Test Taking Advice
Some Helpful Advice on Test Taking
Multiple Choice Questions:
- Read ALL choices, even if you think you have found the correct answer. The very
last choice could be a better answer.
- Use common sense and logic. It is often possible to reason out the correct answer even if
you are unfamiliar with the subject matter of the question. (E.g., sometimes two choices will
make the same -or overlapping- points. Unless there's an "all of the above," that would almost
always rule BOTH answers out.)
- If two choices seem similar and you have trouble deciding between them, try to reword them
and analyze how they differ.
- Look for qualifying words. Many statements have exceptions, so be careful choosing
statements that contain words like "always," or "all," or "never," or "completely," (you get
the idea). Words such as "often," "usually," "few," "seldom," and "most" provide for some
exceptions. These statements are more likely to be correct (but not "always").
- Avoid selecting answers because they are unfamiliar or you do not understand them (unless
you've clearly ruled out the other options). If you have studied well, a choice that is
unfamiliar is probably incorrect.
- Make educated guesses. When you can eliminate some of your possible choices you are
increasing your odds of guessing correctly.
- As a last resort, when you cannot eliminate any of the choices, guess by picking the choice
that seems most complete and contains the most information. Instructors are usually careful to
make the best answer completely correct and recognizable.
- Look for key words in the sentence and use them to determine what topic the sentence
- Decide what type of information is wanted: date, name, place, new term, etc.
- Use the sentence structure to decide what type of word is needed (noun, verb, etc.).
- Read the directions. Essay questions usually require essays to be written for answers.
Sometimes, answers may be accepted that deviate from this format (e.g., list format, outline
format, etc.). Make sure you don't lose points because you didn't follow the correct answer
- READ THE QUESTION CAREFULLY; study it for clues.
- Watch for questions with several parts. Be sure to answer each part.
- Make notes as you read the question. You may begin formulating an answer when you first
read the question, so jot down some key words that will help you to remember your thoughts as
you begin organizing your answer.
- ORGANIZE your answer. If the essay is well-written and organized, it will often earn a
higher grade than a poorly constructed one.
- Think before you start to write.
- Make a brief outline of your major points.
- Use the point value of the question to help you determine how many separate point-topics
are likely to be needed. For example, a 25 point essay may require five major ideas in
order to earn full credit.
- Use correct paragraph form (one major idea for each paragraph and sufficient explanation
of that idea).
- Begin your answer with a topic sentence. This sentence should state what your whole essay
is about (i.e., it should be able to stand alone and make sense to read without the question
having to be present as well). You should also include a comment as to how you intend to
approach answering the question (e.g., argument, examples, definitions, etc).
- Make your main points easy to find. Since most graders have many papers to grade, they
sometimes must skim for main ideas. Place each main point at the beginning of each new
- Avoid opinions and judgments unless you are specifically asked for them.
- PROOFREAD your answer! Check to see that you have answered each part of the question and
explained each point thoroughly.
- If you run out of time, jot down your main points. Often you can still earn some credit
for this added/partial information.
- If you don't know the answer, save it for LAST and attempt to answer the question anyway.
You may write something that is correct, and you will more than likely receive
some credit for your answer.
Short Answer Questions:
- Plan what you want to say before you begin writing.
- Use the amount of space provided, especially if each has a different amount of space given
(this is a rough hint about how much information the instructor is expecting in order for you
to receive full credit).
- Read the instructions carefully. In some matching sections you are allowed to use response
alternatives more than one time. In others, you may be expected to provide more than one
response for each item. In most, though, there is usually just a single correct answer per
question (but often there are more response alternatives than questions).
- Look over both lists before you start answering any of the questions. This will give you
an overview of what subjects and topics are included.
- Answer questions you are sure of first, and lightly cross off items as they are used, if
appropriate (see first comment in this section).
- Don't choose the first answer that looks correct without first making certain that there
isn't a better answer deeper in (toward the bottom of) the list.
- There's no rule that says you have to work from the left column to the right column. For
example, if the first column has short words or phrases and the second column has long
definitions or phrases, it will save time to work from the second column, matching column 1 to
column 2. That way you don't have to keep re-reading longer chunks of text looking for the
best match to a simple term.
- Watch for qualifying words (like "always," or "all," or "never," or "completely," etc.).
Just ONE of these words can change the meaning of a statement and make it true or false.
- Remember: If part of the statement is false, the whole statement is false.
- Three Last-Resort rules of thumb:
- Absolute statements (those containing words such as "always," "all," "never," and "none")
tend to be false.
- Mark any statements with unfamiliar terms or facts as false as long as you have studied
well (thoroughly). Ten toward trusting that you will recognize as true anything that is part
of the course content.
- Ultimately, it is better to guess "true" than it is to guess "false." It is easier for
instructors to write true statements than false statements. Therefore, there are
usually more true items than false items.
This page is a lightly edited excerpt from a text written by Kathleen T. McWhorter titled:
College Reading and Study Skills, which I highly recommend to the serious student.