How to Prepare For and Take Examinations

The secret to good test-taking is relaxation, preparation and confidence

Before exam day

  • The best preparation is not to fall behind in coursework.
  • Ask the teacher what is important and for suggestions on what to study.
  • After reviewing the material, organize and summarize.
  • Don't fill up with information; boil information down.
  • Study or talk with classmates to determine what's important, quiz each other.
  • Create a practice test. Try to anticipate questions. Answer with a closed book.
  • Get a good night's sleep two nights before the test, as well as the night before.
  • Don't distract yourself the night before. Keep the material fresh.
  • Use your summaries to build confidence.

On exam day

  • Eat a light high-protein meal, not carbohydrates (they can make you sleepy).
  • Bring all supplies: pencil, scratch paper, summary notes and calculator.
  • Be early to the test; don't chat with others; relax with a few deep breaths.

Before starting the examination

  • If bulging with information, write out a few key ideas before starting the test. (Use the back of the test or scratch paper.)
  • Glance through the test briefly and budget time according to points.
  • Read the directions word for word!

Essay questions

  • For each question, spend 5-10% of the budgeted time organizing your ideas before writing. Put this on the test paper or on scratch paper. Label it. Use a hierarchical approach. What is most important, etc.
  • Make your first sentence answer the question, then expand your argument.
  • If you get stuck, go on to another question. Show what you know.

Multiple-choice questions

  • Skim the question first, then read the question carefully.
  • Consider the answers from the last to first (from answer E to answer A).
  • Mark each answer you consider with either an X, a circle or a question mark.
  • If you're not sure and if there is no penalty for guessing, mark your guess, add a big question mark, and go on. Come back later if time permits.
  • Do the easy questions first. Show what you know.

Word problems

  • Do the easy problems first. Read each problem carefully.
  • Use your problem-solving strategy.
  • Set-up the problem. Circle it three times. Use scratch paper.
  • Explore your hierarchical knowledge base for basic principles, formulas and definitions. If in doubt, simplify the problem or try simple numbers.
  • Work the problem. Use algebra first, then numbers.
  • Verify the solution.
  • If in doubt, go on. Do not linger if you get stuck. Show what you know.
  • Stay confident If you begin to feel anxious, stop for a moment and take a deep breath. Write out something you know on scratch paper (something related to the problem).

From How to Be a Successful Student, Donald Martin, c 1988.


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