Different kinds of tests require different kinds of test-taking strategies. This study guide will provide you with some helpful approaches for objective questions, essay questions, and test problems.

Objective questions

True-false or multiple choice questions appear on objective tests. Since both types of question involve understanding a statement and making a choice in response to it, strategies for answering well are very similar.
  • Look for the central idea of each question. What is the main point?
  • Look for helpful key words like always, never, none, except, most, least. Underline key words if you are allowed to write on the test paper.
  • Try to supply your own answer to a multiple choice question before you look at the alternative closest to your own answer.
  • Mark an answer for every question. You may lose credit by guessing incorrectly, but an unanswered question will cost you credit automatically.
  • If all else fails and you have to guess an answer, then and only then consider this advice:
    • The length of the choices is sometimes a clue. When guessing, pick the long answer - it is easier for instructors to write short wrong answers than long ones.
    • If two choices are very similar, choose neither.
    • If two choices are opposite, choose one of them.
    • The most general alternative is frequently the right answer.
  • Don't change your original answer unless you're completely sure it's wrong.

Essay questions

When you answer an essay question, you're showing how well you can explain and support an idea, not just what you know. Keep the following ideas in mind.
  • Read over all the essay questions before you start to write. Underline key words like define, compare, explain, describe or discuss. Jot down ideas on scratch paper, and then start with the easiest questions first.
  • Think before you write, and try to outline your response. Remember, a good answer:
    • Often starts with a direct response to the question.
    • Mentions the topics or areas which the essay question describes.
    • Provides specific as well as general information.
    • Uses the technical vocabulary of the course.
  • Write legibly. Graders sometimes presume your ignorance if they can't read your writing.
  • Always write something and leave a space at the end so that you can add to your answer.
  • Proofread your essay answers. The few minutes you spend correcting errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling can improve your grade.

Solving problems

When you work a problem, ask yourself three questions:

  • What are you being asked to find?
  • What do you need to know in order to find this?
  • What are you already given on the problem to help you with your search?
After working through the problem, look back at what it asked you to find. Does your answer cover it? If not, go through the three questions again.

Good problem solvers have these characteristics:
  • Positive attitude. They believe that problems can be solved by careful, persistent (though sometimes lengthy) analysis, not by fast answers based on previous knowledge.
  • Concern for accuracy. They read a problem several times trying to understand it. They review their judgments and conclusions, avoid guessing, and check their work.
  • Methodical planning. They break work into parts and then solve it step by step, starting with the simplest step.
  • Concentration. They use their energy to solve problems by talking to themselves about what they are doing, creating mental pictures, relating the problem to familiar experiences, counting, or drawing pictures.

Tips for Success

Successful students do well on exams because they know what to do before, during, and after the test.

Before the test

  • Attend all classes.
  • Complete all required reading.
  • Organize study time by planning daily, weekly, and major review sessions.
  • Form a study group by looking for five or six other conscientious students. Activities for a study group include making up practice tests, comparing notes, etc.
  • Create study tools such as content maps, flash cards, annotated texts, etc. Predict test questions and test yourself. Recite information aloud. Ask your professor for specific information about the test.
  • Reduce test anxiety by maintaining a balanced schedule including exercise, a healthy diet, and adequate rest. Learn relaxation techniques.
  • Be prepared! Remember, preparing for an objective test is different than preparing for an essay test.

During the test

  • Use time wisely.
  • Read directions and questions carefully.
  • Know the rules. For example, are there time limits, penalties for guessing, etc.? Make an attempt to answer all questions unless there are penalties for guessing.
  • Look for clues. Sometimes answers are hinted at on other test questions.
  • Use different strategies for different types of tests, like essay or objective tests.

After the test

Evaluate your own performance by answering the following questions:

  • Which part of the exam was the easiest? Why?
  • Which part of the exam was the hardest? Why?
  • List activities you completed prior to the exam? (i.e., review lecture notes, self-testing, study groups, etc.)
  • Which of the above activities did you find the most helpful in preparing for the exam?
  • How much time (in hours) did you spend preparing for the exam?
  • Did you feel prepared when you walked into this exam? Why or why not?
  • How might you study differently for the next exam in this course?


Last updated: 3/6/2009 11:11:57 AM