It is not a far stretch to say that preparation for any test at school begins in the classroom. Any material that is covered in class could appear on a test, and the time spent with the material in class is practice for a test. There are many things you can do for yourself to make taking a test easier – for instance, paying close attention in class and making notes will not only give you a better handle on the material initially, but it will also be a lot easier to study when a test decides to grace you with its presence.
Ultimately, it is important for you to know what strategy works best for YOU; some people need to copy notes word-for-word and do not really understand the material until later, and other people prefer to give their full attention while the teacher is speaking during class to better absorb the material. As long as you’re not cheating, it doesn’t matter what test-taking strategy you use – it just has to work!
Take Your Time!
One of the most important aspects of any test-taking strategy is remembering to pace yourself. Knowing how long you need to spend on each question can greatly increase your efficiency. Believe it or not, there are actually instances where really complicated test questions are not worth any more marks than a simple, multiple choice question – if you don’t know the answers to those complicated questions, there’s not much point in wasting your time!
** A side note: the tests that I am referring to in this type of situation are tests like the SAT and ACT… so don’t go trying this in whatever test situation you want!
On the SAT, for example, all of the questions are weighted equally. This means that answering a really tough question correctly is worth no more than the answering the easiest question correctly. With this knowledge, a test taker will realise that their time is best spent on the questions that they are sure they can get correct in order to maximize their score. Of course, anyone aiming for a very high score should always strive to answer every question, but in most cases, an educated guess is good enough. Any more time spent on a complicated question is time that could have been spent getting more points for correct answers, and is just subtracting from your overall score.
It is also important to read through the test before you start writing. If you are faced with a question that is worth a lot of marks and you’re stumped, there are some things that you can do. Math, for instance, is one subject in which there are always a few marks given for completing parts of a question, even something as simple as declaring variables or writing out an equation. There is always a way to get part marks, even if you do not know the answer to the question – never leave any question completely blank!
Budgeting your time is especially important when answering essay questions. You should be aiming to write at least a full, five-paragraph essay (yes, five paragraphs… even on a test!) Generally, it can be useful to plan out the essay for at least two to three minutes before starting to write. An outline will ensure that you are answering the essay question properly and consistently throughout the essay, and it will be easier to connect your paragraphs to each other and most importantly, to your thesis. If you were to simply start writing without a plan, you might stray from the original essay question, which will not earn you many, if any, marks. It is much better for your writing process (and for the teacher’s marking process) if you are organized and clear in all aspects of your essay. Make sure that you are fully prepared and that you know what you are going to write about, and don’t forget to re-read your essay once completed! You should not be looking to change the structure of your essay at this point, just look for things like spelling, grammar, and making sure that your essay neatly connects to and relates back to your thesis.
Review is an equally important step for any test, no matter the format; make sure that you understand the questions correctly, and that your answers are clear and concise. It is always best to answer a question with what you know to be correct or, in situations where you are not completely sure of the answer, your gut. Only change your original answer if in revision, you find that you initially misinterpreted the question.
Another reason why reviewing your test is important is to make sure that you answered all of the questions. Skipping over questions that are confusing to you and coming back to them after the rest of the test is complete is a valid test-taking strategy, but it is a strategy that relies on the test taker remembering to review! Always check to make sure that every question has an answer, or you could miss out on some potentially easy marks!
And, just like writing an essay, you should check your answers for spelling and grammar and make sure that all of your answers are clearly written. This should go without saying, but neatness does count; you wouldn’t want to get a lower grade than you deserve just because your teacher cannot read your writing, would you? Oh yes… that can happen! Answering an essay question on a test removes the one device that many students rely on when handing in essays and assignments: the computer. Make sure that your writing is legible; the teacher cannot mark something as correct if s/he cannot read your answer!
Always be Crystal Clear and Concise!
While there are not usually marks given for spelling, grammar, and clarity, they are very important parts of any test-taking strategy. If there are any points that a question specifically mentions, that probably means that those points are important and should be included in your answer. In this case, you should make sure to answer that question by placing those points in their own separate sentences. Similarly, you can try to underline or bold any keywords or phrases.
When writing an essay, it is important to not only address each point, but to also adequately back up each point. For this reason, you should make sure your writing is easily understood. Using big words sounds impressive, but it only is impressive if you know what the big words mean and how to use them. Unnecessary, carelessly used words do not add value to your essay; on the contrary, they hinder your essay. When in doubt, clear and concise is always best.
Another good point to keep in mind as far as clarity goes is to never assume that the person marking your essay will know what you are trying to say. Sometimes, what is clear to you is not clear to the reader. Simplicity within the writing and the argument of an essay will make it easier to read and much easier to understand.
As you can tell, clarity will often not earn you actual marks on a test, but it will most certainly earn you different kind of mark. Making sure that you are understood ensures a properly graded test, one that is free of any missed marks where deserved. That, my friends, is equally as important as physical marks.
Make Notes During the Test
Even though it seems like taking notes should something that is done before you write the test, it is still an invaluable time-saving tactic within the test. Notes will help you remember and easily find key quotes or specific sections rather than scrambling to find it within the text the second time around. Save yourself the trouble and the time – make notes the first time around so you are able to read the text as few times as possible!
It is also very useful to take notes while completing questions that involve reading comprehension. Answering the questions that go with the reading passage might be a little bit easier if you’ve got some point-form notes to which you can refer back. While reading a passage, you can also underline any phrases that you believe may be important. The thesis of a passage is a good example of something important that could be underlined.
Don’t hesitate to apply this same note-taking philosophy to other areas of test-taking, as well. Some students can only remember things short-term, so it helps them to review the test material right before the test and immediately write it down once in the test environment. You can write things that you have difficulty remembering on a blank space within the test so you do not have to worry about remembering it. Any key definitions or formulas can be written on the test as soon as it is handed to you, so you can get it written down while it is still fresh in your brain.
What Should I Bring to a Test?
Don’t go getting too stressed out about this part of test-taking; most of the time, being prepared for a test is as simple as making sure you have a pen or pencil available (usually a few pens AND pencils – it never hurts to be overly prepared!), and that you studied for it adequately. Many standardized tests will give you guidelines, and it is important to know these ahead of time so you can be fully prepared. What I mean by that, is that it’s probably not a great idea to write a test in pencil if the instructions say to write the test in blue or black ink. In this situation, it is important to know what medium the test must be written in to avoid an unnecessary failure!
So… if there is one thing I hope you take out of this, it’s to just be prepared for any test that you take, both physically and mentally. Make sure that you have studied and that you have a solid understanding of the material, know what sorts of test-taking strategies work best for you so the actual act of taking the test isn’t too hard on you, and bring all the appropriate materials with you. The test-taking strategy that you use might be one that was mentioned here or it might be a completely different strategy of your own, but it doesn’t matter – find what works best for you, perfect it, and go ace your next test!
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