Test taking can be one of the most difficult challenges the average student has to face. Taking tests can lead even the most skilled students astray. Students that normally do well in class can end up so nervous about failure that they’re unable to perform when it’s actually needed. That being said, test taking doesn’t have to be impossible. There are ways to make passing tests or even acing a test or two dramatically easier.
If you’re looking to know how to do well when it really counts then you need to look into the these 17 test taking tips. These testing strategies can change the way you think about tests for the rest of your life.
1. Start Fast
Some people go by the old “slow and steady” approach. I consider this a breeding ground for negative thoughts. Starting a test fast forces you to focus. Most tests start as easy as they’re going to be. If you’re not able to start a test quickly then, odds are, you have bigger problems than the speed you’re trying to take the test.
Anxiety can melt away when you’re distracting yourself by moving too quickly. The test may not be a race but the sooner you answer your questions, the less likely you’re going to end up letting stress cause you to get stuck.
2. Skip Anything Tough
If you don’t know the answer to a question immediately after reading it (and there are still questions that you might be able to answer immediately,) skip the question. Your first read through of the test should only be for answering the easiest questions. Getting caught up on early questions that you don’t know can lead you into blanking on easier questions you should be able to answer.
The answers end up on the tip of your tongue but unfortunately you don’t turn the tip of your tongue in at the end of the test. You need to get the answers you know out of the way first.
3. Write Down What You’re Afraid You’ll Forget
Are you worried you’ll forget a formula or something when you need it? Well… write it on the test. As long as the test is started (and unless your teacher says otherwise) you can write whatever notes you want to write for yourself.
The most important reason to use this strategy is that it allows you to stop worrying about forgetting tough information. Little concerns like that can effectively shut you down when you’re too hung up on them. If you have the chance to reduce that anxiety then you should take it.
4. Accept Your Results
Once you start taking the test, somewhere around 90% of your grade is already decided. It’s a lot easier when you accept that right at the beginning of the test. No amount of stressing out or thinking will make you learn something you don’t already know. (Even if it could, that kind of stress would likely just make you forget what you already know.) Once you’re handed the test, you might as well have already gotten your grade for it.
The sweat in your palms and butterflies in your stomach come from thinking there is something that can change your results. Sure… you do have some ability to learn during the test but that extra stress doesn’t help. Accept your results and some of the stress will melt away.
Don’t worry. You’ll have plenty of stress pushing you. This strategy can help keep it as productive stress instead of becoming a distraction.
5. Grade Yourself
After you finish taking a test you can always assess how well you did before you even get your grade back. Sometimes it’s easier than others. The basic premise is based on this idea. There are some questions that you answer that you know you got right. There are other questions that you think you got right. There are some questions that you couldn’t answer or guessed completely on.
If all questions are multiple choice with 4 potential answers and all the questions are worth the same amount of points, you can easily estimate your grade before you ever even hand it in. You just count the points for the questions you know you got right. Then you count 50% of the points you think you got right. Then you add those two numbers for a low estimate of your grade. If you want a closer estimate then add 25% of the points of the questions you guessed completely on.
With true or false tests the strategy is similar but only include right answers or 50% points for guesses.
With essay questions it becomes more complicated but most students are able to get a reasonable close estimate based on their confidence level.
For a combination of these in a single test you just do the math separately and combine them.
This is a strategy that can greatly reduce your worrying post-test time. It can also help you decide when you’re comfortable handing your test in. (Because, is it really worth stressing over a few points when you’ve already got a grade you’re comfortable with?)
6. Never Even Look Like You’re Cheating
Your eyes should be uncomfortably locked on your own paper. Don’t look around the room. Don’t check your phone. Don’t try to hit on blonde next to you. Don’t have your book anywhere near you. Don’t smell assorted parts of your body for some strange perfume combination personal note system (thumb, strawberry, 1962!)
7. Almost Always Guess When You Don’t Know
Guessing is almost never punished on tests. Unless guessing is punished, it should always be your last ditch effort. In the last minute of your test you should always be putting your attention towards making reasonable shots in the dark towards the problems you can’t answer.
It’s funny how often your random guesses will be able to scrap up a few points that would have completely lost on your exam. For multiple choice tests there are strategies you can use to make more effective guesses.
8. Give Too Much Information When You Can
If you ever wonder whether or not you should include additional information the answer then the answer is almost always yes. Did you do a math problem? Show your work. Show units. Show arrows from step to step. Graph it if you want. Anything that you can add to increase your chances of accidental
y convincing the teacher you know what you’re doing is good.
Extra information serves a safety net function. If you can provide it then you might as well provide it. Even gifted students end up leaving out stupid details. Leaving in too many details is the better approach.
9. It’s Not A Race But…
As mentioned before, at the beginning of your exam, I suggest you treat your test like a race. Try to get every single easy point as fast as you can. But… of course… it’s not a race. There are no consequences to finishing a minute before the deadline. Those extra points you make from double checking your work are worth it.
While you’re in the middle of your exam, you might see someone else handing in their work. If that bothers you, assume they’re handing it in because they skipped a bunch of questions and now they’re terribly worried because they didn’t know any of the answers. (It’s probably not completely true but if it makes you feel better, think it.) You don’t need to rush your test.
The only time you should hand in your test is when you’re reasonably confident you’re satisfied with your grade. This can typically be figured out using the method listed above.
10. Do Not Cram For Tests!
Ahh… the good old college cram. It’s a classic.
Cramming for tests is one of the most common and least effective approaches to test preparation. It’s wildly inefficient because your brain can’t magically remember all that information in a single night. Spreading a tenth of the cram time over a week would provide better results.
To cram for a test is to tell your brain that failure is not an option. This is a huge stress inducing situation. You may improve your grades a little based on the amount of time and frustration but it’s usually worth skipping the cram and accepting a few less points on the test because, at least then you actually have a reason to prepare in advance the next time.
If you need to cram then you might as well have already gotten the score lower than you’re capable of. Accept that lesson (and grade) and make sure not to repeat it. You’ll be better off that way.
Despite that, I know you won’t listen all the time. If that’s the case then at least try to do it reasonably using the ideas outlined in How To Cram For A Test.
11. Study Immediately Before The Test
Yes. I’m not a cram fan but the last five to ten minutes before the test offer you the option of using your short term memory to master any last minute information you need to know. Use this in conjunction with writing notes on your test when it starts and you’ll practically always have the information you need.
This can help you get distracted from worrying about the test as well. If you’re stuck focusing on studying then you don’t have time to have your heart beat out of your chest. This is particularly good for that super hard to remember information.
12. Know The Test Before You Take It
Most teachers virtually hand out their test for their students to study off of. If your teacher gives you a handout of what to expect on the test then take advantage of it. Study everything on the list and try not to study anything else (that you don’t have some other good excuse to study.)
Your performance is going to be highly dependent on your assessment of the test before you’re even given it. The more accurately you can predict what’s going to be on the test, the less you’re going to have to study and the better you’re going to end up doing.
13. Study Less Stuff More Often
Picking the right answer is a whole lot easier when you’ve already seen the answers a whole lot of times. Some students try to study a few hours for their important tests here and there. A more effective and efficient approach is to study a few minutes every single day. Sure… it sucks to start studying daily but you only have to study a few minutes to see better results than the average “study for hours once in awhile” strategies.
You don’t need to make every study session a big todo that you have to go to the library for. You just need 15 minutes (or often less) to sit down with some information and follow some simple study strategies on. With only a little time regularly you’ll remember information dramatically easier.
For more information on the 15MSS (15 Minute Study Strategy) taught on this blog read The 15 Minute Study Strategy or for some less specific aspects you might be interested in 101 School Hacks For Better Grades & A Better Life.
14. Settle And Don’t Stress
You can overcome your anxiety during your test. Never let yourself get ridiculous with your fears. No… your life will not end if you screw this up. Plenty of wildly successful people have down miserably on tests. Some will attribute their success to their massive failures. Screwing up is not a problem.
If you find yourself digging into a question for a ridiculous amount of time and don’t see yourself making progress, don’t be scared to settle and give up. You may have 20 minutes to work on the test but 20 minutes of stressing out will only hurt your long term feelings about tests. You’ll learn to hate tests if you continue to stress like that and no one could blame you for it. When you make tests life or death they’re not going to be a pleasant experience.
The truth is, sometimes you won’t know the answer or how to get the answer. You can always learn after the test. It’s good to try but don’t let it harm your long term enthusiasm.
Of course, overcoming the stress is good but prevention is better than the cure.
15. Prepare With Testing
This is where the vast majority of students screw up their studying. Studying is best approached like daily warm ups for the test.
Reading information is a terrible way to lock information in your long term memory. The best way to lock information in your long term memory is to practice remembering it (or just practicing it.) Think about your studying in terms of testing. You need to be remembering information and not just reviewing it.
Fixing the average students read to study strategy can almost always produce an instant boost in that students grades. I remember one student telling me, “I just never thought I was all that smart until I did this.” After a while things that seemed impossible become, not only possible but practical. Study success is almost always dependent on a student’s willingness to use recall.
Recall is one of the fundamental goals of any good memory strategy.
16. Know Your Teacher’s Style
Every teacher has a different style of testing. If you know the kinds of questions that a teacher likes to ask then you get to go into the test prepared to handle them. If you know a teacher likes to be tricky then hard questions can suddenly become easy. If you know a teacher likes to give partial credit then you should come prepared to show as much work as possible. Details can make a surprising difference.
Stuff like this can help you gain every free point that you can get. Of course, also keep an eye on the instructions and directions you’re provided because they can end up saving you from a whole lot of embarrassment. Also, if you’re ever struggling to figure out what a question is asking you can also try to base it on what you’d expect the teacher to be asking.
17. Learn From Your Mistakes
As you’re watching the clock tick down on a test that you’re confident you completely bombed, you’re afforded a great opportunity to learn something.
Most students choose to take failing a test as a horror story. I think it’s better to approach it like a cautionary tale. If it ends up happening then you need to figure out what the cautionary tale is warning you about. Did you fail to prepare for the test? Did you stress out during the test? Did you skip the homework?
Most students will never learn from their mistakes. They’ll go from grade school to high school to college pretending that their failures were just flukes. The more responsibility you accept from your failures the more things you’re giving yourself the opportunity to learn.
You never fail if you become a better person for it.
Then again, you never have to fail if you’re properly prepared for a test. Using the methods in this list of test taking tips or even just one or two of these techniques can improve your grades fast. Small changes implemented regularly can make a huge impact.
Whether you’re taking math, history, science, final exams, or pop quizzes for high school level, or college level, virtually all the common mistakes students make are the same. Learning to prevent the major hiccups like getting excessively worried for tests and learning to improve your initial studying routine are worth the time it takes because these changes will help improve your grades in absolutely every class and test you take in the future. Never lose sight of that. Studying for a test is good but studying for all tests is dramatically more powerful.
If you’d like to learn the standard 7 Step Test Prep strategy I recommend then you might want to check out this subscribers only article: 7 Step Test Prep: Higher Scores With Less Stress
Do you want to know how to study in less than 15 minutes a night? That’s what this blog is all about. Be sure to check out the archives, follow along, and read the Amazon ebooks in the sidebar to improve your grades without working longer and harder.
It’s not HOW MUCH you study.
It’s HOW you study.
The human brain has billions of neurons perfectly structured to store and transmit data about the world around you.
Any idiot can bang around with a textbook for dozens of hours to score high…
Let me show you the better way.