Test Taking Tips and Techniques

Test preparation is important for success in school.  There are several test taking techniques that can be used to improve scores on tests.  Here are some test taking tips that can help with test preparation.  During test preparation it is important to know the items on the test and how it will be graded.  Make sure to follow all of the directions that are provided and move on to each question without wasting too much time.  If a question is difficult, move on to the next and come back and provide an educated guess to the question that you were struggling with.  During test preparation make sure that you know the time limit for the test that you will be taking so that you are ready to complete it.

Following these test taking techniques and test preparation guidelines will help you become a more successful test taker.

Test Preparation

Have you ever studied for a test and felt like you knew the information; then when you actually took the test, you didn’t do very well? Part of not doing well on a test can be caused by nervousness, not being sure what the directions are, not getting finished, poor test preparation and other such reasons.

Knowing test taking techniques can reduce the fear and create a much better situation for you. Knowing the content is the most important step in preparing for a test. However, you may know the content but still be unprepared, because you really don’t know how to take an exam. You may not even realize that scoring well on a test requires more than just knowledge of content.

These test taking tips will help you, not only in school, but also beyond school. Knowing how to take these tests will be a great help.


Test-taking techniques are those skills not related to subject matter knowledge, which include your attitude and how you approach the taking of a test. When you gain skills required to take a test, you will receive a higher score than you might otherwise have gotten.


There are six major items for developing test-taking techniques. They are:

  1. Know the different kinds of items on the test and how the test will be graded.
  2. Follow directions.
  3. Move from question to question without wasting time.
  4. Attack difficult questions/guess.
  5. Know the time limit for the exam and be mindful of it.
  6. Have a good attitude when taking an exam.

1.  Know the different kinds of items on the test and how the test will be graded.

  • Become familiar with the five most common kinds of items that are given on tests. These are the following: multiple-choice, true-false, short answer or blank filling, matching and essay. Practice dealing with each of the five.
  • Know how important every test is. Oftentimes, students believe that the results of a test are far more important (or less) than they really are.
  • Know which type of questions will be included on the test. Find out from the teacher what kinds of items there will be and study and practice.
  • Know how the exam will be graded. Ask questions BEFORE you take the test. How many points is each question worth? In some cases, guessing is a good idea.
  • Know what counts and what doesn’t count when a test is graded. For example, will you be graded for spelling on a social studies test? Does work have to be shown on a math test? Will capitalization and punctuation count on a geography test? Ask your teacher these questions BEFORE you take the test.

2. Follow Directions

Listening carefully and following directions are very important to your success on a test. Students do not always understand the directions and they fail to ask the teacher for a clear explanation of the directions. When you take an exam, you must understand all directions.

  • Listen to the directions carefully and always feel free to ask questions if you do not understand something.
  • Know exactly what every word of the directions means. Sometimes words used in directions can be confusing. Make sure you ask the teacher the meanings of any words in the direction that you are not sure about.
  • Know precisely how to mark machine-scored answer sheets. You can receive a lower score if you if you leave stray marks on a machine-scored answer sheet or do not fill in the bubbles completely. The computer can pick up these marks as errors.
  • Machine-scored answer sheets typically require the use of a #2 pencil. If you don’t use this kind of pencil, the answers may not be read on the computer and you will receive a lower score.

3. Move from Question to Question without Wasting Time

Have you ever become panicked when you are running out of time on a test and aren’t through yet? This is very common. Many times this problem is caused by spending too much time on difficult questions.

  • Being able to manage your time when taking an exam is a very important skill to acquire. Ask your teachers for help in this area if you feel you need it.
  • Skip items if they take too long. Quickly glance over the whole test before beginning. Learn to pick out the hard and easy questions and not try to answer them right away. Do the easier items first. Don’t just automatically start with #1, then #2 and so on.
  • Making a decision to skip an item should be made pretty quickly, not after several minutes of attempting to answer the question. When taking a test, this is most likely the most important idea to remember.
  • If you are using an answer sheet and skip an item on the test, be sure to mark the skipped items on the answer sheet somehow. This will keep you from answering the next item in the wrong answer space. Just remember that if this is a machine scored answer sheet any marks will have to be fully erased.
  • When taking a multiple-choice test, make sure you read each possible answer before marking your choice. Many students read choices “A” or “B”, think one is correct, and immediately mark it without reading all choices. This is clearly a serious mistake.

4. Attack Difficult Items/Guess

When you see that a question is difficult, you need to have a plan to deal with that question. Teachers can be a great help in assisting you with such a plan. Educated guessing is a type of guessing that will help you in obtaining higher scores. In order to make an educated guess, you have to have knowledge about the content on the exam.

  • Learn to approach a hard item on a test the same way you do your homework. When doing homework, ask your teacher for tips as to how to go about solving tricky problems. If you learn this, it will carry through on the exam.
  • Know whether guessing is a good idea. In some cases it is while other times it is not.

5. Have a Good Attitude When Taking an Exam

  • Learn how to relax before an exam. Take one baby step at a time. Being a little nervous before a test is natural. Don’t worry about things you don’t know.
  • Learn how to relax when you take a test and practice it and after awhile you will be able to relax easier each time.
  • Think positively. Your thinking should be, “I will do the best I can.” –NOT– “I’ll never make it through this exam.”
  • Be in great physical condition. To perform well on a test requires you to be alert. Getting a good night’s sleep, eating a healthy breakfast and not drinking a lot of fluids so you won’t need to run to the bathroom are good steps to take.
  • Know your own strengths and weaknesses when you take an exam. All students have failings of one kind or another. Establish a plan for improving them.

6. Tricks to Getting a Higher Score when you have No Idea What the Correct Answer Is (Wild Guessing)

The next hints are not related to test-taking skills. But if you have no idea what the correct answer to a question is, and guessing is suggested, some of these tips may help in getting a couple more items correct. We call these test taking tips “Hints for Wild Guessing”. Please know that the credit you get with these techniques is not related to the knowledge tested, and carefully prepared exams will avoid making some of the errors identified below.

*In a multiple-choice test the correct answer is often most carefully stated than the incorrect choices.

*In a multiple-choice test a positive statement is more likely to be correct than a negative statement.

*In a five-choice, multiple-choice test, there are typically more “C” answers than “A”, “B”, “D” or “E”.

*In a multiple-choice test, if the last word in the stem ends with “a” then you know the answer must begin with a consonant. Likewise, if it ends with “an” the answer must begin with a vowel.

*A true-false test typically has more “true” than “false” answers.

*On true-false questions, the words “never” and “always” are more often than not false. Words like “sometimes” and “usually” in a statement will most often produce true answers.

South Orange County Aim High Tutors wishes you the best on all your tests!

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