Parents and students frequently ask me for test taking tips. In this blog post, I will share strategies and tips for preparing for and writing tests and exams. I’ve taken hundreds of tests throughout my studies and have learned what works and what doesn’t when it comes to doing well on tests. How well one does on a test does not just depend on how much one studied but also on how effective they are at studying. Test taking is a skill that one acquires. Many of the tips that I’m going to share are focused on preparing and taking math and science tests; however, I will also share lots of general strategies and tips.
When studying for a test, one needs to try to predict the types of questions that he or she is likely to see on the test. What kind of things did the teacher emphasize and spend the most time on? It is also important to reflect on what you understand well and what you still need to brush up on before the test. It is not enough to just read through the textbook and look at sample problems; it is also necessary to practice solving problems. It is said that even the muscles of the hand have memory. Especially for math tests, it is crucial to drill yourself and complete many problems. It is not only about being able to answer questions, but also about being able to complete all questions in the allotted time period. One develops speed in solving problems and answering questions only after having done numerous practice problems.
It is essential to review notes frequently and complete all assigned homework on a nightly basis. It is difficult to learn something in a short period of time, so cramming for a test is rarely recommended. The night before the test should not be spent on trying to understand the material for the first time, but only on reviewing what one already knows. Most people learn best through repetition and will have much better recall of information many months later if they really spent the time learning the material. Many courses have a final exam that may be worth up to 30% of the final grade. Students generally don’t do as well on final exams compared to tests because exams are much more comprehensive, and for one to do well on them one needs to learn things gradually with minimal cramming.
When reading a question, it is beneficial to underline and circle important information, and to write down all the givens, and what one is trying to determine. A structured manner in approaching a problem makes it easier to not miss any key information. It is also helpful to draw a diagram of the situation. In many math and physics problems, it is much easier to solve the problem if you first create a drawing and then assign variables to parts of it. It is much easier to break up a problem into manageable pieces, if you have a sketch of the situation. There is a limit to how much can be stored in working memory, so putting information and a sketch down on paper is essential in allowing the brain to not have to keep that information in working memory and instead focus its power on trying to come to a solution to the problem.
One of the most effective test taking tips is to not dwell on a single question that you cannot answer, but to skip it and go on to another question. The mind continues to work on the problem behind the scenes, and the solution might come to you while answering another question. When receiving a test, the first thing one should do is to look over all the questions and then to complete questions that one knows how to answer. Be very explicit when writing solutions. When writing a solution to a problem, it is recommended to not skip steps; most mistakes occur when one is trying to take shortcuts. Also, it is much easier to gain part marks if one shows all steps to a solution even if one ends up with the wrong final answer. It is always better to try to write something rather than nothing at all; even if it is just the givens and a drawing. If one finishes the test earlier than the allotted time, he or she should double-check all calculations and answers. It is very easy to make small mistakes, like writing a minus instead of a plus, or using the wrong number. Frequent, careless mistakes can add up to a significant loss in marks.
The day before a test, it is important to get enough sleep. The brain is at its best if it gets enough rest during the night. Moreover, information is assimilated into long-term memory during sleep. Studies have shown that one has much better recall of information if he or she gets enough sleep after studying the night before a test compared to not getting enough sleep. It is also recommended to not study just minutes before a test. It is better to let the brain relax before a test. Just before a test, one either knows the material being tested or they don’t; last minute cramming is not going to make much of a difference in how well one does; it can even be detrimental. It is also very important to try to be relaxed before and during a test. Taking deep breaths and loosening up are both great relaxation techniques. Being very nervous and tense usually hampers test performance.
Remember that since test taking is a skill, one becomes better at it as they write more and more tests. These strategies and techniques had made me a much better test taker when I was in school. I hope that they are as valuable to those that have read this post as they were to me.