Test-taking Strategies

General Guidelines

  1. Gathering knowledge of the truth is the best preparation for tests.
    • Hours of concentrated, effective study help to carefully place facts into your memory. This is the best way to prepare for any test.
    • However, teachers often try to test your memory of the material by slightly altering it. In this case, practice and some test-taking skill will help.

  3. Always arrive early and take a moment to relax and reduce your anxiety.
    • This brief time period will boost your confidence
    • Use this time to focus your mind and think positive thoughts.

  5. Listen attentively to last minute instructions given by the instructor.
    • Teachers often make last minute changes.
    • Missing instructions can cause extreme anxiety.

  7. Read the test directions very carefully and watch for details.
    • You may find that more than one answer may be possible on multiple choice tests.
    • A key detail may require that you choose only three out of the five essay questions.

  9. Plan how you will use the allotted time.
    • Estimate how many minutes you will need to finish each test section.
    • Determine a pace which will ensure completing the whole test on time.
    • Start with the easiest section to build your confidence.

  11. Maintain a positive attitude.
    • Don't let more difficult questions raise your anxiety and steal your valuable time. Move on and find success with other questions.
    • Avoid watching for patterns. Noticing that the last four answers are "c," is not a good reason to continue with that pattern.

  13. Rely on your first impressions.
    • The answer which comes to mind first is often correct.
    • Nervously reviewing questions and changing answers can do more harm than good.

  15. Plan to finish early and have time for review.
    • Return to difficult questions you marked for review.
    • Proofread your essays and pay attention to grammar and spelling.
    • Make sure you answer all the questions. Many students have failed to notice questions on the back side of the paper.

  17. Consider every test a practice session - analyze your performance.
    • Test taking is an art which needs refinement. One can not refine the art without practice and serious evaluation.
    • Go through each test thoroughly and see if your plan worked.
    • Look at each section to identify your fault patterns. Do you need to work on true/false, multiple choice, or essay questions?
    • Talk to teachers regarding low scores, especially on essays.
  1. Negative words or prefixes complicate the statement.
    • The prefixes (un-, im-, miss-) will alter the meaning of the statement.
    • Double negatives make a positive. For example "not uncommon" actually means common.

    1. Guidelines for Essay Questions

    2. Organize your thoughts before you begin to write.
      • A short outline on a separate piece of paper will improve your essay.
      • Write the topics and the key introductory words.

    4. Paraphrase the original question to form your introductory statement.
      • This process helps you get the question straight in your mind.
      • Restating the question allows the teacher to see how you understood the question. Perhaps you understood it to mean something other than what the teacher intended.

    6. Use the principles of English composition
      • Form a clear thesis statement (statement of purpose) and place it as near to the beginning as possible.
      • Provide clear explanations to back up the main concept.
      • Remember, a complete answer usually has a main idea, supporting details and illustrative examples.

    8. Write clearly! Teachers need to be able to read it.
      • Making teachers work hard to read lowers your grade.
      • Print clearly, using a dark-colored erasable ball point pen.
      • Avoid crossing out words or sentences, and don't smudge your paper.
      • Remember to save some space for a brief but adequate summary.

    10. Use lists or bullets wherever possible.
      • Numbers or bullets allow the teacher to easily see your points.
      • Never bury your lists or key points in the middle of a paragraph.
      • If you must use a long paragraph, underline your key points.

    12. Identify the verbs or words in the question that give you direction.
      • Key words in each question describe the task you are expected to complete.
      • Circle the direction words in the question to make sure that you are focusing on the desired task.
      • Sample direction verbs or adjectives, and their generally intended action or task, are listed below.


    Direction verbs that ask you to review an idea or concept in your own words:

    summarize, survey, discuss, explain

    Direction verbs that ask for a set of items or ideas that were presented in lecture or reading. These action words generally require more precise wording of items by giving numbers or steps:

    trace, outline, list, diagram, solve

    Directions verbs that ask you to speak in favor of a concept or give the reasons why it should be accepted as valid:

    defend, argue, debate, contend, justify

    Directions verbs that ask for a specific meaning or picture of a concept:

    define, clarify, describe, depict, illustrate

    Directions verbs that ask you to show differences in several ideas or situations:

    contrast, compare, distinguish, differentiate,

    Direction adjectives that ask for specific information the instructor considers important:

    significant, critical, key, important, major, principal, essential, vital