Test Taking Strategies
Background Information on Test Taking
Testing is probably the primary means of evaluating student performance in school. It also pervades other aspects of our lives: getting a driver's license, applying for a job, or gaining certification for a skill.
Testing is also one of the primary causes of stress among students. One reason for this is inaccurate conceptions of what to expect on a test and how to prepare for an exam. In addition, many tests are less than perfect and don't always give an accurate assessment of student ability. Despite this, exams will probably continue to be the main method of student evaluation because they are relatively efficient and objective measures of student performance (Chickering and Schlossberg, 1995).
"Tests can be significant opportunities for learning. They provide deadlines and contexts for assimilating and integrating prior learning. Thoughtful scrutiny of results yields information about gaps and confusions which can guide further learning. So our fundamental point about tests is to use them for learning opportunities, for consolidating prior preparation, for diagnosing purposes when the results are available" (Chickering and Schlossberg, 1995, p. 183).
Tests may be scored in one of two ways (Chickering and Schlossberg, 1995, p. 183-184). Most students are familiar with scores based on how well one meets the requirements of explicit criteria. In this case, one's score has nothing to do with how well other students did on the test. Instead, one's score is based on his/her fulfillment of minimum requirements set forth by the grader. The grader will look for certain pieces of information, and perhaps how the information is organized, in the test answers; the test score is based on how many of these pieces of information the student put in his/her answer. An example of this type of scoring is driver's license tests. The second approach is based on norms, in which one's score depends on how other students did on the exam. Standardized tests are usually scored on this basis. Exam scores graded "on a curve" also fall into this category.
Purposes of Test Taking Strategies
The primary purpose of test-taking strategies is to improve student performance on exams. A second, but related, purpose is to reduce exam anxiety. If both of these goals are achieved, higher test scores should result.
"When you take a test - any test - you're really being tested on two things: how much you know about the subject and how much you know about taking a test" (Kessleman-Turkel and Peterson, 1981, p. v). Test-taking strategies address the latter.
Advantages of Test Taking Strategies
Test-taking strategies have the following advantages:
Pre-test strategies that improve test performance are discussed under the Before the Test and the In the Test Room sections. The section on General Strategies describes test-taking strategies that may be applied to any type of exam. The remaining strategies address the specific requirements of certain types of exams. The After the Test section covers post-test evaluation of performance. Much of the strategies information is from Kesselman-Turkel and Peterson (1981). Other references are Chickering and Schlossberg (1995) and Lunenfeld and Lunenfeld (1992).
Because a student's actions and attitudes before the test can greatly affect his/her performance, a few words about pre-test strategies is appropriate. Some of these ideas are presented in the Test Anxiety and Test Preparation pages; refer to them for more details. The tips are important enough to be summarized again.
Thorough preparation is one key to successful test taking. Develop a time table for exam preparation and stick to it. Schedule time for reading assignments, recopying or reorganizing notes, reviewing notes, reviewing texts, preparing organization aids and other study materials, meeting with other students or the instructor, looking at old exams, and practicing homework problems.
Another important facet of preparation is knowing what to expect on the exam. Find out from the syllabus or the instructor the following things: when and where is the test, what chapters or topics will be covered, what types of questions will be asked, what the instructor looks for in answers, is it open- or closed-book, what supplies are needed, who will administer the test, who will grade the test, and how the test will be graded.
Study in the Testing Room
Work in the test room in order to become comfortable with those surroundings, especially if the testing room is not the usual lecture or lab room. Visit the test room often to review for the exam or complete homework assignments.
Find a desk in the room where you want to sit during the test. Pick a seat away from sources of distraction like wall charts or maps, aisles, doors, and windows. The seat should be in a well-lit and well-ventilated section of the room. Arrive early enough at the test to get that desk.
To insure your comfort during the test, take note of the room temperature and dress accordingly. Check if there is a clock in the room; if not, plan to wear a watch to the test.
Bolster your confidence by reflecting on past exam successes and your pre-test preparation. Avoid worrying about what other students are doing.
Picture yourself in the testing situation. Imagine you are calm, cool and collected. Picture yourself scanning the test, knowing all the answers, and turning in a passing test.
Use relaxation techniques to quell feelings of anxiety. Avoid depressing or infuriating situations before the test. Get psyched up by listening to your favorite music.
Assemble the Necessary Supplies
Gather and organize all the supplies you will need the night before the test. This includes pens, sharpened pencils, eraser, paper or blue books, calculator, ruler, student id card, and watch. Organize notes or formula lists if these study materials may be used during the test.
Some students become anxious in the test room, waiting for the exams to be distributed. This is the time when good students will brag about their preparation and poor students will moan about the impending failure. Timing and mental preparation are vital at this stage. Again, refer to the Test Anxiety and Test Preparation pages for more information.
Arrive on Time
Arrive at the testing room in enough time to get the seat you want and to get relaxed. But don't arrive so early that you have time to become anxious.
If you have an early exam or have trouble waking up, make arrangements to insure that you arrive at the test on time. Set two clocks, with the second set to go off soon after the first. Use one battery-operated or wind-up clock in case there is a power outage. Ask friends or family members to call you to ensure you are awake.
If you are commuting, plan to arrive at the testing room one hour ahead of time. Then if you have car trouble, you have time to intact an alternate plan (bus, taxi, bike, friend's car) to get to the test.
Don't resist the test, even if you believe tests are useless and unnecessary. Instead, bolster your confidence by reminding yourself about your effective test preparation and your past successes. Use relaxation techniques to calm any anxieties. Concentrate, and block out all distractions. Ignore others as they vent their worries or boast about their knowledge. Listen to a headset if necessary.
Scan your study guide one last time. Review your plan for completing the exam: read directions, read all questions, answer the ones you know, work on the ones you are less sure of, proof read. Plan to use the entire class time. Picture yourself walking out of the room at the end of the exam having turned in your very best work.
The seven strategies discussed in this section may be used for most types of tests in nearly every subject. They are arranged in the order in which they should be used when taking a test. The strategies should become part of every student's test-taking plan.
Information dumping refers to quickly writing down all information that one feels he/she may forget or confuse as the test is completed. If you fear you will forget or confuse names, dates, formulas, statistics, etc., dump that information on the back of the test as soon as you receive it. It is also helpful to dump mnemonics, organizational aids, and other memory devices as soon as possible. Refer to the "dumped" information when answering questions.
Very carefully read the directions for all sections of the test. Pay special attention to words like "and," "or," "have to," "may" and "best." For example, are you to "answer questions A and B" or "answer question A or B?" Are you to "circle the best answer" or "circle the correct answer?" Take note of what questions are to be answered, if answers may be used more than once, or if there is more than one answer for each question.
Break up complicated directions and run-on sentences into smaller parts. Flag tricky directions by circling or underlining them so you don't forget to follow them carefully. For example, are answers to be written on blanks or circled? Are multiple choice answers to be written in upper or lower case letters? Some instructors are sticklers and will deduct points if answers are not in the designated place or form.
Take note of how questions will be scored. Most often only those questions answered correctly will be used to calculate the score. But some tests, like standardized tests, penalize the student for incorrect answers and scores are calculated by subtracting the number wrong from the number right. Another thing to note is if partial credit is given.
Use all supporting material indicated in the directions: notes, scrap paper, calculator, etc. Don't be arrogant and try to do even simple math in your head; that's the way "stupid mistakes" are made.
After reading the directions, quickly scan the entire test. Take note of the types of questions: essay, true-false, matching, etc. Pay particular attention to the number of questions and the amount of information required to answer each. Look at the point values for each section or question. Quickly categorize sections as easy or difficult, and jot down a note in the margin next to each section.
Decide if the exam is a "speed test" or an "accuracy test." Speed tests are tests that only the best students will be able to finish in time. Most standardized tests (e.g. ACT, SAT, GRE) are speed tests. Accuracy tests are tests that average students should have time to finish. Most exams encountered in school are accuracy tests, on which students are graded for content and organization.
The next step involves quickly developing a plan for completing the exam. Budget your time for completing each section or question, and stick to your schedule. For speed tests, allow equal time for each section or question. For accuracy tests, spend more time on the questions worth the most points. Leave the time-wasting, lower-point questions for last.
Start with the easy questions, with the material you know the best, or the type of question (essay, true-false, multiple choice, etc.) on which you do the best. However, if you start with the questions you know the most about, be careful not to go overboard and spend too much time on them.
Plan to give more information in the answers to the higher-point questions than in the answers to the lower-point questions. Budget time for checking your answers or filling in blanks. Check your watch or the clock constantly, after every section or each page for example, to make sure you stay on schedule. Plan to use the entire time period allowed for the exam; there is no sense in rushing through the test.
Don't skip sample questions and answers, because they may give you clues as to what the instructor expects or how answers should be marked or organized. Break down complicated questions into more manageable parts and then work on each part individually. Number each part to make sure all of them are answered. Ask the instructor to interpret or reword a question if you don't understand it. Don't over interpret the questions or look for hidden meanings.
If you don't know the answer to a question right away, circle the question and go back to it later after you have worked through the entire test once. If you labor over something you don't know, you're wasting precious time. However, avoid rereading questions over and over again as that wastes time too.
When the answer is not clear, look for clues in the questions and the answer choices (for multiple choice or matching). Clues include grammar (only the correct answer is grammatically correct), verb tense (past, present or future tenses should match between question and answer), word type (noun versus verb), and singular versus plural (should match between question and answer). Substitute simple words for difficult or unknown words in the questions or answers. Use context clues or your knowledge of word elements to decipher words. Look for content clues in other test questions.
If two answers look correct, and the directions indicate that there is only one correct answer for each question, pick the most obvious answer. If no answer seems to be quite right, pick the closest one. If all else fails, make a guess at the answer. Guessing pays off if you are not penalized for incorrect answers or if partial credit is given.
Reread the directions to make sure you have completed each section of the test correctly. Then reread the questions to make sure you read them accurately and understand what they are asking.
Double-check your answers after you have completed the test and the pressure is reduced. Reread answers to make sure that you wrote what you intended to write and that you answered all parts of the question.
Be sure that all numbers (especially "2" and "5," "4" and "9") and letters (especially "a" and "d," "t" and "f") are clearly legible. Double check any math calculations, using a different method if possible. Always use a calculator if permitted.
Make sure all answers are in the right places. Be sure all questions have an answer, even if it is just a guess (unless you are penalized for wrong answers).
Essay tests are common in college-level courses, especially in the humanities and sciences. They allow instructors to test students' abilities in remembering, organizing, and evaluating information. Essays are considered relatively subjective questions, because there is no one specific answer that is correct. Though the instructor usually looks for certain points to be made in the answer, there are varying degrees of correctness. Sometimes instructors will accept as correct some answers that diverge from common interpretations, as long as the answers are logically and substantively supported.
The following strategies for taking essay tests are presented in the chronological order they should be used before and during the exam.
Before the test, practice writing answers to sample essay questions. Make up your own questions, or consult the textbook or workbook for sample questions. Work with another student to write questions for each other. When answering sample essay questions, give yourself the same amount of time you will have during the actual test. Don't refer to your study materials when answering sample essays.
It is also important to find out before the test who will be grading the answers. If the instructor is grading the test, find out what types of answers he/she prefers. Does he/she look for facts, for ideas, or for supported interpretations? If someone other than the instructor, a teaching assistant for example, is grading the test, avoid reinterpreting concepts and presenting unpopular view points. Give lots of facts and examples instead.
Many points on essay tests are lost because students fail to read the directions carefully. Pay attention to the following points when reading directions:
Budget Your Time
Decide how to divide all available time among the questions. Plan to spend more time on questions that count for more points; spend equal time on questions with the same point value. Allow time to check answers after completing all questions. For each question, allow half of the time for writing an outline and half for writing the answer.
Reading all the questions before answering them allows one's brain to begin processing information. Reading before answering is especially important when one has a choice of questions to answer.
Determine what information is given, what information is requested for the answer, and how you are to answer the question (e.g. compare, contrast, prove, summarize, etc.). Break down complex questions into smaller parts, numbering each to make sure all parts are answered. Jot down a few notes as you read each question. If you don't understand a question, ask the instructor for clarification.
Essay questions often contain verbs asking students to do certain things with the information. Students must know what these words mean in order to provide the information that the instructor wants. The most commonly used directional words and their definitions are provided below. Be aware of variations on these words that are specific to certain instructors; not all instructors use the words in the same way. If unsure, ask the instructor for clarification.
Pick a Title
Select a title for each essay answer. Titles help to keep one on track while writing the answers. In other words, titles help one avoid straying from the topic of the question and including irrelevant information. Each title should contain the following information: topic, point of view or approach, and boundaries (temporal, spatial) of the topic. For example, if the question asks "Compare and contrast British colonial policies in different parts of the world," the title to the answer might be "Similarities and Differences Between British Policies in Asian and African Colonies in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries."
Good essay writers spend half of their time formulating an outline before answering a question. This may seem like a large investment of time, but outlining insures that each response is organized and answers the question asked. If one has prepared for the exam by reorganizing information or by making up and answering practice essay questions, the organizing process is completed ahead of time and precious testing time is saved.
Divide the outline into general points and specific details. The general points usually are taken from the information in the question, or one may restate the different parts of the question. The student supplies the specific details under the appropriate general points. If the essay questions had been anticipated, try to remember the outline you prepared before the exam.
Organize the main points of the outline. The structure chosen depends on the question and the discipline. Complete details on essay organization are given in the Writing and Proofreading page, but brief descriptions of five common methods of organization are given below (Kesselman-Turkel and Peterson, 1981, p. 103).
Get actively involved in your essay, showing enthusiasm in your answer. Recall personal experiences related to the topic or exciting lectures, books and movies that interested you in the subject. While these won't be part of your answer, they help to get you in the right state of mind.
Write your answer as if you were writing a mini term paper. Your answer should have a title, an introduction or topic statement, a body, and an ending or conclusion.
Think in three's: three paragraphs, three sentences per paragraph, three examples per main point, etc. Avoid one sentence paragraphs. Be direct and to the point.
Although it's a good idea to skip lines between paragraphs, don't skip lines between sentences or use only one side of the paper unless told to do so. Avoid ornate or illegible handwriting that takes up a lot of room on the paper. Don't try to fill up extra test booklets by wasting space. Some graders interpret wasted space as a cover up for not knowing the material.
You should have allotted time for checking your answers. For content, did you answer the question, and did you stick to your point of view? For organization, did you answer all parts of the question, and are paragraphs and sentences logically ordered? For writing, is your answer clear, is you writing legible, is your grammar correct, and is your punctuation correct?
Sometimes students anticipate that certain questions will be asked, but the test questions turn out to be different. When this happens, make sure you have completely answered the questions you do know. Then look for ambiguity in the questions you don't know, since lack of clarity may allow some leeway in your answer. Stretch what you do know about the topic by giving many examples and comparisons. Add less relevant information by linking it with general statements.
If you are running out of time and haven't yet answered all questions, write down the outlines and indicate that you ran out of time for that/those question(s). Some instructors will give partial credit for outlines.
The multiple choice format is commonly used in testing because the exams are relatively easy to grade and the questions effectively evaluate students' knowledge of facts and understanding of concepts. This is an objective form of testing since, if the questions are well written, there is only one correct answer to each question, leaving little room for interpretation.
By working quickly through multiple choice tests, one insures that the test is completed in time and that questions are not over-interpreted, with hidden meanings read into them. Read each question only once, underlining key words as one reads. Break complicated questions into smaller segments, so that the answer choices may be checked against each part. Cross out unimportant or irrelevant parts of the question. If you are unable to answer the question after your first reading, mark it for later consideration as time allows.
If the directions indicate that one should choose the "best" answer to each question, pick the one that the instructor (not you) would think is most correct. Be wary of "all of the above" and "none of the above" responses, since some instructors use these choices when they can't think of another content-related answer to use.
Decide what the answer to each question should be before looking at the answer choices. Then examine the choices and pick the answer that most closely matches your answer. If none of the choices is similar to your guess, carefully study the answers looking for key words and other clues. Choose simple answers even if they seem obvious. And remember, never pick an answer without first reading all of the choices, no matter how sure you are of the answer.
Cross off answers that are only partly correct or only partially answer the question. Eliminate answers that are correct but do not answer the question. If you know for sure that one response is not true, eliminate "all of the above" as a possible answer.
The following clues apply to many multiple choice questions.
Be Wary of Multiple Answers
Carefully evaluate "all of the above" and "none of the above" choices before selecting them. For the former, all of the responses should be correct. But if you are absolutely sure that at least two of the choices are correct, then you are probably safe in choosing "all of the above." Select the latter if you are sure at least two of the choices are incorrect.
As long as you are not penalized for wrong answers, guessing is a good strategy to use. Even if you are randomly guessing, you should get about 25% of the questions correct. With educated guessing, the percentage may rise to 75%. Educated guessing involves eliminating all implausible answers first and looking for clues in the question and answers.
When randomly guessing, try some of these tips.
Do Change Answers
Only consider changing answers after completing the entire test. And reread the directions before checking and changing answers. First check the questions that were flagged the first time through the test. Then check the other questions if time permits. If you can't decide between two choices, write an explanation of your choice in the margin of the test. Erase all changes carefully and completely, especially if the test will be graded by machine. Make sure all answers are legible and in the right place (circled, on blanks, on an answer sheet, etc.).
Resist the temptation to become frustrated, bored, or anxious. Move quickly through the test. Look for material that you do know. Apply that information to questions you don't know. Use relaxation techniques to fend off anxiety. Use the entire class period to complete the test and check answers.
True-false questions are suited for evaluating students' knowledge of specific facts and concepts. Like multiple choice questions, true-false questions are objective in that there is only one correct answer.
Read each word in the statement, circling or underlining key words and phrases. Break complex sentences into parts, and consider the validity of each part separately. Cross off irrelevant information in the statement. Circle key words listed in the next paragraph.
Statements with the following words are usually false: all, only, never, always, because. Statements with the following words are often true: seldom, generally, most, tend to, probably, usually, often, none [note that "none" in multiple choice questions usually indicates the choice is incorrect, but the opposite is the case for true-false]. Look for familiar phrases from lecture or the textbook. The content of other questions may provide additional clues.
With true-false questions, it is especially important to resist reading too much into the statements. Don't look for hidden meanings and avoid over-analyzing the questions. Statements that are approximately true often are correct. Don't indicate that a question is false just because it is grammatically incorrect. When in doubt about the meaning of a statement, ask the instructor.
Guess at true-false questions only if no penalties are assessed for incorrect answers. Remember, if part of the statement is incorrect, the entire question is false. As a general rule, there tend to be more true than false questions on exams; so, when in doubt, guess "true." Like multiple choice tests, there may be patterns in the answers of true-false questions. But detecting the pattern requires that many of the questions are answered correctly.
Unlike multiple choice tests, true-false answers should not be changed unless one is absolutely sure of the answer. If one is not sure, it is best to stick with the original impulse and write an explanation in the margin of the test.
Matching questions are particularly effective for testing students' knowledge of terms and definitions, people and their contributions, dates and important events, and other numerical information. Matching questions are classified as objective.
The directions for matching questions usually contain vital information including whether questions only have one answer or more than one answer, if responses may be used only once or more than once, and how answers are to be written (on an answer sheet, on blanks on test, draw lines to match items, etc.).
To save time, read through the column with the longest phrases first. Then read and reread the shorter column to match the two.
Match the items that you know for sure first, marking off the choices as you use them. If answers can only be used once, this reduces the number of choices to select from for the unknown questions.
Try the process of elimination, crossing off known items first. Try to visualize information in the notes or textbook, or try to associate the questions with things you do know. Look for clues in grammar or tense. If answers may be used more than once, look at the items that have been used already to answer the easy questions; an instructor probably wouldn't indicate that answers could be used more than once unless some of them are. Then concentrate on the answers that have not yet been used.
If you are unsure of any of your answers, write a brief explanation of your answer in the margin of the test. Clearly indicate the question number to which you are referring.
Fill-in the blank questions are most often used to evaluate students' recall of details like dates, terms, and people. If well written, fill-ins should be objective questions, having only one correct answer. Short answer questions, on the other hand, help to evaluate students' understanding of concepts and are more subjective. Despite these differences, similar strategies may be used when answering fill-in and short answer tests.
Be sure to understand what the question is asking; refer to the list of instructional terms and definitions in the Essay Tests section of this page. Underline key words and phrases. Break complex questions into smaller parts and evaluate each part separately.
Look at the grammar and tense of the questions for clues to the answer. Is the answer a noun, a verb, a qualifier? [Tip: It is a noun if you put the word "the" in front and it makes sense, and it is a verb if it makes sense with "to" in front.] Is it singular or plural? Other questions on the test may provide contextual clues.
Don't read too much into the wording of the questions, but take note of the clues listed above.
The number of blanks, and sometimes their length, may be a clue to the answer in terms of the number or words, and perhaps the length of the words.
Is the instructor looking for a technical term, a person, a number? When two items are compared, is the instructor looking for a qualifier such as increasing, decreasing, less, more, etc.? Does the instructor want you to define, describe, illustrate, or summarize?
Examine the key words and phrases in the question; picture them in your notes or try to remember hearing the instructor talk about them. Try to remember what other ideas were discussed in relation to these key words. Again, consider the context and grammar of the question.
If you think two answers may be correct, write down each with a brief explanation in the margin. If you have time, write more than the directions indicate, unless told otherwise.
Vocabulary tests evaluate students' abilities to define key terms and, less often, major concepts. One advantage for students is that vocabulary tests are fairly easy to prepare for with practice. Use the vocabulary lists at the end of the textbook chapters, or make up your own vocabulary list using the bold words in the text and key words from lecture.
Be wary of words with similar meanings (e.g. hypothesis and theory) and words that look similar (e.g. physiology and psychology, sulfide and sulfate). Pay attention to grammar; for example, if the question makes reference to a noun, the answer should be a noun.
Try to use the word in a sentence. Picture the word in your notes or book, or remember when it was discussed in lecture. Then try to remember what information was discussed in relation to the word.
Examine the word elements (suffix, prefix and root word) for clues. Look for grammatical clues. Try to associate the unknown word with words you know. Make use of any foreign languages you know, looking for cognates.
Tests in some courses such as math or statistics may be comprised completely of number problems. In other courses like accounting, chemistry, geology, and physics, a significant number of test questions may take this form.
If the directions indicate that you are not penalized for arithmetic mistakes, spend less time on accuracy and checking answers and spend more time on setting the problem up correctly. If arithmetic errors are counted off your score, do the following. Write all numbers carefully, especially 2 and 5, 4 and 9, and 1 and 7. Write numbers in columns with the decimal points in line. Recopy answers from scrap paper very carefully. Watch units of measurement. If permitted, use a calculator for all arithmetic, even the most simple operations. Leave enough time to check answers, following the guidelines listed in a subsequent paragraph.
Make a list of all the numbers and variables given to you in the problem. Determine what you are supposed to find or calculate. Identify the formula(s) needed to solve the problem. Use pictures and graphs as needed to interpret the question, and label the visual aids with the data provided in the problem. Estimate what the answer should be before you solve the problem. What will be the relative size of the number? Will it be positive or negative?
In most cases, all of the data provided in the question will be needed to solve the problem.
If graphs and figures are given in the problem, study them carefully. Is the graph origin at (0,0)? What are the intervals for the axes? Are any numbers skipped on the axes? What are the units of measurement?
When you run into trouble setting up the answer or solving the formulas, don't give up. Substitute real numbers for the variables to see if the question makes more sense. Think of real-life situations when the formulas or concepts were used. If fractions are a problem, substitute rounded numbers or decimals for them.
Some number problems ask that students solve the problem and choose an answer from a multiple choice list. In this case, cover the answers until you have worked the problem. This helps to reduce biases in the way you set up the problem [unless, of course, you don't know how to set up the problem]. Estimate what the answer should be. As a general rule, eliminate answers that are very high or very low, especially if you have to guess at the answer.
Always budget time to go over your answers. Reread the directions and each question. Make sure you have answered all parts of the question and have used the correct units of measurement. Does your answer make sense, given the information in the problem? Compare the estimated and calculated answers. If time permits, rework the problem using another method. If time permits, reenter numbers into the calculator to check for accuracy. Check all decimal places and signs. For inequalities, try substituting other numbers besides the answer to see if they make sense.
Take-home tests are a special variety of essay exams, the difference being take-homes are completed outside of class. They share the other characteristics of essay tests: subjective, evaluate students' understanding of concepts, evaluate students' abilities to interpret and apply information, and evaluate students' abilities to organize information. Therefore, refer to the essay test strategies in this page for more ideas related to take-home tests.
Instructors usually grade take-home tests, in part, on the students' abilities to synthesize information from a variety of sources, especially the lecture notes and the text book. It is therefore necessary to include information from all relevant sources, including outside readings, movies, and guest speakers, in your answers. Your answers should demonstrate that you have consulted all these sources of information.
Plagiarism, or using someone else's ideas without giving them credit, is against the student codes of all schools. In many cases, plagiarism is grounds for dismissal from school. Do not take direct quotes from a printed source without using citations on take-home tests. Avoid excessive use of the words and ideas of others.
Plagiarism is covered in more detail in the Writing and Proofreading page.
Never turn in a take-home test without proofreading it or having someone else look it over. More will be expected in the way of organization, logical transitions between ideas, grammar, punctuation, and spelling on take-home tests compared to in-class exams. Do not lose points for these types of errors. Run the spell checker and grammar checker on your computer or word processor. Ask a qualified person, like a tutor or an English major, to look over the answers for grammar (not content).
Instructors can easily spot take-home tests completed by students who worked together. In some cases, students will be penalized for having similar answers that suggest cooperative work, especially if students were instructed to work on their own. Be on the safe side; write your own answers. Make your test unique. Make it stand out from the others.
Make a copy of your test answers before you turn in the test. This way you will have proof that the test was completed in case the instructor misplaces your exam. Make a back-up copy of the disk on which the test was saved. Once the test is returned, keep it until the final grade has been received in case there are problems with your grade.
Take-home tests are not necessarily easier than in-class essay tests just because you may consult notes and readings. In fact, they are usually more difficult because you have to write more, include more details, and make critical evaluations.
Take-home tests require a significant time commitment. Begin the test early enough so you have plenty of time to do a first draft, have it proofed, do a final draft, and have it printed.
Don't wait until the last minute to print. Inevitably, that is when the printers will be occupied or broken. If the printers are down and you have reached the test deadline, ask the instructor if you can turn in a copy of your disk and bring in the printed version as soon after as possible. Or, the instructor may accept an e-mailed copy until the printers are fixed.
Like take-home tests, open-book tests may be more difficult than closed-book tests because the instructor usually has higher expectations of the quality and quantity of information to be written by students. Therefore, don't take open-book tests lightly. Prepare for them as seriously as one would for closed-book tests.
Poor performance on open-book tests may be due to running out of time, as students waste time looking for things in the book. To avoid this, prepare thoroughly before the test. Make sure you know where everything is in the book. Mark important pages with paper clips. Or better yet, use tabs or "post-it" notes to briefly describe and label important sections of the text. Become familiar with using the index for looking up specific topics. Prepare summaries of major concepts, listing key points and relevant page numbers. Tape the summaries into the book.
If you can't find the answer after a few minutes of searching in the book, flag the question and move on. Return to that question as time permits, after you have completed the other questions. Remind yourself to work quickly, avoiding excessive search time in the book.
Plagiarism, or using someone else's ideas without giving them credit, is against the student codes of all schools. In many cases, plagiarism is grounds for dismissal from school. Do not take direct quotes from a printed source without using citations on open-book tests. Paraphrase the information and cite the page number from which the material was taken.
Plagiarism is covered in more detail in the Writing and Proofreading page.
Standardized tests include ACT, SAT, GRE, PPST, GMAT, and LMAT. They are used to assess students' knowledge in the areas of reading, math, and science as well as in specific content areas. Good performance on standardized tests is important because they are a condition for acceptance into most undergraduate and graduate programs or they may be required to obtain certification. Standardized tests are timed, meaning students are given a certain amount of time to complete each section of the test.
Study materials can be purchased for some tests such as GRE and GMAT. The study guides provide sample questions as well as strategies for improving one's performance. Send for these materials early as the requests may take weeks to process. For reading comprehension, one may practice on one's own, using the strategies discussed in Reading Comprehension Tests section of this page.
Some standardized tests are graded with "rights only" while others deduct points for incorrect answers. Read the directions carefully to determine how the test is scored, how much time is given per section, how answers are to be recorded, etc.
Most standardized tests provide sample questions and answers for each section of the test. Study these carefully to get an idea of what the questions are looking for and how to mark your answers.
Most standardized tests are speed tests, meaning only the best students will be able to complete the entire test during the allotted time. Spend the same amount of time on each question. For example, if there are 30 questions in a section and you are given 60 minutes to complete the section, spend no more than 2 minutes on each question. If you don't know the answer after reading the question once, mark it and move on; go back to all flagged questions as time permits after you have looked over the entire section.
VERBAL ANALOGY TESTS
Verbal analogies usually are found only on standardized tests. They are objective word problems that evaluate students' vocabulary and students' abilities to discern relationships among words. Verbal analogies have one pair of words related in a certain way; students must pick another pair of words related in the same manner.
The following example of a verbal analogy is quoted from Kesselman-Turkel and Peterson (1981, p. 50):
Old tests and study workbooks often contain sample verbal analogies that students may answer for practice. The key is to begin preparation weeks or months before the test. Work for 30 minutes to an hour at a time. It takes considerable time to master the kind of thinking required for verbal analogy questions.
Try putting the analogy words into sentences, such as "Bigotry relates to hatred in the same way that sweetness relates to bitterness? segregation relates to integration? equality relates to government? fanaticism relates to intolerance?" (Kesselman-Turkel and Peterson, 1981, p. 50-51). Or, "Bigotry is to hatred as sweetness is to bitterness, as segregation is to integration, ... ."
Try to determine what the relationship is between the two words given in the question. Are they opposites? Are they related by cause and effect? The following list, quoted from Kesselman-Turkel and Peterson (1981, p. 51-52), summarizes types of relationships found in verbal analogies.
Systematically Analyze the Words
If the relationship isn't obvious by looking at the first word and then the second, try switching the order. Or, look at the first word in the analogy and the first word in each of the choices. Then look for relationships between the second words in the analogy and the choices.
Eliminate implausible answers before guessing. For example, if the words in the analogy are both verbs, cross off answers that contain a noun and a verb. Make guesses as long as points are not deducted for incorrect answers.
An important component of most standardized tests like ACT and SAT is reading comprehension. This section outlines strategies to help one prepare for the reading comprehension sections of standardized tests. Because respectable standardized test scores are necessary for admission into undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs, it is important to perform well on the reading comprehension portions of these tests.
Reading comprehension tests usually contain excerpts of text a few hundred words in length. Topics of the text vary widely from popular culture to natural science to current politics. Each passage is followed by several questions based on the text. The number of questions is proportional to the length of the passages.
Three strategies for improving performance on reading comprehension tests are knowing typical questions on reading comprehension, reading the passage before the questions, and practicing reading skills (REFERENCE). Other strategies such as underlining and annotating are discussed.
For more strategies, see the Reading Comprehension Tests section of the Test Taking page.
Students should become familiar with the main categories of reading comprehension questions asked on standardized tests. Having these question types in mind will help to focus one's attention while reading the passages.
Reading comprehension questions usually take one of three forms: questions based on the entire passage, questions based on sections of the passage, and questions based on particular words or sentences. Each of these is discussed and exemplified below (REFERENCE).
Some authors (e.g. Lunenfeld and Lunenfeld, 1981) contend that one should look over the questions before reading the passage, arguing that it saves time and focuses one's attention on certain information. But others argue that for standardized tests this practice is probably a waste of time. Because standardized tests are timed, it is important to move through the passages and questions efficiently.
If one is familiar with the common types of questions asked on standardized tests, as described on the previous tables, one will already know what to expect. "Reading the passage first forces you to get involved with the passage and with the intent of its author. By getting involved you will, in fact, anticipate many if not all of the questions that follow the passage" (REFERENCE, p. 40). If one reads the questions first, one will be tempted to move too quickly through the passage looking for the answers. As a result, the intentions and tone of the author will be lost. It is also likely that the general theme of the entire passage will be misunderstood.
One of the best ways to prepare for reading comprehension tests is to practice. It is relatively easy to find reading materials appropriate for standardized test preparation. One might also work with a buddy, finding passages and making up questions for each other.
Locate passages of text about three to six paragraphs in length from the following sources: newspaper stories, newspaper editorials, newspaper political columns, essays and columns in news magazines like Time or Newsweek, science fact magazines, encyclopedia articles, nonfiction books, and general interest magazines like Reader's Digest.
Read a passage, keeping in mind the common types of standardized test questions discussed previously. After completing the reading, make up questions based on the entire passage, on sections of the passage, and on specific words or sentences. Then answer your own questions.
An example of practicing reading comprehension is outlined below. Questions and answers follow the sample passage of text (REFERENCE).
Other Strategies for Standardized Reading Test Preparation
Additional strategies for improving reading comprehension on standardized tests include underlining key words and numbering the main ideas or key points as one reads a passage. One also may choose to write very brief annotations in the margins while reading. The key to these strategies is to keep it brief so valuable time is not wasted.
One should work quickly while completing reading comprehension questions. The easier passages are usually given first, so don't skip them. Don't skip questions after reading a passage since this wastes time.
Don't add one's own interpretations and facts to the passage in order to answer questions. The answers should be based on the information presented in the text only, even if one disagrees with the material.
Check each answer after selecting it. Are all parts of the question answered? Is the answer contained in the text?
Identify and explain tests are somewhat subjective questions requiring that students write a few sentences summing up the important aspects of the topic. The identification words may be people, places, things, or concepts.
To convey extra meaning with only a few words, use descriptive words to describe the topic. For example, instead of saying Patton was a general, write that Patton was an infamous general. On the other hand, if one is unsure of the specifics of a topic, use general words to describe it. For example, if one can't remember that Archduke Francis Ferdinand was the heir to the throne in Austria, say that he was a national leader in eastern Europe.
Whenever possible, indicate the temporal or spatial specifics of the topic. If exact dates or places cannot be remembered, use general terms. For example, if one forgets that Darwin's Origin of Species was published in 1859, write that the book was published in the mid-nineteenth century. If one can't remember the exact country (Cambodia) in which the Khmer empire arose, write that it was in southeast Asia.
As specifically as possible, give at least one reason why the topic is important. One may use general terms if the exact significance of the topic is uncertain. In this case, add a specific date or statistic to make the answer appear more detailed.
There are several varieties of oral exams. In one case the topic of the test is supplied to the students ahead of time, permitting some out-of-class preparation. In another case, only the general scope of the test will be indicated. Oral tests evaluate students' knowledge of the topic, their abilities to organize information, and their speaking skills.
Oral tests are administered in the following manner. The student is assigned the topic to be discussed. He/she is given a certain amount of time to prepare an answer, taking notes or making an outline of the information to be covered. After that time, the answer is presented orally.
Familiarize yourself with the main ideas that may be covered by the test. What were the main ideas and concepts presented in lecture? In the book? How would you discuss them? Try to predict what the exam questions may be, and develop an outline or summary of the main points and supporting details to answer each question.
If allowed, take notes as you are given the question. Pay particular attention to key words, directional words, and multiple parts of the question. Rephrase the question so it corresponds to what you know about the subject. Ask for clarification if you don't understand the question. Take a few minutes to collect your thoughts.
Instead of saying a little about several things, try to narrow the topic and discuss it in detail with many statistics, dates, or examples. When narrowing the topic, consider the major points from lecture and/or the section headings in the textbook.
Try to include three main points about the topic, and support each point with three specific details.
One's appearance can greatly influence impressions on the instructor. Wear appropriate clothes, like a skirt or dress pants. When in doubt about what to wear, err on the side of overdressing. Iron your clothes and be well groomed. Use body gestures that indicate confidence: maintain eye contact, stand quietly but not rigidly, and maintain an even tone of voice.
Find a "happy medium" in the language used in the answer. Using complicated words that are misused or mispronounced will not impress anyone. Avoid talking down to the audience as well. Instead, try to use language that conveys enthusiasm for the subject.
If you don't know the answer to the question, admit it and explain why. Perhaps the question is beyond the material to be covered by the exam. Or maybe you can't answer that specific question but you can discuss a related topic. Try not to panic. Instead, make a statement like, "That is an interesting question. I don't recall that topic being covered in lecture, but it seems to be related to another issue we discussed in class. ..."
After answering the question, wait to be dismissed by the instructor. Don't forget to collect your notes and say "thank you."
Work individually or with other students to practice answering test questions orally. Make up your own questions, or refer to review questions in the textbook or workbook. Practice in front of a mirror or video camera for feedback on your style of presentation. Record the answers on audio cassettes for feedback on the content and organization of the answer. Give yourself the same amount of time you will be given in class.
The learning process does not end when you turn in an exam and walk out of class. Nor does it end when the test is graded and returned to you. Effective learning requires monitoring after the test. Evaluate your performance and your test-taking skills by using the following strategies.
What exam preparation strategies were used? When did you start studying? How many hours did you study and did you use that time efficiently? Did extraneous situation distract you or contribute to exam anxiety? Did you get the grade you expected? Why or why not? The Exam Debriefing section of the Monitoring page provides examples of forms used to evaluate one's preparation and performance.
Resolve all questions shortly after the test has been returned. If answers are not reviewed in class, ask for the correct answers to the questions you missed during or after class. Seek explanations of grades after class or, better yet, during the instructor's office hours. Ask about strengths and weaknesses in your performance. Ask the instructor about his/her grading criteria.
Keep all tests and study materials until you have received your final grade in the class, in case there are disputes or mistakes.
For objective questions, examine closely the correct response and your answer. Determine why you selected the answer you did, why that answer is wrong, and why you didn't choose the correct answer. Look for a pattern in your mistakes, then develop a plan to rectify it for future exams (Chickering and Schlossber, 1995).
As indicated in the Background section of this page, tests are scored in one of two ways: norms and explicit criteria. One should evaluate his/her performance with respect to the manner in which it was scored. If one's score is based on the normative approach, one has an idea of how he/she is doing with respect to other students in the class. If one's score is based on explicit criteria, one has a measure of how well one knew the material covered on the test. In this case, be sure to understand the criteria used by the grader to score the questions. If unsure, ask the grader (Chickering and Schlossberg, 1995).
The most important measure of exam performance is personal knowledge gained by the student. According to Chickering and Schlossberg (1995, p. 184-185), "it is the gains in knowledge or competence you have achieved, relative to where you started, that are most important. If you started out totally ignorant, you may have made great strides and still not perform very well on the exam. ... It is your learning and your standards that are critical for you, not the professor's, not the test maker's. So that should be the basis for your final interpretation."
What do you do if you blow a test? Try to evaluate your performance as impartially as possible. Were your expectations of the exam met or not? Were your preparation procedures appropriate for the type of test? Was your preparation adequate? Why or why not? Did you understand the test directions? Did you understand what the questions asked? Why or why not?
Remember to assess preparation in terms of what was done, not how many hours were spent studying. It often helps to talk with someone when one performs poorly on a test. Seek out a friend, roommate, family member, or counselor and discuss your concerns. The instructor may have suggestions for improving your performance on the next test.