4.2 Test-Taking Strategies

Leslie Jennings, RN

Learning Objectives

At the end of this section, the learner will:

  • Review test-taking strategies for before, during, and after an exam.
  • Identify strategies specific to different types of test items.
  • Apply test-taking tips and strategies to a scenario.

Test Taking Strategies

Approaching a test in a careful and methodical way can help ensure the best results. You can best utilize your exam time by taking the time to survey the exam directions and point values and planning how to approach sections of the test. Strategy is particularly important for tests with mixed types of questions (i.e., multiple choice and essay) or tests with multiple essay questions. For example, if you were to spend too much time on the multiple choice questions and not allocate enough time to complete an essay question, you may have answered the majority of the total number of questions but still do poorly on the exam if the essay question was worth a larger portion of the exam’s total points. Plan your time carefully and manage your stress.

NOTES FOR NURSING SUCCESS: The NCLEX is a computer adaptive test that does not allow backtracking and is timed. See the bonus chapter for more information!

Additionally, a lot of students are unaware of the many strategies available to help with the test-taking experience before, during, and after.

 Effective Techniques for Test Preparation and Taking

Before the Test:

  • Go to all of your classes and take lecture notes and read all of your assigned reading using techniques described in Chapters 3.2 and 3.3.
  • Develop a study plan and schedule the time to review for an exam over several days. Refer to “Create a Five-Day Study Plan for Exams in Chapter 3.4.
  • Schedule study sessions with classmates in advance of the night before the exam.
  • If you know how many questions, what the format is, and/or how much time you will have, you can start to mentally prepare for the exam much more so than if you are coming in with no information. There are two more important aspects that you may or may not know: a) what will be covered or asked on the exam; b) how the exam will be scored.
  • Be sure you have materials you need for the exam ready at least the night before the exam, such as multiple writing utensils, scantrons, blue books, notebook paper, etc.
  • Get a good night’s rest the night before the exam.
  • To ensure that you are on time to your exam, set two alarm clocks or arrange to have a friend call you to make sure you are awake.
  • Eat a good breakfast and avoid caffeine prior to the exam.
  • Prioritize self-care and test-anxiety strategies reviewed in previous chapters.

During the Test:

  • Take a moment to take some deep cleansing breaths (or any other quick relaxation techniques) if you feel stressed by a question or the exam as a whole.
  • Keep your eye on the clock. Sit where you are most comfortable and have less distractions.
  • Wear earplugs, if noise distracts you. If permitted, get up and stretch (or stretch in your chair) from time to time to relieve tension and assist the blood to the brain!
  • Always read the directions first. Mark your exam with the necessary identification. Read them thoroughly. Scan the exam for question types, point values, etc.
  • Develop a plan for how you will use your time to complete all questions on the exam.
  • Read each item carefully and fully before marking an answer. You might find clues to the answer and will be less likely to make a preventable mistake.
  • Skip difficult questions and come back to them if you are pressed for time. Caution: if using a scantron to record answers be very careful that you do not incorrectly record your answers on the wrong line and get off track.
  • If time is available at the end of the exam, review questions you marked as “difficult” in order to check for errors. Try not to leave any answers blank. You might be awarded partial credit or even make a correct guess.
  • If you have an essay question to write, take the time to briefly outline an answer to ensure that you are answering all aspects of the question and that you provide a well-organized answer for your faculty member to read.

After the Test:

  • Conduct an error analysis for items missed on the test. Look up the correct answers. Determine the nature of the errors you made.
  • Talk with your professor about items you missed on the exam. Discuss adjustments in your test preparation methods if necessary. This is especially useful for quizzes that contain information that may be incorporated into more inclusive exams such as mid-terms and finals.
  • Analyze the test questions to see if patterns arise, such as, “Were most of the questions from the lecture, the book, or both?” “What types of questions were asked?” “What levels of thinking were being tested based on Bloom’s Taxonomy?” etc.
  • Review the methods that you used to study for the exam and determine what adjustments you need to make in preparing for the next exam.
  • Determine your overall grade in the course based on the new information that this grade has provided you. Talk with your professor and academic advisor if you have concerns about your overall grade.
  • If allowed, archive your exam for future reference. Students should review the answers that were correct because they may see those questions on future exams and it is important to reinforce learning . Students should also review the answers that were incorrect in order to learn what the correct answer was and why.

Tips for Better Test TakinG: types of test items

The types of test items on a test are as different as the professors who created the tests. “Objective” test questions refer to items in which students have to recognize the correct answer from a list of provided options (e.g., multiple choice, true-false, matching). In most cases there is one best answer, though it is important to note that a professor could indicate in the directions that you can select more than one answer. “Subjective” test items are the fill-in-the-blank, short answer, or essay questions in which students must recall and produce the answer.

Multiple Choice Questions

  • Read the question and all of the answer options first.
  • Think of these questions as four true or false statements in one. One of the statements is true (the correct answer) and the others will be false. Mark out any answers that you know are not correct.
  • Once you have selected an answer, do not change it unless you misread the question and know the new answer is correct. Usually, your first answer is the correct one if you are making an educated guess.
  • Many times, the correct answer has more information in it.
  • If there is no penalty for guessing, do not leave any items blank—make an educated guess.
  • If there is an “All of the Above” option and there are two options that are correct, select “All of the Above.”
  • In a question with “All of the Above” and “None of the Above,” if you are certain that one of the answers is true, do not select “None of the Above” and, likewise, if one of the answers is false, then do not select “All of the Above.”
  • Make sure to match the grammar of question and answer. For example, if the question indicates a plural answer, look for the plural answer.

True-False Questions

  • Read the statement carefully, but do not read too much into the statement. Base your answer on the information provided.
  • Make sure to read the entire statement. With statements that have multiple facts, all parts of a sentence must be true if the whole statement is to be true. If one part of it is false, the whole sentence is false. Long sentences are often false for this reason.
  • Qualifying words like “all”,  “always,” “never,” “no”, “none”, “only”, and “every” indicate that this would have to be true all of the time. If it is not true all of the time, then you should answer false.
  • Qualifying words like “usually,” “sometimes,” “many”, “most”, “some”, “often”, and “generally” indicate that it could be true or false depending on the situation. Oftentimes the answer is true.

Matching Questions

  • First, read the instructions and take a look at both lists to determine what the items are and their relationship. It is especially important to determine if both lists have the same number of items and if all items are to be used, and used only once.
  • Count both sides to be matched. Matching exams become much more difficult if one list has more items than the other or if items either might not be used or could be used more than once. If your exam instructions do not address this, you may wish to ask your instructor for further clarification.
  • Take a look at the whole list before selecting an answer because a more correct answer may be found further into the list.
  • Mark items when you are sure you have a match (pending the number of items in the list this may eliminate answers for the future). Guessing (if needed) should take place once you have selected answers you are certain about.

Essay Questions

    • Read the essay question(s) and the instructions first. Make sure you understand what the question is asking you to do. An essay question is not an opportunity to simply regurgitate everything you know about a particular topic.
    • Take a minute or so to plan out your answer and jot down a brief outline of key points to guide your writing before you start. A well-organized answer tends to score more points when graded.
    • Formula for Essay Questions:
      • Introductory statements that define terms and describe what you will accomplish in your essay. This section should be brief.  Address the answer to the question in your first or second sentence.
      • State your first main idea, and then give supporting facts, examples, statistics, or details. Follow with your next main idea and continue the pattern until complete. The bulk of your time should be spent developing this section of the essay as it would likely include the details your professor wants to see in grading. Typically, each main idea would have its own paragraph. Use transitional works like “first, second, third…,” “next,” “also,” “however,” etc., to aid your reader.
      • End with a summary or final conclusion. This section is also likely to be brief.
    • Budget time to proofread and revise if needed.
    • Write legibly. Neater papers tend to receive higher marks.
    • Save some time for review when you have finished writing to check spelling, grammar and coherent thought in your answer.
    • Make sure you have addressed all parts of the essay question.

Activity 4.2 – Test-Taking Tips

Test-Taking Tips

Write an email with advice to this friend, offering test-taking tips and strategies you think will help him.

RJ believes he is good at organization, and he usually is–for about the first two weeks of classes. He then becomes overwhelmed with all of the handouts and materials and tends to start slipping in the organization department. When it comes to tests, he worries that his notes might not cover all of the right topics and that he will not be able to remember all of the key terms and points–especially for his math class. During tests, he sometimes gets stuck on an item and tends to spend too much time there.  He also sometimes changes answers but finds out later that his original selection was correct. He is also easily distracted by other students and noises which makes it hard for him to concentrate sometimes, and, unfortunately, he does admit to occasionally “cramming” the night before.



Share This Book