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Test Taking for Fun and Enjoyment

Know thy test 

  • Look at the syllabus for your classes. 
    • Are there any tests? 
    • How many are there? 
    • What are they worth? 
  • What type of test is it?
    • Learn the format—essay, multiple choice, short answer, matching, true false, problem solving, etc.
    • How much time will you have?

Professors hate it when you ask, “What’s on the test?”  It sounds like you only care about your grade.  Instead, ask the format—that is an acceptable question, and can reduce anxiety.

You study differently for each type of test. 

For each—don’t cram.  What good will it do you?  Cramming leads to anxiety, and you won’t give yourself time to lodge the information into your long-term memory. 

Sensory Memory Contains everything that you touch, see, hear, taste, or smell--Information is held here for .75 seconds.

Short Term Memory Contains seven (plus or minus two) pieces of information at a time--Information is held here 18-20 seconds.

Long Term Memory Contains any information that has been practiced, is used frequently, or is otherwise significant--Information is held here indefinitely.

If you prepare will enough in advance, you won’t need to study any extra for the final!!  Think of reviewing like a TV commercial—the little snippets get stuck in your head. 

Essay tests


  • What is on the test
    • Did the professor give you the questions in advance?  You lucky thing you.
    • If not, prepare your own essay questions.  Do this in your study groups, to have more people give their input. 
  • How do you prepare questions?
    • Look over your notes for the major topics
    • What has the professor covered in class?
    • Textbook subheadings
    • Course goals
    • Blackboard/assignments
  • Writing questions
    • After you rediscover the major topics, start looking for relationships between topics. 
      • How are they similar? 
      • How are they different? 
      • Can you compare, contrast, describe?
    • After doing all of this, make a quick summary.  Then, create questions based on those things. 
  • After you have some possible questions, outline the answers. 
    • Don’t write them out—it could take years! 
    • Come up with a thesis and main points (with supporting information) for each. 
    • If it is a closed book exam, you’ve just created your outline.  If it is open note—you may have an answer key sitting in front of you. 

Taking the test

  • Read all questions/instructions BEFORE you begin. 
    • If anything is unclear, ask before you start.
    • Pick out any key words—compare, contrast, justify, discuss
  • Outline before you begin—write down the key steps, ideas, or themes for each.
  • Budget your time. 
    • If you have an easy question and could write for days, pick out the most useful information.  You may have one kick ass essay, but the others could suffer. 
    • If the instructions say to do 2 of 3, only do 2!  Writing the third will take away time and concentration from the other two, and chances are it won’t even be graded. 

Objective tests

These measure your ability to memorize, synthesis, or regurgitate material.  Don’t assume that these exams will be easier than your others—these can be just as annoying.

Now that you’re in college, you will have fewer and fewer of spitting back definitions.  You will still have to know these things—instead, you will have to apply your knowledge.  Instead of the question “What is unobtrusive observation?” for psychology, the question may be, “I am sitting in the cafĂ©, watching people go by and recording their actions.  What is this an example of?”


  • Know the information
    • Read the text
    • Review your notes. 
    • What are the key terms you’ve covered? 
    • Which information was stressed?  Why?
    • Is there any new vocabulary?  Know it!  Become proficient in the language of the course
  • Memorize
    • Review every night.  Flash cards, mnemonics—see me for more stuff on that. 
    • Form study groups—quiz one another
    • Create a “cheat sheet” of all information you need to know
    • Recite information
    • Put things in your own words
  • Synthesize
    • Form study groups!!!
    • For each vocabulary word, come up with an application for it. 
    • Which topics are connected?  How are they connected? 
    • Categorize ideas, facts, theories, observations by the ways they are similar
    • Solve problems in text, create your own questions
  • Learn the format of the exam. 
    • Multiple choice. 
      • If it is the standard, four choice multiple choice exams, use the same strategies you always have. 
      • Read the question, paying special attention to words like NOT, MOST, etc.
      • Read all of the answers.  Rule out any obviously incorrect ones.  Choose the most correct.
      • However, that doesn’t always work.  Bio 151—13 choices, all of which are correct—you must choose the most correct. 
      • So…cover up the answers.  Read through the question, and answer it as if it were a short answer, or multiple choice.  Then, after you have your answer, read through the others (all of them) until you find yours—mark it. 
      • Studies show that you are better off going with your initial gut instinct.  You still want to read over these things when you are done, but don’t change to many on a whim!
    • True/False.  Now, you are going to need to know WHY things are false—just guessing correctly won’t do it any more. 
      • For a question to be true, 100% of it has to be true
      • Look for mismatched data (names, dates, function)
      • Look for specific words:  Never, always, Not, usually
    • Matching
      • Can the words in column b be used more than once?
      • Are the columns even?

Taking the Test

  • Notice point values for different questions
  • Reserve time at the end of the test for review and emergencies
  • Check with professor to see whether or not you may write on the exam
  • Skim the test before you start—see general length
  • Read directions carefully
  • Avoid reading into questions—stay within the scope of the course
  • Mark key words

After the test

  • Read all comments and suggestions
  • Look at the origin of the questions.  Did they come from lecture, book, etc?
  • Look at questions you got incorrect.  Why were they incorrect?  Is there a pattern?
  • You can always bring your exam to learning support services, and someone there can help you analyze it for you. 

Test Anxiety

  • See Janet Billerbeck
  • See me!
  • Is the anxiety due to lack of preparation, or due to something else?
  • Be prepared—if you know the information, you can easily reduce anxiety.
  • Study in the testing area.
  • Arrive early—become comfortable with the surroundings
  • Don’t talk about it ahead of time
  • Relax yourself physically