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Expert tips for stellar test scores

Although many students dread quizzes and tests, these items are essential to their educational experience and academic success. Quizzes and tests give educators a way to measure a student’s grasp of key concepts, and they challenge a student to better understand and further explore the lessons that are covered in class.

Girl taking test

In their book College Success Guide, Second Edition, authors Patricia Weiss and Dr. Karine Blackett acknowledge that taking tests can be scary. So they provide a wealth of tips that will help students overcome test anxiety and achieve higher test scores.

Below are some of Weiss and Blackett’s tips for answering specific types of test questions as well as some of their tips for general test-taking.

True/false questions

  • Look for qualifiers. Words such as never, all, none and always generally indicate a statement is false. Words and phrases such as on the other hand, sometimes, generally, often, frequently and mostly indicate a statement is true.
  • Answer the questions you know first. Often answers to questions you don’t know are supplied in other questions. Go back and answer difficult questions last.
  • When guessing, do not change answers. Research indicates that your first answer is usually right. However, don’t be afraid to change answers when you have good reason to do so.

Multiple choice questions

  • Eliminate the distracters, those answers that you know are obviously wrong. Cross those out.
  • Attempt to answer the question without looking at the options. If necessary, cover the answers with your hand.
  • When guessing, choose answers that are not the first or last option. Research indicates that the option in the middle with the most words is usually the correct response.

Short answer/fill-in-the-blank questions

  • Overstudy — that is, study more than you think you need to. Often the difference between an A and a B grade boils down to just a little more effort or review.
  • Focus on facts and keywords.
  • Look over your materials as though you were going to write the exam. Try to predict questions that would be found on this type of exam.

Essay questions

  • Take time to structure your answer. Whenever you can, work from a brief outline jotted down on scratch paper before you begin to write. Select what is clearly relevant; avoid rambling and repetition.
  • Get to the point. Your first sentence should sum up your main point. If you are writing a lengthy answer, summarize, in an introductory paragraph, the key points you intend to make.
  • Qualify answers when in doubt. It is better to say “toward the end of the 20th century” than to say “1990” when you can’t remember whether it is 1990 or 1992.

Tips for taking any kind of test

  • Study in the way that is successful for you. If cramming is successful and you enjoy it, then cram. If cramming does not work for you — and it does not work for many students, although they continue to use it anyway — study 15 to 30 minutes a day instead of three hours the night before.
  • Read the directions on the test twice before beginning.
  • Read all the questions on the test before you start. This allows your subconscious to start solving some questions as you are working on others.
  • Think of quirky and funny ways to remember information. Approaching tests with a sense of humor reduces anxiety and can improve your performance. In other words, try to get yourself to lighten up mentally. The test is a big deal, but you are a bigger deal and can handle it.
  • If you have brain freeze, stop, take a deep breath, and count to 10. Tell yourself you know the answers, and they are coming to you.

In addition to keeping Weiss and Blackett’s tips in mind, students should also turn to their educators for guidance. Often, educators welcome the opportunity to share advice that will help students better prepare and perform on quizzes and tests.

More testing tips

6 Studying tips for tests
Standardized test anxiety
Taking the AP class gamble

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