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Test Taking Strategies: Test Taking: Performance Skills

Test Taking: Performance Skills

10 Tips for the Day of the Exam

  1. ARRIVE EARLY. Know the location and time of your exam. Arrive early to get enough time to settle down before the exam starts.
  2. BE AWAKE FOR THE TEST. Get a good night’s sleep, shower, chew gum, or have a caffeinated drink.
  3. EAT A SMALL BREAKFAST. It’ll be more difficult to concentrate if you’re hungry. Don’t eat anything that may upset your stomach.
  4. BRING EXTRA WRITING UTENSILS. You never know when your pencil is going to break or your pen is going to run out of ink.
  5. BRING ALL ESSENTIAL TEST MATERIALS. Calculator, Notes (if allowed), etc.
  6. GO TO THE BATHROOM. Self-explanatory. This is another precaution to minimize distractions during the test.
  7. WEAR COMFORTABLE CLOTHES. You’ll want to be comfortable taking the test
  8. BRING ANY NECESSITIES. Bring a water bottle, tissues, cough drops, etc.
  9. LOOK OVER YOUR NOTES. Review important information again before the test to refresh your memory.
  10. IT’S JUST A TEST. Remember that you studied hard and have confidence in yourself

Tips for Taking Essay Exams


  • Find out what the professor wants to see as evidence.
  • Learn the professor’s point of view.
  • Determine the criteria that will be used to judge your answers.
  • Read the entire test through before starting.
  • Budget your time according to the point value of each question.
  • Use work sheets to jot down ideas, organize your answers, and remember details (dates, formulas).
  • Use the question, turned around, as your introductory statement.
  • Note whether you are to define, list, or compare in order to give the professor what he/she is looking for.
  • Organize your answer as in any well-developed paragraph by expressing your main idea and then using supporting facts and details to prove your statement.
  • Use facts to support your arguments.
  • Use the technical language of the subject.
  • Use examples, charts, and other illustrations to make your answers more exact.
  • Unless there is a penalty for guessing, answer all questions even if you are not sure.
  • Use partial answers and outlines if you are not sure or are running out of time.
  • Proofread your answers for clarity, grammar, spelling, punctuation and legibility.


ANALYZE: Present a complete statement of the elements of the idea. Adapt and stick to a single plan of analysis. Give any conclusions which result.

COMPARE: Look for qualities or characteristics that resemble each other.Emphasize similarities among them, but in some cases, also mention differences.

CONTRAST: Stress the differences between things, qualities, events, or problems.

DEFINE: Give concise, clear, and authoritative meanings. Don’t give details, but make sure to give the limits of the definition. Show how the things you are defining differ from things that are similar.

DESCRIBE: Recount, characterize, sketch, or relate in sequence or narrative form.

DISCUSS: Examine, analyze carefully, and give reasons pro and con. Be complete: give details in an organized manner.

EVALUATE: Carefully appraise the problem, citing both advantages and limitations. Emphasize judgment based on the appraisal of authorities and/or your own personal evaluation (depending on the demands of the questions).

EXPLAIN: Clarify, interpret, and spell out the material you present. Give reasons for differences of opinion or of results and try to analyze causes.

ILLUSTRATE: Use a figure, picture, diagram, or concrete example to explain or clarify a principle or problem.

INTERPRET: Translate, give examples of, solve, or comment on a subject, usually giving your judgment of it. 

LIST: Write in list or outline form, giving points concisely one by one. (In some cases, write in paragraph form.) 

OUTLINE: Organize a description under main points and subordinate points, omitting minor details and stressing the arrangement or classification of things.

PROVE: Establish that something is true by citing factual evidence or giving clear, logical reasons.

REVIEW: Examine a subject critically, analyzing and commenting on the important statements to be made about it.

STATE: Present in brief, clear sequence, usually omitting details or examples.

SUMMARIZE: Give the main points or facts in condensed form like the summary of a chapter, omitting details and illustrations.

Test Taking Strategies

1. Before you start writing: GLANCE OVER THE WHOLE EXAM.

This does two things for you: It gives you a “set” on the exam: what it covers, where the emphasis lies, what the main ideas seem to be. Many exams are composed of a series of short questions all related to one particular aspect of the subject, and then a longer question developing some ideas from another area. It may relax you because if you read carefully all the way through it, you are bound to find something you feel competent to answer. OBSERVE THE POINT VALUE OF THE QUESTIONS and then figure out a rough time allowance. If the total point value for the test if 100, then a 50-point question is worth about half of your time regardless of how many questions there are. (Hint: A quick rule of thumb for a one-hour test is to divide the point values in half.) UNDERLINE ALL SIGNIFICANT WORDS IN THE DIRECTIONS. Many students have penalized themselves because they did not see the word “or” (example: “Answer 1, 2, OR 3”). You do not get extra credit for answering three questions if the directions said to answer ONE. In fact, you will probably lose points for not fully developing your answer. ASK the instructor if you do not clearly understand the directions.


Tackle the questions in the order that appeal to you most. Doing well on a question that you feel relatively sure of will be reassuring and will free your mind of tension. The act of writing often unlocks the temporarily blocked mental processes; when you finish that question, you will probably find the others less formidable. On the other hand, you may be the type of person who wants to get the hard one off his mind first and save the easy ones “for dessert”. 

BE SURE TO IDENTIFY THE QUESTIONS CLEARLY so that the instructor knows which one you are answering.

KEEP THE POINT VALUE AND TIME ALLOWANCE IN MIND. This may save you from a very common and panic-producing mistake such as taking twenty minutes of an hour test to answer a five-point question, and then finding you have five minutes left in which to answer a twenty-point question! Remember, it IS POSSIBLE to score more than five points on a five-point question! Work systematically, forcing yourself if necessary to do it. If you tend to rush at things, slow down. If you tend to dawdle, pace yourself. Write as neatly as possible while keeping to your time allotment. You are graded on accuracy, not neatness, but a neat paper may convince the instructor that the answer is organized and accurate. A messy paper has the opposite effect! 

3. When you are finished: CHECK OVER YOUR ENTIRE PAPER.

There are six reasons for this: 1) To see if you have left out any questions you meant to tackle later. 2) To see if you have followed directions. 3) To catch careless errors. Note: Don’t take time to recopy answers unless you’re sure they are really illegible. It’s easier to be reasonably neat the first time. 4) Make sure you have numbered your answers correctly. 5) Make sure your name is on every page. 6) Make sure your answers are complete and that you have not left too much to the imagination of the professor.

Test Taking Strategies for Specific Types of Exams


  1. Use time wisely.​​​​​​​
  2. Read all directions and questions carefully.
  3. Attempt every question, but do the easy ones first.
  4. Actively reason through the questions.
  5. Choose the answer which the test maker intended.
  6. Anticipate the answer, then look for it.


  1. Look for absolute qualifiers such as: always, all, nearly. If one is present, the question will probably be false.
  2. Look for relative qualifiers such as: often, frequently, or seldom. These will probably be true.
  3. If any part of the question is false, the whole question is false.
  4. If you don’t know the answer, guess; you have a 50-50 chance of being correct.


  1. Make sure you understand the directions for matching the items on the lists. For instance, can you use an item more than once?
  2. Answer long matching lists in a systematic way, such as checking off those items already used.
  3. Do the matches you know first.
  4. Eliminate items on the answer list that are out of place or incongruous.
  5. If you don’t know the correct matches, guess.


  1. Write no more than necessary.
  2. With sentence completion or fill-in questions, make sure your answers are grammatically correct.
  3. Make sure your response makes sense.


  1. Image result for multiple choiceAnticipate the answer, then look for it.
  2. Consider all the alternatives.
  3. Relate options against each other.
  4. Balance options against each other.
  5. Use logical reasoning.
  6. Use information obtained from other questions and options.
  7. If the correct answer is not immediately obvious, eliminate alternatives that are obviously absurd, silly or incorrect.
  8. Compare each alternative with the item of the question and with other alternatives.
  9. Whenever two options are identical, then both must be incorrect. 
  10. If any two options are opposites, then at least one may be eliminated.
  11. Look for options that do not match the item grammatically. These will be incorrect.
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