Strategies for Taking Exams

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Preparing for Exams

  1. Attend all classes.
  2. Be prepared – STUDY.
  3. Complete all homework and in-class assignments.
  4. Review regularly … daily.
  5. Study your hardest material and areas of weakest knowledge first.
  6. Understand … not just memorize.
  7. Ask for help or clarification if you do not understand something.
  8. Review old exams when available.
  9. Form study groups with fellow students.
  10. Take practice exams.
  11. Study in an environment that is as similar as possible to the testing environment.
  12. If you have to “cram” at the last minute, be selective – learning via cramming is limited.
  13. Don’t “over study” the night before! Being rested enhances exam performance.
  14. Eat well and get plenty of sleep.
  15. Don’t strive to be perfect – just try to relax and do the best you can.

Taking Exams

  1. Research indicates that exam anxiety is common. In fact, taking exams is the number 2 top stressor of college students, preceded only by amount of total course work required (Longman and Atkinson, 2002).
  2. Different exam types require different learning, memory, and retrieval strategies.
  3. For any exam, be prepared, bring all materials necessary, and arrive early.
  4. Take similar format practice exams when studying.
  5. Do not discuss the exam with other students prior to taking it.
  6. Read and follow all directions.
  7. Plan your time.
  8. Write neatly and legibly.
  9. Start with what you know best.
  10. Have a panic strategy – at the least, take a big breath, stretch, and try to relax.
  11. Don’t worry about what other students are doing or if they are leaving early.
  12. Always check your work and make sure your name is on the exam.
  13. Practice academic honesty.
  14. Remember, it is only an exam and not a life or death situation!

I. Strategies for Objective Exams (Multiple Choice, True/False, Matching)

  1. Try to answer questions before looking at the answers given.
  2. Read all answers provided.
  3. Answer the questions you know first. Mark the ones you do not know answers to so you can go back to them later.
  4. Don’t change an answer unless you are certain your new answer is correct. Your first instinct and response are usually the more correct answer.
  5. Take questions at face value – don’t get caught up looking for tricks.
  6. Watch the meaning for sentences containing double negatives.
  7. If possible, rephrase the question in your own words if the question is unclear.
  8. Underline key words in the question if necessary.
  9. Look for answers or helpful hints in other questions on the exam.
  10. Cross out answers you know are incorrect and select your answer from the remaining choices.
  11. Never leave a question unanswered unless there is a penalty for incorrect answers.
  12. Unless directed otherwise, only provide one correct answer.
  13. If you know you know the answer, but you cannot come up with it because it is “on the tip of your tongue”, leave the answer blank and move on to other questions. The answer will eventually come to you (hopefully before you turn in the exam!).
  14. When taking true/false exams, there are generally more true responses than false ones.
  15. Watch for “qualifiers”, or words like “all, most, sometimes, rarely, and never”. Questions containing qualifiers like “all” or “never” are usually false.
  16. When taking short answer exams, note grammatical hints (like “A” vs. “An”)
  17. If you have no clue as to the correct answer, make a guess. Here are some helpful strategies that MAY work:
    1. If two answers contain similar words (e.g., perpetrate vs. perpetuate), choose one of them.
    2. If two answers have opposite meanings, choose one of them.
    3. Choose the longest answer.
    4. If none of the above work, choose choice “B.” Current research suggests the following average distribution of correct answers: “A” – 20%, “B” – 40%, “C” – 30 %; and “D” – 10 %. When in doubt, watch for patterns of correct responses for the exam.

II. Strategies for Essay Exams, Short Answer Exams, Fill-in-the-blank Exams

  1. Read all directions carefully.
  2. If essay exam, read all exam questions first, then answer quickly the easiest questions first.
  3. Concentrate on only one question at a time.
  4. Plan (i.e., outline) your answers.
  5. Get to and stick with the point; do not be wordy or add “fluff.”
  6. Keep your eye on the time.
  7. Leave space between your answers in case you need to add anything.
  8. Even if you do not know the answer, try to write something. Sometimes, faculty provide partial credit for at least attempting to answer the question or for partially correct answers.
  9. Proofread your responses.
  10. If you run out of time, at least write key words, phrases or ideas that pertain to the answer – you may get partial credit.

III. Strategies for Open-Book/Notes Exams

  1. Write all formulas, definitions etc. separately in an organized manner.
  2. Mark your notes or books so that finding information is quick and easy.
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