Test Taking

Apart from familiarity with the information subject to examination, there are other factors including cognitive and test-taking skills that can contribute to high test scores. The phenomenon is known as test wiseness. Test-wise students improve their results by developing and applying test-taking strategies, picking up clues in tests and managing their time well. These students are also aware that changing answers after some additional deliberation often leads to higher scores. They plan their studies in accordance with the way in which the information is to be tested, focus on all circumstances affecting test performance and use problem-solving techniques.

A number of scholars have tried to establish what strategies successful test-takers use. A study cited in the Handbook of College Reading and Study Strategy Research (2000), edited by Rona F. Flippo and David C. Caverly, compares the strategies used by A grade students and those employed by C and F grade students in a multiple-choice exam. It found that high-scoring students systematically considered all the answers and read them in the order provided. They analyzed and excluded incorrect options more often, passed over more questions to return to them later if they were not sure of the answers and anticipated more answers. The researchers found that some of the lower-scoring students who used these strategies at a later test improved on their scores. In addition to test-taking strategies, an aspect of test wiseness is the ability to spot cues in the questions. It can be argued that discovering cues comes from experience with various test questions. Researchers note that cues can stem from the logical relationships between choices.

Being prepared is a key factor in approaching tests. This includes reading, studying information and making notes. Review sessions are important, in addition to the student taking time to attempt a range of sample tests. According to the Test Taking Tips guidance website, a positive attitude is crucial and the student should learn strategies on how to reduce anxiety such as relaxation techniques. It advises that a student gets plenty of sleep ahead of the test in order to be refreshed in the exam room. In terms of cramming techniques where a student has a limited amount of time to revise, students should try to focus on the areas that will earn them the most points in an exam.

In Motivation and Learning Strategies for College Success: A Self-Management Approach (2004), Myron H. Dembo lists a number of test-taking strategies with a focus on objective and essay questions. When answering essay questions, students are advised to read the instructions carefully in order to understand what exactly is required. For example, if students are asked to choose and answer a particular number of questions out of a wider range, there is no point in answering all the questions. Reading each question carefully and paying attention to key words such as list, classify, define, contrast and compare is an important skill to learn. Students may be required to provide more than one response, for example, to enumerate and define certain items.

Other strategies include reading all of the questions before starting the test and dividing time accordingly; determining the order in which to respond to the questions; forming an outline of the response and developing it in accordance with specific procedures; starting with an introductory paragraph, examining the main body of the test and a conclusion if required. Reviewing the results of the exam, if this is possible in the time given, can be a good technique to acquire.

Objective questions include multiple-choice, true-false options and fill-in-the-blank questions. Some of the strategies for multiple-choice tests involve interpreting the question and examining all of the alternatives before selecting the best answer; skipping hard questions at the start of the exam; reviewing similar options and guessing when unsure of the answer. Guessing is recommended because the student can reject the answers they know to be wrong immediately. Tips for true-false questions include paying attention to key words like all, most, some, little, none, completely and always. When answering fill-in-the-blank questions, words such as and, as, an, the, these, can be of help - particularly if they come right before the gap. With matching questions it is crucial to understand the directions, for example, if an answer can be used several times.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Student's Guide to Exam Success
Eileen Tracy.
Open University Press, 2006 (2nd edition)
Test Prep Made Easy: Don't Let the Letters "ACT" or "SAT" Strike Fear into Your Heart. with a Little Preparation and the Right Attitude, You Can Earn Scores You'll Be Proud Of
Chylinski, Manya.
Careers & Colleges, Summer 2008
The LSAT, Law School Exams, and Meritocracy: The Surprising and Undertheorized Role of Test-Taking Speed
Henderson, William D.
Texas Law Review, Vol. 82, No. 4, March 2004
Handbook of College Reading and Study Strategy Research
Rona F. Flippo; David C. Caverly.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "Preparing for and Taking Tests"
Motivation and Learning Strategies for College Success: A Self-Management Approach
Myron H. Dembo.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 11 "Taking Exams"
Teaching Students Not to Sweat the Test: Teachers Can Change Some of Their Practices to Ensure That Students Don't Feel Extreme Anxiety at Exam Time
Salend, Spencer J.
Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 93, No. 6, March 2012
Learned Helplessness: The Effect of Failure on Test-Taking
Firmin, Michael; Hwang, Chi-En; Copella, Margaret; Clark, Sarah.
Education, Vol. 124, No. 4, Summer 2004
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