Test taking can be a difficult process, and a great many students face problems taking tests even when they have studied well for it. Test taking skills are developed as time passes, but adopting good study habits always benefits the student.
If you get sweaty palms the night before a big test, or freeze when you see a blank answer sheet, these tips will help you become a better test taker.
Let’s dive in!
Several weeks before the test
Know how you learn
The best way to remember something in the long term is to study it intently. In this case, you’re going to be studying previous test materials, textbooks and notes, and to pass a test, you have to remember most of what you read. The problem is, people learn this differently.
Ever had that one roommate/friend at school who can stay up all night studying and be stable the next morning? If you’re the type of person who cannot function optimally without your complete eight hours of sleep, it might be very hard to comprehend how your roommate/friend is doing it.
Some people find that they have to start studying weeks, and even months, to the actual test in order to pass. Others don’t bother to study at all till the night before the test–and they scale through easily!
Some people find that they learn better through visual cues–diagrams, photos, videos, etc. Others prefer to read a book or listen to an audio explanation. Some people understand study material better if an expert teaches them, while others like to figure things out on their own.
If the book is a fiction or nonfiction book, some people (maybe you) might like to read summaries of it first. I love reading book summaries before delving deep into the book itself. In my opinion, Blinkist is one of the best book summary apps for this purpose. Read the pros and cons of Blinkist to find out why.
To become a better test taker, you have to identify the way you learn. This is very important because reading a book repeatedly is not going to help visual learners at all. Watching videos all day will do nothing for the bookworm.
Knowing your most effective learning method will help you make the most of your study time.
Make a study plan
Once you understand your best learning method, you have to create a plan. Your plan should include what, when and how you’re going to study your material. Your study plan should clearly outline the topics you’ll be focusing on, when and how you’ll go through the material. If you cannot make a plan yourself, you can find a tutor who will create a plan with you.
Most test-takers underestimate the importance of the “when”. To become a better test-taker, you have to find time to commit the concepts and topics to long-term memory. This is why you should set a study time and abide by it.
However, the standard procedure requires you to look over the study material to familiarize yourself with the basic concepts and principles. Once you understand these baselines, you can start practicing problems.
It is not advisable to work on problems and forget them. Instead, make a list (or log, if you will) of the questions you struggle with and revisit them a few days or weeks later. When you go back to them, try to find patterns in the problems you are not getting right.
For instance, are you struggling with em dash placement? Do you only fail problems that are related to polygons? Identify your weaknesses and work on them until they become your strengths.
If you’re lucky and your teacher or professor decides to give you a study guide, take advantage of it. They’re the ones that will set the test questions, so if they tell you to focus on one particular topic, there’s usually a good reason behind it. If they don’t give you a study guide, don’t be scared to ask questions about what kind of questions will be on the test.
Find a study buddy
‘Two heads are better than one,’ they say.
This is infinitely true. It is much easier to approach problems and study with someone by your side as opposed to being alone. Sometimes, the best way to master a topic is to study it with other people. Discussing topics and working together to understand the study material activates different parts of the brain than when you study on your own.
Sometimes, the other person might understand a topic better and they can share their knowledge with you. It helps break the boredom and monotony that comes with studying alone.
A week before the test
Learn how to handle anxiety
You know that exaggerated feeling you get just before you take a test? That feeling of your blood pressure skyrocketing, your heart beating faster, your breathing frequency increasing? That queasy feeling you get as soon as you sit down for the test? The headaches, the vibrating fingers? The forgetfulness? Yeah, I bet that’s good ole anxiety making its presence known.
Scientists have confirmed that students who secrete more stress hormones are more likely to fail tests than those who don’t. To become a better test taker, you have to fight against anxiety and fear. These steps can help you.
- Speak positively to yourself. It might sound cheesy, but repeating positive mantras like “You’re gonna do well” and “You can scale through this” can actually help your body counteract the effects of anxiety by stabilizing your cortisol levels.
- Reappraise the situation. Sometimes, test takers get even more stressed when they notice the symptoms of stress chemicals in their bodies, like a racing heartbeat and sweaty palms. If you experience this, you can try to remind yourself that these symptoms show up too when you’re doing more fun stuff–watching an interesting movie, holding hands with someone you like and playing an intense sport. When you remind yourself that your symptoms of stress are also symptoms of excitement in different settings, you might be able to realize that you’ve prepared well for the test and you’re ready to perform excellently. So instead of letting these symptoms stress you out more, just whisper to yourself that you’re just really excited to take the test.
- Write. Just before you take the test, try to carve out 10 minutes to write down all your feelings as regards the test. Drive those feelings out of your head and out onto paper. When you do this, these thoughts might no longer take up space in your brain and can actually give you the freedom you need to think about and answer questions correctly. With practice, you will be able to fight your anxiety and focus on your test.
Preparing to take the test
If you are an ardent sports viewer, you might know that top athletes reduce their workout and training intensity in the week that leads up to a top competition. To become a better test taker, you should adopt this method. If you have studied your material thoroughly in the previous weeks, it is not necessary to drive yourself crazy with extra prep the week before you take the test. Last minute practice will only stress you out. Instead, use that week to glance through your trouble spots. It’s not intense practice; it’s just some light reading.
Everyone knows the importance of sleeping the night before the test, but you should also know that the night before the night before your test is equally important to how you feel on the test day. This means that if your test is on Saturday, you should not stay up all night on Thursday studying. Instead, use that period to do some light reading and a lot of resting.
Did you know that your resting brain consumes approximately twenty percent of your daily calories? This means that a 3-hour standardized test can burn even more calories than sports matches. Therefore, make sure to have a solid breakfast; the food shouldn’t be too big so that it won’t weigh you down. If you like having coffee in the mornings, drink a moderate amount. If you don’t usually drink coffee, test time is not the proper time to start this habit. And don’t forget to pack a snack; you might get hungry.
Try not to simply roll out of bed and go take your test. Warm up first, especially if you’re not a morning person. You can do a mini-workout; a few sit ups, jumping jacks and push-ups. You can also do a couple of problems from important sections of the test. Your brain needs a warm-up too.
While taking the test
Keep track of time
To become a better test taker, you must be vigilant about your time. Vigilant, not worried. It is likely that you will get a lower score if you rush towards the end of the test because you were too liberal with your time at the start.
Before you start answering your test questions, take some time to calculate how much time you have to answer each question. Say, you have 45 minutes to answer 60 questions. When you divide 45 by 60, you get 0.75. 75% of 1 minute is 45 seconds. This means that you have 45 seconds to answer each question. If you realize that you’re taking more than 45 seconds to answer questions, then you’re definitely going to lose points at the end of the exam.
Instead of struggling between two answer choices on a question for over 45 seconds, it is advisable to circle the question and move on to the others, some of which may be much easier. If you still have time at the end, you can go back to the tough ones.
Learn how to read passages
Do you remember those very annoying long reading passages and questions that seem to be on every test, especially language tests? Those things are serious time drains and score reducers on tests. To become a better test taker, you have to figure out a way to read these passages effectively and correctly answer the questions that come after.
This procedure worked for me every time I had a reading passage in a test. It might work for you too.
- Read the title of the passage, so you have a clear idea of what subject you’re working with.
- Before you start to read the whole passage, go through the questions under the passage and answer any questions that refer to a particular word, line or paragraph number in the passage. Yes, do this before you read the passage.
- If there are any questions you haven’t answered yet, you have to read the passage to get your answers. So read the passage quickly, taking a mental note of important nouns and verbs as you read. You can do this more than once, as long as you have time.
- In the margins of your test paper, if you’re allowed, write a brief summary of each paragraph. It’s just a couple of words really.
- Then, you can answer the rest of the questions.
When you answer the easy questions first – the ones that refer to a specific part of the passage – you will gain some quick points easily. Underlining or circling important nouns and verbs (sentences, too) as you read helps you remember what you have read. It also gives you a pace to refer to when you’re answering more complicated questions.
Summarizing each paragraph in the margins helps you understand the entire passage. It also helps you to quickly answer questions that require you to explain the main idea or argument of a certain paragraph.
Anxiety, bad study practices and wrong sleeping habits are the major culprits of failed tests. To become a better test taker, you have to overcome these things. It might seem difficult to do, but these tips would definitely help you in this journey.
- Know how you learn
- Make a study plan
- Find a study buddy
- Learn how to handle anxiety
- Preparing to take the test
- Keep track of time
- Learn how to read passages