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Improve Your Grade: Test Taking Strategies

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Instructors use tests to measure how much a student has learned. Unfortunately, tests also measure the student’s test-taking ability. The following skills will not help you if you don’t know the course material, but they can keep you from losing points needlessly.

When your professor gives you the test, scan it immediately. Evaluate the importance of each section. Read each section slowly. Then reread it. Nothing is worse than finding out you lost points because you did not follow directions. Jot down memory aids, formulas, equations, facts, or other material you know you’ll need and might forget. You can write this information in the margins.

Answer the easiest and shortest questions first. Answer multiple-choice, true and false, and fill-in-the-blank questions next. Proceed to short-answer questions and finally the essay questions. Use memory techniques if you get stuck. If you can’t recall something, remember something else that is related. Start from the general and go to the specific. Pace yourself. If you are stuck, move on.

Look for answers in other test questions. A term, date, or other fact you’ve forgotten may appear in the test itself. You can also use other questions to stimulate your memory.

In quick-answer questions (true and false, multiple-choice), your first instinct is usually best. Don’t change your answer unless you know that your second answer is correct.

Multiple-choice questions

Check if the questions require more than one answer. Answer each question in your head before looking at each possible answer. If you come up with the answer first, you eliminate the possibility of being confused by the available choices. If you have no idea what the answer is, use the following guidelines to guess:

  • If two answers are similar, except for one or two words, choose one of these answers.
  • If two answers have similar sounding or looking words, choose one of these answers.
  • If the answer calls for a sentence completion, eliminate the answers that would not form grammatically correct answers.
  • If two quantities are almost the same, choose one.
  • If answers cover a wide range, choose one in the middle.

True and False questions

Answer true and false questions quickly. Generally, these questions will not be worth many points. Don’t invest all of your time on this section. If any part of a true and false statement is false, the statement is false. Look for qualifiers like all, most, sometimes, never, or rarely. These are the key words upon which the question depends. Absolute qualifiers such as always or never generally indicate a false statement.

Short answer/Fill-in-the-blank questions

These questions often ask for definitions or short descriptions. Concentrate on key words. Be brief. If you know the material, this type of question can be answered very quickly.

Essay questions

Your first task is to find out precisely what the question is asking. Before you begin to write, make a quick outline. There are a few reasons for doing this. First, it will enable you to write faster. Second, you will be less likely to leave out important facts. Third, if you don’t have time to finish your essay, your outline might win you some points. When you start to write, get to the point. Make sure your position is clear. When you expand your answer with supporting facts and ideas, bring out your big ideas immediately. Don’t try for drama by saving the best for last. Avoid filler sentences that say nothing.

Write clearly. Sloppy, difficult to read handwriting might lower your grade. It is also difficult to grade what you can’t read. If you have time, review your essay for grammatical errors, clarity, and legibility.


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