Five Test-Taking Strategies

A good test is designed to measure your knowledge and skills -- not your understanding of the test structure itself. However, familiarity with the style of exam can give you an edge and prevent mistakes. Before test day, ask your teacher for details or research the type of test you are taking, including information about its length, scoring and format. Maximize your study effectiveness by practicing tests in a similar format.

  1. Multiple-Choice

    • Multiple-choice tests are favorites of teachers and testing companies because they allow for quick, objective scoring. The rigid format of these tests makes test-taking strategies more important and effective for students. Before starting your test, read the instructions carefully to find out whether and individual question can have several correct answers. Also note whether there is a penalty for wrong answers. Work quickly on a multiple choice test, skipping questions you don't know the answer to immediately. Be careful to maintain the correct position in your answer booklet. After going through the test once, return to tricky problems and spend more time. If there is no penalty for wrong answers, make sure to answer every question. When there is a wrong answer penalty, only guess if you can eliminate some of the possibilities.


    • True/false tests are often used in a classroom setting to verify students' factual knowledge. Keep in mind that if any portion of a statement is false, the entire statement is false. Every individual part must be true to mark a statement true. Look for absolute words such as always, never and only. Unless you are certain, mark statements containing these terms false. True statements are more likely to contain weaker words like sometimes, often and frequently. Avoid overthinking questions in this format. If you are confident about the material, go with your gut feeling.

    Open Book

    • Open book tests allow you to reference your course textbook, notes or other materials during the exam. Surprisingly, open book exams can require even more preparation than traditional, closed book tests. Before test day, go over your materials, marking useful portions and reminding yourself where to look for relevant facts. During the test, don't waste time reading the book to look for solutions. Refer first to your notes or summaries for fast access to the facts. Use the index or glossary to find specific words referred to on your test.

    Essay Strategy

    • To begin an essay test, read the prompt carefully, underlining key words such as analyze or define or compare and contrast. Before diving in, create a brief outline of your ideas and fit them into a logical order. Craft a basic thesis statement that follows the directive expressed in the prompt. While writing your essay, keep an eye on the clock. If you have several major points to elaborate on, avoid getting stuck on one for too long. Allow some time at the end for proofreading. Don't be afraid to cross out sentences or jot down a new phrase. If you run out of time, quickly write in the points at the end of your outline to show you had more to say.

    Quantitative Strategy

    • Calculation problems require more complex strategies than vocabulary or fact questions. When you are unsure of a multiple-choice math problem, consider working backward from each solution. This process is time-consuming, so only implement it if you are truly stuck. For open-ended math problems, make sure to show all your work. Write numbers clearly and legibly for the grader and your own benefit. Box or circle your final answer, including any units. Firmly cross out any work you do not want the instructor to grade.

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