Are you dreading your upcoming tests because you feel unprepared? Or are you simply looking to refresh and improve your test taking strategies?
Either way, these 35 must-know test taking tips and strategies will help you to prepare for your upcoming tests. Even if you only have one day to prepare for your test, you’re sure to find some of these tips and strategies useful. But just keep in mind that you will get more out of these if you have more time to prepare.
Test taking tips & strategies: Planning ahead
- Create a study plan
Whether you have months, weeks or only a day to prepare for a test, creating a study plan is a great way to manage your time and study more efficiently. If you have plenty of time before the test, then it will help you to start a regular studying routine and organize your studying into more manageable chunks, so you can pace yourself instead of trying to take on the entire semester’s worth of information at once. Even if you only have one day to prepare, creating a study plan is still important – in fact, even more so, as it will help you to stay on track and focus on the most important areas.
- Create summary sheets at the end of each week
Review your lecture notes and course material at the end of each week, and create summary sheets for each course while the information is still fresh in your mind. This will make it much easier for you to make study sheets for tests later, rather than trying to cover an entire semester’s worth of information at once. Take note of any gaps in your summary sheets, and if there is anything that you’re not sure about, ask your teachers.
- Find out everything you can about the test
Finding out everything you can about the test will help you to plan and prepare in advance, so you can manage your time more efficiently. It can also help to reduce stress, as you will have a better idea of what to expect. Here are some important dates and details you should write down:
- the time, duration, date, and location of each test
- the type of each test
- the percentage of your grade that each test is worth
- the lectures when your teachers will give you more details about the tests
- topics that your teachers confirm will be on the test, as well as any hints that they give you throughout the semester about what to expect
- the equipment that you’re allowed to bring with you.
- Identify areas that you’re struggling with
Don’t avoid areas that you’re struggling with. Identify them, so you can work on them and improve. For example, if there is a question that you’re hoping won’t be on the test, practise that one first, so you’re prepared if it does come up on the test. If you have an extended essay test coming up and you’re not great at essays, practise answering previous test questions and read successful examples. You could also ask your teachers for help, such as asking them to look over one of your practice essay answers.
- Organize a small study group
Early in the semester, consider organizing a small study group with a few students from your course. And set up a Facebook group where you can organize study sessions and help each other if anyone has a question.
Test taking tips & strategies: Preparing for the test
- Revise summary sheets for test preparation
This is when you’ll thank your past self for spending a little time each week during the semester to create summary sheets, as you can now simply revise them to create summary sheets to study for the test, instead of starting from scratch. These should only include the information that is relevant to the test. For example, if your final test is going to test what you learned in the second half of the semester, then just focus on those summary sheets. If you have more time, and if you think it’s necessary, then you may also want to create a brief summary of the most important points from the first half of the semester to refresh your memory.
- Set your priorities
Setting your priorities is especially important if you have multiple tests to prepare for, as it will help you to manage your time more efficiently. You should focus on the tests that are the closest, but you also have to think about which tests are worth more of your grade and which ones you think will be easier for you than others.
- Set goals for each study session
To study more efficiently, make sure you set goals for each study session. Go through your study plan and focus on one topic at a time. This will also help you to digest the information better. In such a way you will know how to do good on a test.
- Find a studying environment that works for you
Do you prefer to study inside or outside? Do you study better in a quiet library where other students are studying as well, or by yourself at home where you can play your music, or in a cafe with a steady supply of coffee? Find a few different places that work best for you.
- Stay motivated
This may not be on your list of test taking tips, but it should be. It’s especially important to find ways to stay motivated if you’re starting to feel the pressure and becoming overwhelmed. Here are some suggestions for how you could stay motivated:
- Think about why you’re studying in the first place.
- Make plans with your friends for after you finish your tests as a reward, so you have more to look forward to.
- Decorate your desk with things to motivate you, such as photos of friends and family, favorite quotes by people you admire, or mementos from people who have always supported you.
- Use memory techniques
Here are some examples of memory techniques that could help make it easier for you to memorize information:
- flashcards (e.g., if you have to remember a list of dates, create a flashcard for each one with the date on one side and the event on the other side)
- repetition (e.g., write it again by hand, get someone to test you with your flashcards every day etc.)
- stories (e.g., make up stories and associate them with the information you need to remember)
- recordings (e.g., record yourself reading your study notes aloud and listen to the recording while you go about your day or before you go to sleep).
- Prepare for different types of questions
If your test is going to include a mix of different types of questions, make sure you prepare for them and learn strategies that will help you with each one.
For example, here are some tips for multiple choice test:
- Read the questions carefully and check whether it is asking you to only choose one answer or to choose multiple answers.
- Try to think of the answer to the question before you look at the options that you have to choose from. This will help you to make sure that the other options don’t influence your answer, so you can just choose the answer that is closest to your first answer.
- Guess the answers if you’re not sure, but make a little mark next to the question so that you can check it again if you have time at the end.
Here are some tips for short answer questions:
- Read the questions carefully, and highlight or underline key words and phrases to help you understand exactly what the question is asking (e.g., define, compare, contrast, analyze, argue, justify, summarize, explain etc.).
- Don’t write more than you need to in order to answer the question (e.g., you won’t get extra marks for writing 3 examples of something when the question only asks for 2). But if you think your answer may not be clear enough, add a little more to make sure that you get your point across.
- Use key words from the question in your answer.
And here are some tips for essay questions:
- Read the questions carefully, then write down a rough outline of your answer. This will help you to stay on track and avoid including unnecessary information.
- Answer the question in your first sentence, then provide supporting evidence to support your answer. Don’t start writing before you have a clear idea of what your answer is and how you’re going to support it.
- Start with the most important points first, especially if you’re running out of time.
- Double-space, so you have space to edit your answer afterwards if you notice mistakes or want to add something.
- Complete practice tests
Practice tests are a great way to prepare for your final tests. Review any practice tests that you completed in class, and find out if you can access past tests. Here are some tips for completing practice tests:
- Try completing the whole test first, before you check the answers.
- Complete each practice test under the same conditions of the actual test (e.g., find somewhere quiet, complete it within the same time limit, don’t read the questions beforehand, don’t use any books or notes unless it’s an open book test etc.).
- Review your previous tests
If you’ve already complete tests or quizzes during the semester, review them and take note of any areas that you could improve in.
- Organize a last study session with other students
If you started a small study group earlier in the semester, organize a last study session a few days before the test. You can test each other and ask questions if you’re not sure about something.
- Pack everything you need for the test before you go to sleep
The night before the test, pack everything you need, so you have less to worry about on the actual day. Here are some questions that you should ask yourself:
- Do you need a specific type of pencil for multiple choice questions?
- If you need to use a pencil, have you also packed a sharpener, eraser and spare pencils?
- If you’re going to use a pacer pencil instead of a regular pencil, have you also packed an eraser, spare lead and a spare pacer?
- Do you need to bring your own paper?
- If it’s an open book test, have you packed all the books that you might need? (Even if it’s not an open book test, bringing your books anyway may come in handy if you need to look something up before going into the test room.)
- Do you need a water bottle?
- Do you need a watch?
- Double-check the test location
On the night before the test, double-check that there haven’t been any location changes. This gives you one less thing to worry about on the day of the test.
- Take care of yourself and get a good night’s sleep before the test
Don’t forget to take breaks and take care of yourself. Even if you only have one day until the test, don’t skip meals or pull an all-nighter. You may think that it’s better to spend those extra hours on more studying instead of sleeping, but it will most likely only make it more difficult for you to focus during the test. And just a few extra hours of study won’t make much of a difference if you stuck with your plan, so just go to sleep and be confident that you’ve done all that you can. In fact, it is one of the most useful test taking skills.
Test taking tips & strategies: Taking the test
- Arrive early and with a positive mindset
You don’t need the added pressure of worrying about being late, so make sure you arrive early. This will give you more time to fit in some last-minute revision and get your nerves under control. You should also try to walk into the test room with a positive mindset, so take some deep breaths and avoid thinking negative thoughts such as “I’m going to fail”. You’ve already done everything that you can, so now you just have to focus on the test.
- Do what works best for you
Not everyone prepares for tests the same way, so find what works best for you and stick to it. For example, if arriving a few hours early to study in a nearby library will make you feel more comfortable, then do that. If fitting in some last-minute revision before a test only makes you feel more stressed and like you haven’t studied enough, then don’t worry about it. If listening to other students talk and worry about the test makes you more stressed, put in your earphones and listen to music instead.
- Check your test paper for missing pages
Check that you have the right test paper and that you’re not missing any pages. The teacher will most likely tell you to check this before you begin the test. You don’t want to find out that you have missing pages in the middle of the test, because telling the teacher and getting the missing pages means you’ll have less time to complete the test and risks breaking your concentration.
- Remember to write your name on all test papers
Even though this seems obvious, you may be so focused on completing the test that you forget to write your name on the paper. The last thing you want is to finally finish the test only to walk out the door and realize you forgot to write your name on it.
- Read the entire test before you start
Reading the entire test before you start may seem like a waste of time, but here are some reasons why it’s worth it:
- You will have a better idea of what to expect (e.g., which questions will take the most time and which ones are worth the most marks).
- There won’t be any surprises when you start answering questions. For instance, if the question that you were dreading is on the test, you’ll know exactly where it is and can prepare for it. If it’s not on the test, knowing that you don’t have to answer it may make you feel less stressed.
- You can manage your time better, so that you have enough time to answer all of the questions.
- Make the most of perusal time
Here are some tips to help you make the most of your perusal time:
- Treat perusal time as seriously as you would the rest of the test. It may not seem like much time, but you can still accomplish a lot during that time, so think about how you want to spend this time (e.g., when you try the practice tests).
- If, on the actual test, you’re allowed to make notes on a spare piece of paper during perusal time, spend this time wisely. For example, after reading through the test, you could use the rest of the time to plan your answer to an extended essay question, or answer multiple choice questions so that you can quickly answer all of them on the actual test paper as soon as perusal time is over.
- If there is something important that you think you’ll forget, quickly write it down on the spare paper as soon as perusal time starts, so you don’t have to worry that you’ll forget it later.
- Carefully read each question
Carefully read the test instructions and questions before you start writing, and only write what you need to in order to answer the question. Don’t waste time writing everything you know about the topic if the question doesn’t ask you to.
- Check the number of marks that each question is worth
Not only will this help you to determine which questions will take the most time to answer, it will also help you to structure your answer. For example, if a short essay question asks you about the main themes in a novel and is worth 3 marks, then you will have a better idea of how much to write and you will know to write about 3 different themes.
- Answer the easiest questions first
This will help to build your confidence before you attempt the more difficult questions. Skip questions that you’re struggling with and come back to them later, but try to keep these to a minimum. Make a little mark next to any questions that you skip so that they’re easier to find, because you don’t want to waste time searching for them at the end of the test.
- Answer every question
Don’t leave any questions blank. Answer every question, even if you’re not sure about the answer. This way, you still have a chance of getting some marks.
- Keep an eye on the time
The teacher may let you know how much time is left every so often (e.g., when you’re halfway, when you have 10 minutes left etc.), but don’t rely on them. Wearing a watch may come in handy during a test, as you can keep a closer eye on the time.
- Use all of the test time
Even if you finish the test before the time is up, don’t just sit there waiting or leave early. Spend the extra time wisely by going back through your answers and checking them. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Have you missed any questions?
- Did you misread any questions?
- Is there anything more that you can add to your answers that you didn’t include the first time because you thought that you were running out of time?
- Did you proofread your short essay and extended essay answers to fix any spelling or grammatical errors?
If you notice people finishing their test early and leaving, don’t panic. Just focus on your own test.
- Don’t be afraid to take a short break
You may think that taking a short 20-second break is a waste of time during a test, but just having a few seconds more to write won’t matter if the pressure gets to you and makes it difficult to concentrate. If you feel yourself starting to become overwhelmed, take a moment to try to relax. Put down your pen, relax your writing hand, drink some water if you brought a water bottle, close your eyes and take some deep breaths.
- Don’t panic if you forget something
If you forget something that you need to remember to answer a question, don’t panic. Just mark it as a question that you’ll come back to later, then move on. You may remember the answer later, or another question in the test may remind you of it.
- Ask the teacher for help with confusing questions
If you come across a question that is unclear or ambiguous, ask the teacher if they can clarify it.
Test taking tips & strategies: After the test
- Take note of how you can improve next time
After the test, while it’s still fresh in your mind, think about what you can do differently next time to improve and write a few notes to remind yourself what you need to work on.
After all of that hard work, take some time to relax and celebrate with your friends and family. You may not have much time to celebrate just yet if you have more tests, but remember to take a break before you start preparing for the next one, especially if you have another one the next day.
Good luck with your tests! We hope you found these test taking tips useful and that they help to reduce some of your stress. If you have any tips to add, please share them in the comments.