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Strategies for Test-Taking

General Strategies


  • Do all required reading as assigned 
  • Highlight important information in text
  • Make study cards of important information
  • Take time after each lecture to review notes and fill-in gaps
  • Ask questions about exam (What types of questions? What information is important? etc.)
  • Get copies of past exams if possible
  • Know essay test vocabulary ("compare, evaluate, define...")
  • Build a positive "I can do it" attitude


  • Don't cram—ongoing preparation and review makes for better learning and memory
  • Review each chapter and make a question out of each heading
    • "Recite" the answer in your own words, review study cards using same routine, and review questions at back of chapter
  • Review class notes
  • Don't waste time studying what you already know

During the Test

  • Relax. Do breathing exercises.
  • Know and follow "PUBCAR" strategy:
    • Preview
    • Understand directions
    • Budget time
    • Clue words
    • Answer easy questions first
    • Review

After the Test

  • ALWAYS study returned test to see what you did wrong
  • What test strategy errors did you make?
  • What information was incorrect?
  • Use this knowledge to improve performance on next test

Essay Test Strategies

Understand the Direction Words

Discuss: give main points and examples
Describe: create a "word picture"
Explain: tell how (how it works, how it happened, etc.)

Compare: show how two things are the same and how they are different
Contrast: show how they are different

Evaluate: present positive and negative aspects
Justify: tell why something is right or appropriate

Diagram: make a drawing and label it
Illustrate: can mean either to make a drawing or a long written example

List: give key points, one by one
Outline: organize a description with main points and sub-headings

Define: provide a meaning or synonym
Summarize: condense ideas
Relate: show a connection or relationship

Organize Your Answer

  • Spend 1/4 of time allotted for question
  • Analyze the question: answer all parts of it
  • Make an outline, or list major points to be covered

Write Complete Answers

  • Write to uninformed reader
  • Write more than you think you need to
  • "Pack in" the information

Proofread Your Answer

  • Be sure to save time for this

If Time Runs Out

  • Include an outline of what you would have written, or, ask for more time if possible

Objective Test Strategies

Read directions carefully

Answer easy questions first

Read each question

  • If sure of answer, answer it. If not sure, put a "?" and go on
  • Don't waste time thinking—clues will come later

Avoid changing answers

  • Your first instinct is usually correct

Guess if not sure (unless told not to do so)


  • Assume statements are true unless you can prove otherwise
  • For a statement to be true, all parts must be true.
  • Absolute statements tend to be false (never, always, everybody, etc.)
  • Watch out for negatives (not, un-)

Multiple Choice

  • Read every choice, cross out the "distracters" (wrong statements)
  • Combine the statement with each choice as if it was a true-false question (if it's false, cross it out) 
  • The following tend to be:
Correct   Incorrect
More complete or inclusive answers   Absolute statements
"All of the above"    Jokes, insults, high and low numbers


  • Read directions to determine whether to use a letter more than once
  • If one list has longer statements, use it as a starting point
  • Cross out (entirely) each choice as you use it

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