IN LAST week’s column, I gave some suggestions students can use to prepare for exams. This week’s column includes suggestions for test-taking strategies.
Prior to the exam, students should determine the teacher’s testing style. For most teachers, the most common types of tests they give are: the true/false, multiple-choice, matching, and sentence completion. Below are some tips you can use to plan your test-taking strategy:
1. Determine the ground rules for the tests. Ask the teacher what the scoring rules are for the exam. For example, if you find out that wrong answers are penalized, don't guess unless you can reduce the choices to two. If it is an open-book test, then you know that most questions will ask you to analyze and evaluate information.
2. Survey the test. By surveying the test, you can quickly determine what types of questions are being asked and formulate your test-taking strategy.
3. Always read the directions thoroughly, and do exactly what they instruct. If an essay question asks for three examples, then give three – no more, no less. If multiple-choice questions can have more than one answer, remember that as you work through the exam. Many students unnecessarily fail tests because they did not read the directions.
4. Manage your time and work through the final exam at an efficient pace. Assess how many questions you have to answer in the time allowed. Do not waste time struggling through questions that confuse you. Skip them and return to them later. Answer the easy questions first. That way, if you take too long with the difficult questions, you will still be able to complete most of the exam.
5. True/false questions are considered easy because every word in the statement must be true in order for the statement to be true. If any word is not true, that makes the entire statement false. If a statement contains two clauses, one of which is false, the whole statement is false.
6. Multiple choice questions are essentially true/false questions arranged in groups, so you should read them the same way. Answer the easiest questions first. Read long sentences more than once. Eliminate obvious false choices. Usually, only one alternative is correct. Watch for “all of the above” and “none of the above” answers. Remember to always look for the best answer, and always make a choice unless you are penalized for guessing.
7. Matching types of questions. The methods used to answer true/false and multiple choice questions apply to matching and completion questions as well. Always scan the entire list of alternatives before matching any, identify key words in each list, and test them. Completion questions require you to provide a word or phrase. When you encounter completion questions, choose your words carefully. If you don't know the answer, and there is no penalty, give it your best guess.
8. Write notes to trigger your memory. If you find yourself drawing a blank, write down key terms or concepts that you remember studying on your exam paper. Seeing these concepts in writing can help jog your memory and guide you through the final exam.
9. Stay calm. If you focus on the one question you cannot answer, your stress can hurt your concentration on the rest of the exam. Take deep breaths, and remain focused on the exam questions that remain. Remember that one question will not result in a failing grade.
Once you have completed the test, check over the answer sheet to be certain that you have answered all of the questions, and put the correct answer with the correct number. Change the answers only if you misread the questions, or if you know that you answered the questions incorrectly. As always, come to class on time or early on a test day, and come prepared. Bring a pen, pencil and paper. Keep the room conditions in consideration and dress appropriately.
Elizabeth Hamilton, M.Ed, MA, is a teacher with 22 years of professional experience. You can write to her at successfullearner[at]yahoo.com.