General test-taking strategies

General Test-Taking Strategies

What you do before, during and after an exam makes a big difference. There are many steps you can take to help you be better prepared for your test. Here’s a list of suggestions to follow before writing tests: 

2-3 Weeks Before

  • Review class notes; make quick summary notes of key points
  • Check that you understand module outcomes
  • Create index cards or mind maps
  • Check with your instructor to see if sample tests are available 

24 Hours Before

  • Review your notes
  • Set out all the supplies you will need (e.g., pens, calculator, notes)
  • Get a good night’s rest
  • Eat properly
  • Plan to be at the test location early so that you can deal with any last minute changes, like computer problems or room changes 

Immediately Before

  • Arrive early
  • Go to the washroom
  • Be sure you understand all the rules prior to testing (e.g. cellphones, iPods, beverages, and so on)
  • Set out all your supplies
  • Breathe and use relaxation techniques to focus your mind and body
  • Visualize getting the test back and doing well on it

During the Test

  • Take a few minutes to review the test sections
  • Carefully read all the written directions
  • Scan the whole test and write down on scrap paper the sections you’ll do first (if this is allowed)
  • Jot down your first reactions to major questions
  • Brain dump. Write down any memory aids or formulas you will need, before you forget them 
  • Read the directions in each section to make sure you know what you’re being asked to do
  • Write an answer to every question. Don’t leave anything blank. If you write your first thoughts, you might be right. If you write nothing, you get nothing. 
  • If you’re running out of time for written-response questions, write answers in point-form first and then go back and fill it in if you have time. A point-form answer will get more marks than no answer.
  • Don’t let a question “stop” or “stump” you. If you can’t recall an answer, mark the question and move on. Find a question that you can do. This also helps you regain your confidence. 
  • Keep an eye on the clock so you finish before time runs out

When You Finish the Test

  • Take a few minutes to review your work
  • Look over all your answers, but only change your answer if you’ve made a clear mistake. If you’re unsure, leave your initial answer, as your first guess is more likely to be correct than your second guess. 
  • Make sure you have answered all questions. When in doubt, guess! A 25% chance is better than a 0% chance. 

After the Test

  • After your exam, look up any sections in your notes or textbook that you found difficult or confusing. Doing this will better prepare you for your next test. 
  • Think back on the steps you took to prepare, and note how you can improve for next time. Ask yourself: Did I misread any questions? Did I learn the material and then forget it? Did I ever learn the material? 
  • For additional support in evaluating your test performance or to find out why you answered questions incorrectly, meet with your instructor or an academic strategist 
  • Congratulate yourself on what you did well
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