Effective Test Taking Strategies

Before delving into test taking strategies outlined below, we recommend reading and familiarizing yourself with proven test preparation tips and strategies for improving test performance, if you haven’t already.

Once you have a solid command of the subject matter and material that will be presented on your test, it’s time to put in play some basic test taking strategies that have proven effective for thousands of students. Remember, you must adapt test-taking strategies to the specific type of test you’re taking.

1. Be prepared

There is no substitute for preparation. If you haven’t studied throughout the semester. If you haven’t reviewed prior to test day. If you don’t know the test material, all the test taking strategies in the world won’t save you. Preparation is key.

  • Spend as many hours as necessary to understand the material that will be covered on the test well enough to achieve a high score.
  • Since teachers often slightly modify information on tests to determine if students have a good understanding of concepts, spend time on honing test-taking skills.

2. Always arrive early and take a moment to relax

  • You’ll increase your confidence if you take time to relax.
  • You’ll be able to narrow your focus for the upcoming test.
  • Arriving early may allow you time to ask any last minute questions from the instructor or listen to explanations being provided to other students. Some study resources suggest that it’s better to arrive on time to avoid “brain pickers”, students who ask questions right before a test, but we disagree. We believe there is more to be gained by arriving a little early.

3. Listen attentively to last minute instructions given by the instructor

  • It is not uncommon for teachers to alter test details at the last minute.
  • If you miss test instructions, test taking anxiety will increase.
  • If you miss test instructions, don’t be scared to ask for instructions to be repeated.

4. Do a memory dump

A memory dump can be a particularly useful strategy for improving performance on certain types of tests.

  • As soon as you begin the test, write down information that you will likely need to know for the test and you fear you may forget. (ie., formulas, equations, dates, lists, etc.)

5. Read the test directions very carefully and watch for details

  • Test questions and directions often contain valuable information. Always read all directions carefully to ensure you understand what is being asked.
  • It is not uncommon to have two correct answers on a multiple choice question. Pay attention to details.
  • Frequently, test instructions will notify students that they only need to complete two questions, but there will be 5 options.

6. Plan how you will use the allotted time

  • Take a moment to estimate how much time you’ll have for each section of the test and each question. Allow enough time for more difficult sections or sections that are weighted more heavily in the final test grade.
  • Pace yourself so you can complete the test in the allotted time frame.
  • Complete the questions you know first then come back and tackle the problems you’re not sure about after.

7. Look for cues

  • If two answers are similar, they’re usually not the correct answer.
  • Pay attention to grammatical matching between the question being asked and answers. If an answer seems right but doesn’t match grammatically with the question, it probably isn’t the correct answer.
  • Look for cues from other questions.

8. Answer all the questions

Even if you’re running out of time and can answer all the questions fully, it’s important to answer all questions. Many professors will give partial credit for partially completed questions or if you’re able to show your work. (Note: There are some tests in college where you are docked points for guessing. This is rare and usually will be announced by the professor prior to the test.)

9. Maintain a positive attitude

  • Do not lose confidence or waste time if you encounter confusing or difficult questions. Answer the questions you know first.
  • If you have no clue about the correct answer, make an educated guess if it will not count against your score.
  • Disregard patterns. It is probably coincidence if a string of multiple choice answers that you know are correct are “a.”

10. Rely on your first impressions

  • The first answer that pops in your mind is usually the correct answer. Don’t change answers unless you’re sure the answer you’ve chosen is wrong.
  • It may be counterproductive to review answers and make changes – especially if you’re struggling to get through the test.

11. Plan to finish early and have time for review

  • Go back and answer difficult questions after answering easy ones.
  • If you are required to complete an essay, review it for spelling and grammatical errors.
  • Check to make sure you have completed the entire test. It is not uncommon for questions to be listed on the opposite side of a page.

12. Consider every test a practice session – analyze your performance

  • It takes time and practice to develop effective test taking skills.
  • To determine whether your test taking strategies are working, take time to evaluate your performance after each test.
  • Be sure to take note of where you’re struggling. Are you struggling with essays or multiple choice questions?
  • Arrange to meet with teachers to discuss low test scores to determine what you can do to improve. This is highly recommended if you struggle with essay questions.

Read also:
Test Preparation Tips

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1 thought on “Effective Test Taking Strategies”

  1. I am so glad a memory dump is a suggestion. I was planning on doing so because I struggle with remembering formulas. I will be doing this for sure. I really like all the suggestions.


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