the information for easy reference and forces you to review the material while identifying the important points.
  • Timelines
    Creating a timeline helps you organize material in chronological order. Timelines give a visual image of the information, making it easier to recall during testing. They also put isolated events in context and help you to see a progression of events or ideas.
  • Charts
    Charts are used to organize information into categories or subtypes. While you may be familiar with charts in a math or science setting, they can be used for many other types of material, such as language study.
  • Predicting Test Questions
    Predicting test questions is a way to create a study guide in advance. Mark lecture notes when the professor mentions a key point and when you review the notes, record the item on a "possible test questions" page. Keep similar records while reading. This listing of key points and ideas will help you to prepare for your next test.

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Studying for Tests

Studying for multiple choice, true/false, and matching tests:

  • Know specifics, e.g. vocabulary and dates, but…
  • Don't assume it's enough to memorize facts and figures. Professors often write questions to check overall understanding of the subject.
  • Use study tools, such as flash cards, to learn the material.

Studying for essay tests:

  • Ask the professor for sample questions; the professor may or may not provide them but it never hurts to ask.
  • Write an outline of an answer for each sample question.
  • Find out how many questions will be on the test and how much time you will have to answer each question. Practice writing under a similar time constraint.
  • Know key concepts well. Outline major points of important concepts you expect to encounter on the test.
  • Know relationships between concepts. This type of question often appears on essay tests.

Studying for problem-solving tests:

  • Stay up-to-date on homework. If you miss a problem in the homework, find out how to do it correctly before moving on to new material.
  • Don't take shortcuts! Read the text, as well as doing problems. Label all answers and use proper notation. If you develop good habits while doing the homework, you will be less likely to forget details on the test.
  • Make up practice tests by mixing homework problems from different sections. One way to do this is to put problems on separate index cards. Mix up the cards and take the sample test you have created. (During the test you won't know what section the problem comes from.)
  • Practice doing problems without referring to the book, your notes, or other problems.
  • Try to work similar problems for extra practice. You can get these from the book, from sample tests, or from other textbooks, available at the Tutoring Center or at the library.

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Taking Tests

Tips for taking all types of tests:

  • As soon as you get your test, write down any information you might forget during the test (e.g. formulas, equations, key points).
  • Mark questions you are not sure of and come back to them later.
  • Guess instead of leaving a question blank, unless you are penalized for wrong answers; you have a better chance of getting points.

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Multiple Choice Test Image

Tips for taking multiple choice tests:

  • Formulate an answer in your head before you look at the answer choices. This can help make options less confusing.
  • Read all options and eliminate obviously incorrect ones to narrow your choices.
  • Try each answer with the original question and decide whether it makes a true or false statement.
  • When "all of the above" is an option, double-check to see whether there is more than one correct response.
  • Watch for negative words, such as "except" or "not".
  • Information to answer one question may appear in other questions on the test.

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Tips for taking true/false tests:

Carefully read all qualifying words such as all, most, some, never, always, usually, more, and less. Be especially cautious of absolutes like all, best, only, always, and never.

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Tips for taking matching tests:

  • Preview both lists to get an idea of all the options.
  • As you start to match items, look at one list and formulate an answer before you search the other list.
  • Guess only when you are running out of time. If you guess incorrectly early, correct answers for later matches will be eliminated.

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Tips for taking problem-solving tests:

  • If you get stuck, try solving the problem on scratch paper, using formulas that might fit. You may stumble across the right solution.
  • Be sure to check your work. Plug answers into equations to verify that they make sense.

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Tips for taking essay tests:

  • Organize your thoughts by writing a brief outline listing main ideas and supporting points. You may get credit for ideas included in your outline even if you don't have time to complete your essay.
  • Address and answer all parts of the question. Re-read the question to make sure you have covered all of it. List points you need to address and check them off as you go.
  • Note action words in the question. If the question asks you to define, describe, compare, contrast, explain or summarize make sure you are doing what it asks.
  • Don't waste a lot of time deliberating about the question. Get started with an outline, then write. If you are stuck, write what you know and try for partial credit.

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Page Updated 11.27.2017