Multiple-Choice Questions: Be sure you understand the question before reading on to the answer choices. Try to formulate a correct answer before looking at the answer choices. You can usually eliminate one or two answers right away. If two answers seem similar, reread the question to determine the focus, as sometimes the difference between two similar answers is a matter of emphasis.
True/False Questions: The entire statement must be true for the answer to be true; if it is partly true and partly false, the answer will be false. Avoid answering true for "all or nothing" statements; if you can come up with one exception to "all" or "every", the answer is false.
Fill in the Blank (Cloze) Questions: Read the question first, substituting "blank" for the missing word. Try to complete the response on your own before looking at the answer choices. If necessary, read the question substituting various responses in the blank to "hear" which choice works correctly.
Matching Lists: Be clear as to whether answers are used once and only once. Match those you are sure of first, then use the process of elimination for the rest. When matching terms and definitions, read the definition clues, then match those with the correct term; it is easier to scan down the list of terms for the correct answer than to read through multiple definition options for each new word on the list.
Short-Answer Questions: Read the question carefully. Most ask for specific details. Note key words in the question and any specifics about answer length (e.g. "In 3-5 sentences explain two causes of ..."). Be sure your answer reflects understanding, not just rote memorization, of information. Word the answer as concisely as possible while still being complete.
Essay Exams: Read and follow instructions carefully. Know what is being asked for by the use of verbs such as explain, discuss, enumerate, contrast, compare, justify, describe, trace, evaluate, or summarize. Brainstorm and jot down points so that you'll remember them once you start writing. Systematically plan your answer (make an outline or concept map). Start with a strong statement and use good transitions to show the relationship of ideas. Be complete and thorough, but not wordy. Use instructor's key words and phrases. Write neatly. When you are finished, reread the question and reread your answer to make sure you have covered everything.
Math or Science Questions: Determine at the beginning what information the question gives you and what it asks you to figure out. Draw a picture or diagram if it will help you. Pay attention to units and be sure to include the appropriate labels in your answers. Do as much as you can as well as you can on problems you struggle with; partial credit is better than no credit.
Troubleshooting Test Errors
What if you get a test back and it has a low grade? Never waste a poor test grade! The next time that happens, go through your test and, using the scenarios and possibilities below, evaluate why you missed a particular question. The information you uncover in this process may reveal an area where you need to modify your test prep or test-taking strategies for future testing success. If you're unsure of how to make changes in your methods, ask your instructor or see a SASS staff member for help.
- I did not read the text thoroughly.
- The information was not in my notes.
- I studied the information but could not remember it.
- I knew main ideas but needed details.
- I knew the information but could not apply it.
- I studied the wrong information.
- I missed class the day the information was taught/discussed.
- I experienced mental block.
- I spent too much time day-dreaming.
- I panicked.
- I was so tired I could not concentrate.
- I was so hungry I could not concentrate.
Lack of Test Wisdom
- I carelessly marked a wrong choice.
- I did not notice limiting words in the question.
- I did not notice a double negative.
- I changed a correct answer to a wrong one.
- I skipped a question/section/page.
- I misread the directions.
- I misread the question.
- I made poor use of time provided.
- I wrote poorly organized responses.
- I wrote incomplete responses.
- I failed to proofread my answer.
(Adapted from Longman and Atkinson (1994). Study Methods and Reading Techniques. St. Paul: West Publishing Co. p 221)