Getting Ready to Take a Test

We will assume that you have been learning the material for the test over the days and weeks since the last test; in other words, that you are not cramming.

If this is the case, then the week before the exam, and especially the 2 days before, you should only be reviewing, not learning, the material.

Given these two assumptions, the following is a set of strategies that you should make a habit for all your test-taking. Make getting ready for a test routine, so that your anxiety is reduced on the day of the test and you are more likely to do your best.

The Day Before the Exam

If you are very, very anxious or nervous about this test or tests in general and you have prepared well, do something relaxing the night before the exam. Do not cram. Go to a movie, or take a walk on the beach. Get your mind off the exam. You're ready; do something else for a while and let your mind digest the material you've been reviewing. The reason for this is that you run the risk of blanking on the test if you continue to study--some people actually lose access to information that they've learned when they become very anxious.

Get a good night's sleep before the exam. Fatigue distracts you and makes it difficult to focus and pay attention. Go to bed at a good hour so you get plenty of sleep. Again, you're ready for this exam, so there's no reason not to do this.

The Day of the Exam

Preparing. Get up at least one hour before the exam. This will give you time to wake up and be alert, and it will get you ready to eat. Eating breakfast is important. Numerous studies have shown that children and adults who eat breakfast are more alert, have more energy, and are better able to concentrate.

If you don't like to eat breakfast, give yourself enough time to wake up in the morning so that you do find food attractive. If you don't like breakfast foods, eat something else that is attractive at that time of the morning.

Go to class early, choose your seat, and bring the proper equipment for the test--pencils/erasers, pens, paper, calculators, etc.

Taking the Exam. When you get your test, read it over to see how the test items are organized, what kinds of questions there are, and how many points each item is worth.

Read the instructions carefully. Don't assume you know how to take this test. Sometimes professors have slightly different ways that they want you to respond on the test--that can cause big differences in your score if you're not paying attention.

Answer the items for which you're sure of the answers, first. Skip the ones that are more difficult and go back to those later. You may be reminded of possible answers for these items as you complete the easier items.

Don't leave any items blanks or any questions unanswered. By guessing, you have a greater chance of a few points than if you put nothing at all.

Ask questions during the test unless the professor specifically says that he or she will answer no questions. Ask whether you're interpreting a question or answer accurately. Ask what terms mean if you don't understand them.

Feel free to write comments on the test unless the professor specifically asks you not to. If you can't write on the test, ask to write on some scrap paper. Write down what you know about a question so the answers don't confuse you. Write down alternative ways to say an answer or question so the meaning is clearer to you. Write down what you know is the correct answer; then look for the printed answer that is closest.

When you're done answering all the questions, check your answers. Only if you're very sure you chose the wrong answer or wrote the wrong thing, should you change your answer. Otherwise, your first, best guess is more likely to be right.

After the Exam

Although it may difficult, steel yourself to evaluate your test performance critically. You can gain valuable information about how you did and how you can do better in preparing for the next exam. If you're not satisfied with your performance on the present exam, but you don't change your behavior for the next exam, you can't expect your grades to get better.

Evaluate your study behavior objectively and critically. This is the main area in which you can change and produce improvement in your test scores.

Don't engage in "If only I had done..." or "...not done..." This will only make you depressed! Instead, make plans for how you can behave differently in preparation for the next test.

Make a list of the things you did well and what you need to change or improve.

Listen carefully in class over the next weeks to pick up clues about what the next test will be like.

Make sure you attend class the day the professor goes over the test so you have a better idea of what the professor is expecting in essay answers, what his or her perspective is about multiple choice questions (details or general concepts, etc.), and how the next test will compare to the present one.

Evaluate your test performance and strategies. Go to see the professor and review the test with him or her.

Ask what you're missing on the essay items--are you missing information because you didn't know it or because you misread the question or skipped part of the question?

Check the multiple choice or T/F items to see if you're using the test-taking strategies properly.

The two most common problems:

Reading questions and answers carelessly is where most problems occur.

Reading too much into a question or answer or twisting it to fit what you remember is the second most common problem.