Even many good students struggle when it comes to taking tests. Sometimes it's a matter of test anxiety; other times the student doesn't have good test-taking skills or doesn't understand some basic exam-taking strategies. However, with proper preparation and by applying some techniques that can be mastered by virtually anyone, you can earn good test marks. Of course, really high grades are earned by good study habits and staying up on all material throughout the term.
Prepare for the test. Don't just read all the chapters or material covered in the term or the unit. Know specifically what you should be focused on such as the key terms or crucial events. Prepare over time and avoid last-minute cramming. Take careful notes when your instructor tells what will be included in the exam. (See Reference 1.)
Get a good night's sleep before the test and eat healthy. (See Reference 3.) Staying up all night studying will most likely backfire because you'll be sleep-deprived, and that interferes with memory and concentration.
Fight test anxiety by practicing relaxed breathing and refusing to panic if you see others finishing the test before you. Additionally, prior to the test visualize yourself doing well and being calm while taking an exam. Maintain a positive and relaxed frame of mind. (See Reference 4.)
Follow a general test-taking strategy. For instance, make sure you carefully listen to or read all directions and ask questions if you are at all unclear on how to proceed. Look over the entire test to get an idea of how much time you'll need for each section. Answer the easiest questions first and knock those out.
Keep an eye on the time. This is key, as many times people will get bogged down on a section that is troubling for them and lose track of time. If you are stumped, move on to an easier question and go back to the ones that tripped you up later. (See References 2 and 5.)
Prepare specifically for essay tests by reviewing vocabulary and thinking in terms of evidence for different claims which may be brought up in essay questions. Remember to organize your thoughts and give examples in your answers.
- School for Champions: "Be Good at Taking Tests"; Ron Kurtus; Dec. 2008
- Distance Education: "How to Get Good Grades on Essay Tests"; Jennifer Williamson; Feb. 2009
- Reading Rockets: "How Can I Help My Child Do Well on Tests?"; Carolyn B. Bagin, Lawrence M. Rudner; 2004
- How to Study: Test Anxiety: Study Skills
- How to Study: The DETER Strategy for Taking Tests
Katlyn Joy has been a freelance writer since 1982. She graduated from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville with a master's degree in writing. While in school she served as graduate assistant editor of "Drumvoices Revue" magazine.