Test-taking strategies

October 15, 2016

Be prepared. This, of course, is the most important strategy for exam success.

While studying test yourself on an ongoing basis to make sure you really know and understand the material. Just reading and re-reading is the least effective way to learn. The Strategies for Success manual (downloadable at outlines many effective study techniques.

Doing mock exams not only assesses your knowledge, it also helps to decrease exam anxiety. You can make these up from past quizzes, questions at the end of chapters or modules, or mixing up cue cards you have made from studying. Try to put yourself under some time pressure for mock exams as working under time pressure can be a major cause of anxiety in real exams.

Use your time effectively.

Skim the entire exam first to get a feel for the length and weighting of questions.

Budget your time and check periodically to make sure that you are on track, but don’t get obsessed with the clock.

Don’t be disturbed about other students finishing before you do. Take the time you need to put in your best effort.

Use any extra time to review your answers. When you review them more slowly you may eliminate careless errors or find that there is a better answer. When you complete a test you tend to relax a bit and you may find that some material you had forgotten comes back to you.

Don’t get hung up on difficult questions

If you are unable to work out a question, go on to the next one and come back to it later if time permits. Don’t waste time, or build up stress, struggling on one question.

When you come back to the question brainstorm everything you can think of about the subject. Often, by doing this, creative solutions will pop into your head.

Try to write something down for every question.

Manage your anxiety before and during the test.

If possible, go for a brisk 5 to 10 minute walk right before the exam.

Arrive early enough to be organized and ready instead of in a panic, but not so early that you have a lot of time to sit and worry.

Don’t talk about the test with classmates immediately beforehand. This usually raises anxiety levels.

Find some questions you know well to start with in order to increase your confidence.

Regard a lapse of memory as perfectly normal; do not let it throw you into a panic. If you block on answering one question, leave it for a while and return to it later.

Use relaxation techniques such as deepbreathing, visualization or tensing and releasing exercises before and/or during the exam. Counsellors can help you learn effective use of these, and other, techniques. Make sure you are answering the question.

Read each question carefully and completely before marking or writing your answer. Re-read the question if you are not totally clear on the meaning.

Try not to read more into the question than is there, or to expect trick questions.

Ask your instructor for help in interpreting a test question that is unclear or ambiguous. S/he will probably want to clear up the misunderstanding for everybody if the question really is confusing or misleading.

For problem/formula questions:

Write down hard-to-remember formulas, equations and rules before you actually begin working on the test problems.

Identify the type of problem to be solved.

Think about the process needed to solve the problem and outline your method.

Underline key facts and then plug them into the process.

Cross out facts once you have used them.

Do your calculations carefully.

Check to see that you have answered the question that was asked, and that you have used the correct units.

Make sure to show all the steps in your work; you may get partial marks even if your answer is not correct.

Take the time to write legibly and make your corrections, if any, as neatly as possible. Most instructors react subjectively to the appearance of papers to be graded, so let neatness work for you rather than against you.

For short answer/essay questions:

Read the question twice to make sure you are clear on what the examiner is asking.

Underline key words to make sure you interpret the question correctly.

Outline your answer, considering all points.

Develop each point as it refers to the answer.

Keep the weighting of the question in mind so that you can spend more time on the questions worth the most marks.

For multiple choice questions:

Anticipate answers before you look at the multiple choice selections.

Read over your options and choose the best.

If you must guess, keep in mind the following tips:

Eliminate highly implausible answers.

Quite often lengthy or highly specific answers will be the correct choice.

Be aware of extreme words like always, never, only, must, all, none and completely. These are often the wrong answers since there are many exceptions to rules Answers including the words seldom, generally, most, tend to, usually, and probably are often correct, but never change an answer based just on these tips.

Change multiple choice answers only if you are sure your original choice is wrong.

The popular belief that “your first hunch is your best hunch” is not correct. Research has shown that changes from wrong answers to right answers are at least equal, and probably improve your test scores. However don’t change your answer unless you have a convincing, reason to do so. And if you know that you have changed a lot of your initial answers to wrong answers in the past, stick with your original answer.

Remember to give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done.

You have likely put in long hours and pushed yourself to the limit. Physically and mentally you will need some time to unwind and recuperate. Plan something to look forward to when mid-terms or major exams are over.

Counsellors at Student Counselling are available to help you with any academic or personal concerns that may be interfering with your success at NAIT. All counselling is free and confidential.

Main Campus: Counsellors are available from 8-4:30 Monday to Friday, with extended hours, 7:15-5:15, on Thursdays. Call 780.378.6133 or come in person to Room W-111PB, HP Centre.

Souch Campus: A counsellor is available on Thursdays. Book by calling 780.378.6133 or in person in Room Z-153.

Patricia Campus: A counsellor is available Tuesdays. Book by calling 780.378.6133.

– Margaret Marean