ERIC Identifier: ED302558
Publication Date: 1988-09-00
Author: Boyd, Ronald T. C.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Tests Measurement and Evaluation Washington DC., American Institutes for
Research Washington DC.
Improving Your Test-Taking Skills. ERIC Digest Number 101.
If you are a high school student, taking tests is a fact of life. If you do
well on tests, more opportunities will be open to you. Even after you are out of
school, you may still have to take tests to get certain jobs. So whether you are
taking a college entrance exam or a test written by your teacher, you need to
have good test-taking skills. You can use several techniques both before and
during a test to make sure that your test scores reflect what you really know.
WHAT CAN YOU DO BEFORE THE TEST?
The best way to get ready
for a test is to study from the beginning of the course. It's smart to prepare a
little bit each day. Preparing for a test gradually lets you absorb the
material, make connections between concepts, and draw conclusions. Studying each
subject every night will save you the agony of having to cram on the night
before a test.
There is no mystery to doing well on a test. Since most teachers create tests
that are based on the reading assignments and on the material that they cover in
class, you should read your assignments, listen to your teacher, and take good
notes about what your teacher thinks is important. When you prepare to take a
test, try these ideas:
Create your own study aids. Aids such as flashcards, checklists, chapter
outlines, and summaries will help you organize and remember the material better.
You might think that it takes a lot of time to make these aids, but they will
help you condense the test material into a manageable size.
Organize a study group. Ask other students to arrange a time for a group to
study together several nights before the day of the test. If you study with a
group, you can combine everyone's resources. By comparing notes, you can
sometimes determine what may appear on the test. A word of caution about study
groups--don't let them become social events. You would waste valuable time.
Instead, throw a party after the test to celebrate your success.
Arrive early on the test day. Rushing to a test or arriving late can destroy
your concentration. Don't try to cram in some last minute studying or answer
questions from other members of your class. Tactics like this are generally
counterproductive and tend to confuse you.
WHAT CAN YOU DO DURING THE TEST?
In addition to studying
before the test, you should also be prepared when you come to take a test. Here
are some general pointers that you can follow for any type of test:
Bring all the supplies you need. Be prepared for taking a test by bringing
paper, pencils, and pens with you. Don't depend on someone else to give these
supplies to you.
Read and listen to all directions carefully before starting the test. One of
the most important test-taking skills is the ability to follow directions. Some
students are so anxious to get the test over with that they skip the directions;
this is often a costly mistake.
Budget your time. Be sure to allow enough time to answer all parts of the
test, not just the hard parts or the parts you know best. Some teachers may
include a note about how much time you should spend on each section. Use these
notes as guidelines to check yourself so that you don't spend too much time on
Make a special effort to write neatly. Although neatness may not officially
count toward your overall grade, a teacher who is faced with a mountain of
papers to grade will appreciate a clearly written test because it is easier to
grade. Consciously or unconsciously, neatness has a positive effect on your
If the test includes both essay and multiple-choice questions, fill out the
multiple-choice part first. Answering multiple-choice questions will help you
remember the material and make connections between concepts. Multiple-choice
questions may also contain information that you can use to answer essay
If you have extra time, check your answers. If you finish a test before your
time is up, don't hand in your test. Use the extra time to check over your
answers. Do not frustrate yourself, however, by concentrating on questions that
you simply don't know how to answer.
HOW TO TAKE A MULTIPLE-CHOICE EXAM
usually require that you choose from three or four possible answers. Here are
some strategies for succeeding on multiple-choice tests:
Make educated guesses. Before you start, ask your teacher how the test is
scored. If thee is no penalty for guessing, answer every question, even if you
have to guess. If you are penalized for guessing, blind guessing will probably
hurt your score. If you can eliminate one or two of the choices, then guessing
will be more profitable.
Don't get stuck on any of the questions. Work through multiple-choice tests
quickly and carefully. Don't get bogged down on a question that you can't answer
or are unsure about. Make a small mark beside the question, and if you have the
time, return to it later.
Fill in answers on standardized tests carefully. Many standardized tests have
separate answer sheets. Make sure that the number you are answering corresponds
to the number of the question. If you skip a question, be sure to leave the
space for that question blank. Make sure you fill in the blanks completely so
that the machine that grades the test can easily record your answer.
HOW TO TAKE AN ESSAY TEST
Essay questions frequently appear
on tests, especially for subjects that are not scientific or mathematical. Essay
tests usually require you to pull information together, make relationships, and
draw conclusions. On the whole, essay tests usually take more time than
objective exams. Try to use your time wisely. Keep these guidelines in mind when
you have to write an essay test:
Read all of the questions on the test before answering any of them. The
questions often contain valuable information that may be helpful when you write
your answer. Reading all of the questions before starting will help refresh your
memory about the material and will help you make an informed choice if you have
to choose from several questions.
Underline key verbs in the question. Essay questions usually focus on one or
more key verbs. Here are some key words that often appear on essay exams:
compare--examine similarities and differences
summarize--briefly give the major points
discuss--examine or analyze in detail
relate--emphasize connections and associations
Concentrate on these key verbs; they will give you clues to the type of
information that your teacher wants to see in your essay.
Make a brief outline before you start writing. Good organization is important
in an essay exam. Take a few minutes in the beginning to collect your thoughts
and write a brief outline for your answer. Essays often involve discussing
certain key points. Identify these points and put them in your outline. If you
run out of time and don't explain all of the points on your outline, write down
the points in your outline and add a note saying that you ran out of time. You
may get partial credit for your effort.
Taking a test doesn't have to be a dreadful experience. Practicing your
test-taking skills will help you manage the anxiety that often accompanies
tests. Good test-taking skills will not guarantee that you will get an "A" on
every test, but they will ensure that your test score reflects what you really
Anderson, Scarvia B., Katz, Martin, and Shimberg, Benjamin. Meeting the Test. New York: The Four Winds Press, 1965. Ellis, David B.
Becoming a Master Student Fifth Edition. Rapid City, South Dakota: College Survival, Inc., 1985.
Green, Gordon W. Getting
Straight A's. Secaucus, New Jersey:
Lyle Stuart, Inc. 1985. Kesselman-Turkel, Judi and Peterson, Franklynn. Test
Taking Strategies. Chicago, Illinois: Contemporary Books, Inc., 1981.