Even the most intelligent students are sometimes frazzled by major tests. In high school, your test-taking skills affect not only your grades, but also your ability to gain entry to college and receive scholarships. Test anxiety -- both about standardized tests and about class exams -- can worsen your performance, but with proper preparation and by mastering basic test-taking skills, you can overcome your difficulties with taking tests.
Preparing for the Test
Without proper preparation, even good test-taking skills can't save you. Regular studying each day -- as opposed to cramming immediately before the test -- can help you master information. For standardized tests, review previous test questions and master the basic skills you'll be tested on. For example, you might want to revisit geometry formulas or review basic vocabulary.
Slow test-taking can be a major liability, particularly on timed standardized tests. Rushing through a test can backfire, though. Instead, focus on reading a test question clearly and deliberately the first time so that you don't have to re-read it. Practice test questions at home in an environment similar to the testing environment. Practice can help you increase your reading and question-answering speed. For long reading-comprehension passages, underline important sections so you can easily refer to them when you get to the questions. This way, you're not forced to re-read the entire passage.
Reading the instructions for each test section is key to good test-taking. Some standardized tests offer wrong answers that are right if you don't read the directions, making it even more important to understand the instructions for each section. If you don't understand a direction, ask the teacher or proctor to explain it to you.
Before you select an answer on a test, read through all of the answers. There might be more than one potentially correct answer, and the goal is to select the best answer, not the first correct one you see. On reading-comprehension tests, read through the comprehension questions and answers prior to reading the passage. This makes it easier to look for the information you need and can help you save some time.
If you can't decide how to answer a multiple-choice question, eliminate the answers that are obviously wrong, as well as any answers that contain a partially incorrect answer. This might seem obvious, but in your haste to complete a test, you could end up picking an answer you know is wrong. Moreover, eliminating incorrect answers makes it easier to guess, particularly if you run out of time.
Working Easiest to Hardest
On any test, some questions will be easier for you to answer than others. If you don't immediately know the answer to a question, mark it and go back to it after you've answered the easiest questions. The stress of struggling over a challenging problem can increase your anxiety and may interfere with your ability to do well on easier questions. The time you waste trying to master a challenging problem can also mean you don't complete the test and therefore never get to some of the questions you can answer easily.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.