I’ve worked with dozens of kids through the years who were discouraged by failing test grades. They told me they tried really hard on the test, but it was too hard. Sometimes they thought they were just too dumb to learn it. The real reason they failed, though, was simple: They didn’t prepare. Or they thought a quick glance at their notes counted as studying. It doesn’t. The bottom line is that if you want to do well, you have to put in some time preparing. Here are some specific test taking strategies you can use to give yourself the best chance at passing:
NURTURE YOUR BRAIN
- Sleep at least 8 hours for the two nights prior to your test.
- Drink enough water—one cup for every 25 lbs.
- Take a walk outside prior to the test to get extra oxygen to fuel the brain.
- Eat protein for breakfast: yogurt, cheese, sausage, eggs, milk. (Avoid turkey which contains a chemical that acts as a sleeping pill!)
- Form a study group or at least find a partner to study with. (Note: studying with others means that you quiz each other, share notes, discuss ideas related to the topic, proofread each other’s work, etc. It does not mean that you play video games, talk about your latest crush, and watch t.v. together!)
- Make flash cards to help you memorize “matching” items such as terms and their definitions, characters in a story with their descriptions, etc.
- Class notes. Collect all notes you took, handouts, and assignments, and organize them by class so that everything is together. Read over ALL of these items and make sure that you are familiar with their content.
- Text books. Skim over all prior reading. Focus on bold-faced words, topic sentences of paragraphs (main ideas), chapter titles and section headings. Make sure you are familiar with the main ideas and concepts in the assigned reading. Outline chapters to help you focus on the material.
- Study guides. Many teachers will equip you with a study guide. This could be your most important tool, so use it well and don’t lose it! Write down notes on the study guide to help you to study terms and ideas. Look up any information you don’t know.
- Skim over the entire test to get an idea of how much time you’ll need for each section.
- Read the directions for each section very carefully.
- Skip questions you don’t know and mark them so that you can find them again later. You might find answers embedded in questions that appear later in the test.
- Go back to the questions you skipped. Use your best guess if you still don’t know.
- Review the directions again in case you forgot to do something.
- Review all your answers before turning the test in.
SPECIFIC TYPES OF EXAMS
Answer each question in your head first before looking at the choices. Look at ALL the choices before choosing the best one. Eliminate answers that you know are definitely wrong. If two answers are similar except for one or two words, choose one of these answers. If the answer calls for a sentence completion, choose an answer that is grammatically correct with the sentence it completes. If you think there can be two answers, explain yourself in the margin.
If any part of the statement is false, the answer is false. Questions containing the words “never” and “always” are often false. Don’t try to fool the teacher by crossing a capital T. Make your T’s and your F’s very clear. If you think it can be both, explain yourself in the margin.
Fill in the Blank
Answer easy ones first, skipping those you don’t know. Then read over each question you skipped several times and move on. Later in the test, the answers may come to you. If not, make a logical guess.
Read the directions carefully. Will any answers be used more than once or not at all? Count how many items appear in each column. Will there be an exact match or will there be unused answers? Next, match those pairs that you are certain that you know. Sometimes it helps to read the definition first and then match it to the term. Cross off the items that you have used. Look over all of the choices again to see if you can discover more matches that you are sure about and cross off those items as they are used. Finally, go through each item, one by one, looking for the best answers for those that remain.
Make sure you know exactly what the question is asking. Pay attention to the VERBS—the words that tell you what to do—and then do that. For example, if you’re asked to compare two things, then you need to write about both things and show how they are the same. If you are asked to evaluate something, then you need to show your judgment of it. If you are asked to name and define some terms, then it’s not enough to list the terms. You must also say what they mean. Get to the point immediately—start your answer by including part of the question in your first sentence. Answer the question and support it with examples, facts, and quotes if open book.
I hope you find these test taking strategies helpful. What additional strategies do you like to use?