When it comes to testing well there is no substitute for planning and preparation. There are, however, some practical strategies, sort of like a test-taking 101 course, you can use to help your performance better reflect your understanding of the material.
Test-taking strategies address your attitude and how you read and answer test questions. and can be used across disciplines. Using good strategies improves your testing skills, often resulting in higher scores and increased confidence. Common strategies include
- Carefully reading the directions
- Knowing the types and number of questions
- Answering the easy questions first
- Managing your time carefully
Test-taking also includes how to approach more complex and difficult questions. These questions often present a detailed scenario, and then ask you to supply a specific piece of information or part of a process. Strategies to improve your performance on these types of questions include:
- Working the Question
- Reading all the Answers
- Eliminating Options
- Applying the Most/Best Rule
- Changing Your Answers
Working the Question
The first step is to zero in on what the question is asking. In complex questions it can be difficult to figure out exactly what the questioner wants. Some of the details in the question can be distracting, so you need to work the question carefully in order to know how to answer it. Try to come up with a likely answer in your head. If your answer differs from the response options, you probably didn’t analyze the question correctly.
Reading all the Responses
One of the biggest mistakes people make when taking a test is to select the first “correct” answer and move on to the next question. Most questions will have more than one response that sounds correct, so it is important to carefully read them all and then choose the best answer.
It’s easier to get to the correct answer if you eliminate the obviously wrong answers. Sometimes the options will contain distractors. These might be answers that have subtle errors in them, or have absolutes like always and never. Distractors tend to sound good, but aren’t quite right.
Applying the “Most/Best Rule”
Once you have narrowed your options, it’s time to choose the best answer. One strategy is to apply the Most/Best Rule. Generally, the answer that applies to most of the people, most of the time is the best answer. Unless the question is asking for an outlier, it is unlikely that best answer will be a 1/200 occurrence.
Changing Your Answers
How often have you gone back on a test and changed your answer from a correct response to one that is incorrect? This often happens because you become unsure and second-guess yourself. It is so frustrating, especially when you had the correct answer all along. How can you fix this? Don’t change you answer unless you can explain exactly why your first response was wrong and your second choice is correct. If you don’t have a really good reason to change an answer, don’t do it.
Planning and preparation are still key to testing well, but using good testing strategies can increase your confidence and help you bump up your scores. You can find more resources to help you improve your test-taking skills and a tutorial on our Learning Support page.