ERIC Identifier: ED385613
Publication Date: 1995-10-00
Author: Loulou, Diane
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Assessment and Evaluation Washington DC.
Making the A: How To Study for Tests. ERIC/AE Digest.
Tests are one method of measuring what you have learned in a course. Doing
well on tests and earning good grades begin with good study habits. If your goal
is to become a successful student, take the time to develop good study habits.
This digest offers a plan to help you study for tests. It explains how to
prepare for and take tests. Techniques for taking essay, multiple choice and
other types of exams are reviewed. Although these techniques may help you
improve your test scores, other factors, such as class participation,
independent projects and term papers also contribute toward grades.
BEFORE THE TEST
Organization, planning and time management
are skills essential
to becoming a successful student; so start studying as soon as classes begin.
Read assignments, listen during lectures and take good classroom notes. Then,
reread the assignment, highlighting important information to study. Reviewing
regularly allows you to avoid cramming and reduces test anxiety. The biggest
benefit is it gives you time to absorb information.
Read difficult assignments twice. Sometimes a second reading will clarify
concepts. If you are having difficulty with a subject, get help immediately.
Meet with your instructor after class, use an alternate text to supplement
required reading or hire a tutor (ask faculty members and other students for
REVIEW, REVIEW, REVIEW
Plan ahead, scheduling review
periods well in advance. Set aside
one hour on a Saturday or Sunday to review several subjects. Keep your
reviews short and do them often.
* Daily reviews--Conduct short before and after class reviews of lecture
notes. Begin reviewing after your first day of class.
* Weekly reviews--Dedicate about 1 hour per subject to review assigned
reading and lecture notes.
* Major reviews--Start the week before an exam and study the most difficult
subjects when you are the most alert. Study for 2 to 5 hours punctuated by
Create review tools, such as flashcards, chapter outlines and summaries. This
helps you organize and remember information as well as condense material to a
manageable size. Use 3 x 5 cards to review important information. Write ideas,
formulas, concepts and facts on cards to carry with you. Study on the bus, in
waiting rooms or whenever you have a few extra minutes.
Another useful tool is a study checklist. Make a list of everything you need
to know for the exam. The list should include a brief description of reading
assignments, types of problems to solve, skills to master, major ideas,
theories, definitions, and equations. When you begin your final study sessions,
cross off items as you review them.
For some subjects, study groups are an
effective tool. Study groups allow students to combine resources; members share
an academic goal and provide support and encouragement. Such groups meet
regularly to study and learn a specific subject.
To form a study group, look for dedicated students--students who ask and
answer questions in class, and who take notes. Suggest to two or three that you
meet to talk about group goals, meeting times and other logistics. Effective
study groups are limited to five or six people. Test the group first by planning
a one-time-only session. If that works, plan another. After several successful
sessions, schedule regular meetings.
Set an agenda for each meeting to avoid wasting time. List the material that
will be reviewed so members can come prepared. Also, follow a format. For
example, begin by comparing notes to make sure you all heard the same thing and
recorded important information. Spend 15-20 minutes conducting open-ended
discussions on specific topics. Then, test each other by asking questions or
take turns explaining concepts. Set aside 5-10 minutes to brainstorm possible
TAKING AN EXAM
On exam day arrive early and get organized.
Pay attention to verbal directions as tests are distributed. Read directions
slowly. Scan the entire test, noticing how many points each part is worth and
estimate the time needed for individual questions. Before you start answering
questions, write down memory aids, formulas, equations, facts and other useful
information in the margins.
Check the time and pace yourself. If you get stuck on a question try to
remember a related fact. Start from the general and go to the specific. Look for
answers in other test questions. Often a term, name, date or other fact you have
forgotten will appear somewhere else in the test. Move on to the next question
if memory aids do not help. You can always go back to the question if you have
TEST-TAKING TIPS FOR DIFFERENT TYPES OF EXAMS
Choice--Check the directions to see if the questions call for more than one
answer. Answer each question in your head before you look at the possible
answers. If you can come up with the answer before you look at the choices you
eliminate the possibility of being confused by them. Mark questions you can't
answer immediately and come back to them later.
When taking a multiple-choice exam guess only if you are not penalized for
incorrect answers. Use the following guidelines to make educated guesses.
- If two answers are similar, except for one or two words, choose one of
- If the answer calls for a sentence completion, eliminate the answers that
would not form grammatically correct sentences.
- If answers cover a wide range (5, 76, 87, 109, 500) choose a number in the
For machine-graded multiple-choice tests be certain that the answer you mark
corresponds to the question you are answering. Check the test booklet against
the answer sheet whenever you start a new section and again at the top of each
* True-false--If any part of a true-false statement is false, the answer is
false. Look for key words, i.e., qualifiers like all, most, sometimes, never or
rarely. Questions containing absolute qualifiers such as always or never often
* Open book--When studying for this type of test, write down any formulas you
will need on a separate sheet. Place tabs on important pages of the book so that
you don't have to waste time looking for tables or other critical information.
If you plan to use your notes, number them and make a table of contents. Prepare
thoroughly for open-book tests. They are often the most difficult.
* Short answer/fill-in-the-blank--These tests require students to provide
definitions or short descriptions (typically a few words or a sentence or two).
Study using flashcards with important terms and phrases. Key words and facts
will then be familiar and easy to remember as you answer test questions.
* Essay--When answering an essay question, first decide precisely what the
question is asking. If a question asks you to compare, do not explain. Standard
essay question words are listed next. Look up any unfamiliar words in a
Verbs Commonly Used in Essay Questions--Analyze, Compare, Contrast,
Criticize, Define, Describe, Discuss, Enumerate, Evaluate, Examine, Explain,
Illustrate, Interpret, List, Outline, Prove, State, Summarize.
Before you write your essay, make a quick outline. There are three reasons
for doing this. First, your thoughts will be more organized (making it easier
for your teacher to read), and you will be less likely to leave out important
facts. Second, you will be able to write faster. Third, if you do not have time
to finish your answer, you may earn some points with the outline. Don't forget
to leave plenty of space between answers. You can use the extra space to add
information if there is time.
When you write, get to the point. Start off by including part of the question
in your answer. For example, if the question asks, "Discuss the benefits and
drawbacks of universal health care coverage to both patients and medical
professionals." Your first sentence might read, "Universal health care will
benefit patients in the following ways." Expand your answer with supporting
ideas and facts. If you have time, review your answers for grammatical errors,
clarity and legibility.
Boyd, Ronald T.C. (1988). "Improving Your
Test-Taking Skills." ERIC Digest No. 101. ERIC Clearinghouse on Tests and
Measurement. ED 302 558.
Ellis, David B. (1985). "Becoming a Master Student." Fifth Edition. Rapid
City, South Dakota: College Survival, Inc.
Mercer County Community College (1992). "Test-Taking Tips." Trenton, N.J. ED
Withers, Graeme (1991). Tackling that test: Everything You Wanted to Know
about Taking Tests and Examinations. Perth: Australian Council for Educational
Research (available from ERIC/AE; contact clearinghouse for ordering information