Self Help-Taking Tests

Taking Tests

General Suggestions
For Taking Tests

  1. Plan your arrival so that you have plenty of time. Be sure to check your test taking
    material prior to leaving for the exam. (Showing up for an exam late or without a pencil
    is a sure way to focus unfavorable attention on yourself.)
  2. Read all directions. Underline key words in the directions that give indication
    as to how your answers are to be recorded and how they should be worded.
  3. Budget your time. Survey the test to determine the type and number of questions to
    be answered. Determine where you will start on the test. Check yourself at 15 or 20 minute
    intervals to determine if you are progressing at an acceptable rate.
  4. Be aware that you may have problems remembering from time to time. If you find yourself
    blocking, move on to the next question.
  5. Ask for help in interpreting test questions which you do not understand.
  6. Be aware of any negative statements you are telling yourself about the test. Such statements
    as "I'm failing, I didn't study for this, and the test is too hard for me"
    are sure ways of increasing anxiety.
  7. Do not be concerned with what the other students are doing. (Another sure way of increasing
    anxiety is to tell yourself you are the only one having trouble.)
  8. As a general rule answer the easy questions first.

Answering Different Exam Questions

Multiple Choice

  1. Pay attention to qualifying words (e.g., always, never)
  2. Do not look for patterns.
  3. Read through the questions with the answer.
  4. Estimate the alternatives.
  5. Look for clues (e.g., grammar, tenses)
  6. Guess if you don’t know the answer.
  7. Work backwards — read the answers, then the question.
  8. Choose the best alternative (more than one answer may be correct).


Matching is an exercise in recalling memorized information. The tests are divided into
two columns. Items on the left side are usually matched with responses on the right side.

  1. Ask if you can use alternatives more than once.
  2. Do not match if you are not sure.
  3. Take each entry in turn in the left column and try to think of the answer before reading the choices.
  4. Choose the best answer and mark the answer sheet according to the directions
  5. Narrow down the field, by completing those answers you know are correct.
  6. Avoid changing answers.


This test item also requires recalling specific types of information.
Unlike the multiple choice and matching question, you must supply the appropriate word
or number to complete the entry.

  1. Look for clues (e.g., grammar, tenses)
  2. Use common sense.
  3. Choose the best word.
  4. Pay attention to the length of line give or to the number of lines.
  5. Read through after you answer to make sure it sounds right.


Essay questions are analytical in nature. Your instructor is interested in
determining how well you relate course material and class discussion to the particular
question under consideration.

  1. Read directions carefully (i.e., Do you have to answer every question of just three out of five?).
  2. Re-read questions. Pay attention and know the meaning of key words (e.g., explain, contrast, compare).
  3. Outline your answer.
  4. Include an introduction, middle, and conclusion to your essay.
  5. Include details.
  6. Be general when you aren’t sure of the exact detail (e.g., It is better to write “late
    fourteen hundreds” rather than 1493 if the true date is 1492).

Short Answer

  1. Pay attention to grammar.
  2. Answer within the context of the course.
  3. Use terms the instructor used.
  4. If you are having a problem, answer by giving an example.
  5. Beef up your answers if you have time.


  1. Pay attention to qualifying words (e.g., always, never)
  2. The answer is false if any part is false.
  3. Do not look for patterns.
  4. Guess if you don’t know.
  5. Stick with your first answer unless you are sure you are wrong.


  1. Read the question.
  2. Re-read getting important information.
  3. If there is a multiple option, estimate your answer.
  4. Work backwards (e.g., 2 + 3 = 5, 5 - 2 = 3)
  5. Watch for careless errors.

Important Words in Essay Questions

The following terms appear frequently in the phrasing of essay questions. You should
know their meaning and answer accordingly. (This list and the sense of definitions, though
not the exact words, are adapted from C. Bird and C. M. Bird, Learning More by Effective
, Appletom Century Crofts, New York, 1945, pp. 195-198.)

Look for qualities or characteristics that resemble each other. Emphasize similarities
among them but in some cases also mention differences.
Stress the dissimilarities, differences, or unlikeness of things, qualities, events,
or problems.
Express your judgment about the merit or truth of the factors or views mentioned. Give
the results or your analysis of these factors, discussing their limitations and good
Give concise, clear and authoriative meanings. Don’t give details, but make sure to
give the limits of the definition. Show how the things you are defining differs from
the things in other classes.
Recount, characterize, sketch, or relate in sequence or story form.
Give a drawing, chart, plan, or graphic answer. Usually you should label a diagram.
In some cases, add a brief explanation or description.
Examine, analyze carefully, and give reasons pro and con. Be complete, and give details.
Write in list or outline form, giving points concisely one by one.
Carefully appraise the problem, citing both advantages and limitations. Emphasize the
appraisal of authorities and, to a lesser degree, your personal evaluation.
Clarify, interpret, and spell out the material you present. Give reasons for differences
of opinion or of results, and try to analyze causes.
Use a figure, picture, diagram, or concrete example to explain or clarify a problem.
Translate, give examples of, solve, or comment on a subject, usually giving your judgment
about it.
As in "enumerate," write an itemized series of concise statements.
Organize a description under main points and subordinate points, omitting minor details
and stressing the arrangement or classification of things.

See also Basic Study Techniques