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 Test Taking Skills and Strategies

TAKING TESTS

Yes, this is about taking tests; both objective and essay. And yes, there are differences between the two in terms of effective test-taking techniques and methods. You have already taken many exams, but have you ever seriously considered or studied the best ways to take them? Read on and learn another new skill: how to take tests and exams effectively.

Objective and essay Tests. What's the difference?

Objective tests require you to recall specific, objective facts. Test items include true-false, matching, fill-in-the-blank, and short answer, but the most popular format uses multiple choice items.

True-False Questions are a matter of choosing one of two answers, with a 50-50 chance of getting the answer right.

Matching Items are usually presented as two columns of information, and you must match an item from one column with its correct counterpart from the other columns.

Fill-in-the-Blank and Short Answer Questions require you to state some specific bit of information.

Multiple-choice Questions are designed to measure your knowledge and ability to recall by giving you a question and a best correct answer. The best correct answer is hidden among 4 or 5 other answers called distracters. Remember, the best correct answer is more accurate, more specific, more focused, etc., than the others.

Essay tests require you to explain, compare, contrast, etc. the data in some new conceptualization of your own making. Often, you are required to state an opinion and then support it with facts. Objective questions call upon you to memorize and recall. Essay questions require you to recall, reorganize, and represent the information in a new and original form. It is important to properly define the clarifying term contained within most essay questions. This term will be the key to what the answer should include. Here are some common terms:

Analyze: Examine critically to show essential features.

Criticize: Point out weak and strong features.

Compare: Show similarities and differences between two or more things.

Contrast: Show only differences.

Define: Give a clear, detailed and precise meaning.

Describe: List physical characteristics. Can also mean discuss, explain, or identify.

Discuss: Present essential features and their relationships.

Elaborate: Develop theme or idea in greater detail.

Explain: Clarify and interpret details of the problem, theory, etc. Present a step-by-step analysis.

Evaluate: Appraise carefully and give positive and negative aspects.

Illustrate: Explain or clarify by giving clear, precise examples.

List: Write a series of numbered items such as names, facts, etc.

Outline: Organize facts by arranging them in series of headings and subheadings to show relationships.

Prove: List all logical arguments supporting the statements.

Summarize: Present all main points in a concise mariner.

HOW WILL I KNOW IF MY ANSWER IS GOOD?

A quality answer is accurate, relevant, organized, and complete. It is also neat and uses good grammar and spelling. A professor won't appreciate a hard-to-read answer even if it is correct.

TAKING THE TEST. WHAT ABOUT OBJECTIVE TESTS?

Attempt to answer every question. If you come across a question that is too hard, or one on which you draw a complete blank, place a mark beside it and move on. Come back to it later. You may find the answer somewhere else in the test.

Answer every question at face value. Do not try to guess what the instructor wants. Just answer the question!

First intuition is often correct. If you do guess, do not change an answer without a good reason.

MULTIPLE CHOICE, TRUE-FALSE, MATCHING. DOES IT REALLY MATTER?

Indeed, it does, matter! For example, you will use different skills to answer multiple-choice questions than you will for true-false questions. Read on and see.

MULTIPLE CHOICE QUESTIONS. WHICH IS THE BEST ANSWER?

As you read each multiple-choice question, cover the choices with your hand and try to answer the question in your mind. Then check to see if your answer is listed as one of the choices. Beware of options with unqualified absolutes such as: never," "always", "guarantees." As in life itself, few, things are absolute. Choices with words such as these are rarely correct.

Be alert to giveaways in grammatical construction. For example, the correct answer to an item ending in 'an' is likely an option starting with a vowel.

If all else fails, choose B or C since studies show these are correct slightly more often than would be predicted by chance alone.

TRUE-FALSE QUESTIONS

A FIFTY-FIFTY CHANCE!

Again, few things in life are absolute and the same is true for true-false questions. Watch for "always", "never", and "must". If these are present, the statement is likely false.

If the answer contains the words "seldom", "normally', or 'generally", where an exception would not alter the answer, then the answer is likely true.

If the statement is more specific than most, chances are it is true.

MATCHING QUESTIONS WHAT GOES WITH WHAT?

Work with one column at a time.

Lightly cross out each answer as you use it so that choices are eliminated.

Mark the choices that you know first, then work on the more difficult ones.

FILL-IN-THE-BLANK AND SHORT-ANSWER QUESTIONS. HELP!

Use the questions themselves to determine the answer. For example, use the grammar of the question to help you figure the answer. Use general answers if you do not know the specifics. For example, a correct and specific answer: 1904. A general and possibly correct answer: early 1900's.

If there is no penalty for wrong answers, then guess!

HOW DO I IMPROVE MY ESSAY ANSWERS?

First, leave yourself enough time to answer the questions that are longer or are rare heavily weighted. A quick review of the questions and their point values before you begin the test we'll give you the opportunity not only to see what you are up against, but also to set a time allotment for each answer.

Second, make sure that your answer is relevant to the question. Furthermore, if you possess knowledge from another class relevant to the answer, put it down if it will enhance your answer.

Third, answer the questions you are more confident that you know first, then move on to more difficult items.

WHAT IS THE FIRST THING I SHOULD DO WHEN I GET THE TEST?

First you should be as relaxed as possible because you did not hang around with your panicking classmates! Avoid those people, you know the type, who sit in the hall huddled against the wall, eyes closed, muttering facts tinder their breath. These people seem to induce anxiety in the rest of us! Sit in your regular seat if you have one.

Next, scan the test to see what will be expected of you, and ask questions if anything is confusing to you. Are the instructions clear to you? Will you be penalized for guessing? Take a deep breath and begin. Remember, your test performance will be influenced by your attitude, so be positive.

AM I PREPARED FOR THIS TEST?

You are if you have been preparing all semester, and that preparation isn't just about learning the material on the test. Test preparation also involves emotional and physical preparation, and these are not "night before the test" endeavors.

Emotional preparation, if preparation includes approaching the test situation with a healthy balance of work, study, play, and socializing. These components really do help make you healthy enough to withstand the rigors of test-taking.

Physical preparation is also important and cannot be done overnight. Try to incorporate a routine of nutritious eating, regular and sufficient hours of sleep, and regular exercise. This will help you feel alert and capable. Everything goes better when you are in good shape, and test-taking is no exception.

Most importantly, test-taking should not interrupt your regular routine. If you have studied and prepared on a regular basis, then it should take little additional effort to prepare for tests. Contrary to popular belief, sugar and caffeine do not enhance your test-taking performance.

SPEAKING OF PERFORMANCE, WHAT IF I GET "PERFORMANCE ANXIETY?"

We are speaking of the anxiety people sometimes feel before performing a challenging task. While some anxiety is normal and even enhances one's performance, too much will actually hinder it. If you feel unduly anxious before or during an exam, here are a few tips to help you cope:

  • Take a few deep breaths, close your eyes, and imagine a peaceful, pleasant scene (e.g. beach, mountains, etc.)
  • Go to the bathroom
  • Get a drink of water
  • Break your pencil lead then get up and sharpen it
  • Postpone the anxiety by telling yourself that you will get anxious later. Now is the time to take the test!

 

If anxiety continues to be a problem, or gets worse, see a mental health professional for some assistance.

 

Associated Psychological Services

Call us at (512) 345-6781 to arrange for an initial consultation at no charge.

The licensed psychologists of APS

 

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