The Math of Guessing on an Exam

The Math of Guessing on an Exam

An interesting article on guessing answers on the SAT.

And some commentary:

It’s actually not quite true to say you shouldn’t guess on the SAT. It’s true that students are advised not to take a totally wild guess, but normally if you can eliminate one or more of the available answers, then guessing is +EV. Continue reading “The Math of Guessing on an Exam” »

How to Take an Oral Exam

How to Take an Oral Exam

For many students, the experience of taking an oral exam is one that is very different to taking a written exam, although you may find that preparation for an oral exam is similar to a written exam.

Oral Exams are a standard feature of English as a Second Language Exams   In addition, several other standardized tests such as the NNAAP have an oral component.  The Canadian Citizenship test also has an oral component. Continue reading “How to Take an Oral Exam” »

How to Concentrate When You’ve Got a Big Test Ahead of You

How to Concentrate When You’ve Got a Big Test Ahead of You

Concentration is one of the most important skills anyone needs throughout their life. As students, it has understandable importance concerning the amount of information that must be consumed and recalled. However, even beyond the student days, it’s necessary to have the skills involved in concentration to healthily and adequately perform any skills or responsibility. With its importance, it also seems to be most elusive. Regardless of how far-fetched it seems to acquire, concentration is a skill that is manageable by everyone. concentrate, concentration, how to concentrate, study skills

What to Do When You Fail a Test

What to Do When You Fail a Test

Once, when I was a college instructor, a student came to me and asked me what he should do when he fails a test.  In other words, is there anything he can do to use that experience to propel him to better performance in the future?  I thought about the question, and several not-so-helpful responses came to mind.  On the next test, if he thinks he’s going to fail, he could: Continue reading “What to Do When You Fail a Test” »

Cheating on a Test – Not such a Good Strategy

The Complete Guide to Cheating on a Test

So, you have a test rapidly approaching and you a) didn’t study or b) don’t want to study, and that’s when you decide to cheat. You’ve seen it done in the movies, in books, and even real life, which means it can’t be that hard. It seems simple enough, right? That’s where you are wrong. While a select few students manage to pull off cheating without getting caught, the same cannot be said for the majority.

Most get Caught Cheating

Cheating, expressly at a collegiate level, is not taken lightly. Instead of just failing the one test or essay you were so worried about, you could end up failing the whole course, which is a little more serious. Aside from automatically failing the class, you could face suspension. This means a semester or even a full academic year being pulled out of school, which would delay your graduation time significantly. Cheating can also be marked on your transcript, so that future schools, scholarship donors, academic programs, and employers will be able to see.

While you may think you are outsmarting your educator, it is evident when the work doesn’t match up with the student. Your instructors become familiar with your writing and work, so when you are suddenly producing doctorate level work, they will know something is up.

In addition to personal detection, there is advanced and readily available technology to aid teachers and professors, allowing them to detect plagiarism at the touch of a button. Their computers will have software installed that allows them to run your work against other students in your school and the world. This ensures that you are not copying from your peers or paying a website to do the work.

Checking for Plagiarism is Easy

Another type of cheating, which most students don’t even consider, is self-plagiarism. Using work that you’ve submitted for another course in the past counts as cheating. It may sound ridiculous since it’s your own work, but you will get caught and suffer the same consequences as plagiarizing. If you feel that your work is overlapping with something else you’ve turned in, check with your professor, so you can avoid getting in trouble.

There are numerous websites that provide very cheap or even free plagiarism checkers, so you can make sure that you don’t end up in a conversation about cheating with your professor. You should always run your work through these just to ensure that the work is 100% original and your own.

In addition,  a testing center at the University of Central Florida shows different ways it combats cheating, while students sharing informaton online is very popular.

The New Frontier in Cheating

The frontier in the battle to defeat student cheating may be at the testing center of the University of Central Florida, where numerous tests are administered, including the ACT, TEAS and others.

As technology advances so do ways around it in an ‘arms race’ and cheating is no different.   Generally we do not recommend cheating as a Test Preparation Strategy Another way of cheating is sharing information online, which is more nebulous.

Whether you think cheating is a good idea or not, you may want to consider what you are up against.

No gum is allowed during an exam: chewing could disguise a student’s speaking into a hands-free cell phone to an accomplice outside.

The 228 computers that students use  are recessed into desk tops so that anyone trying to photograph the screen using, say, a pen with a hidden camera, in order to help a friend who will take the test later is easy to spot.

Scratch paper is allowed but it is stamped with the date and must be turned in later.

When a proctor sees something suspicious, he records the student’s real-time work at the computer and directs an overhead camera to zoom in, and both sets of images are burned onto a CD for evidence.

Students Sharing Information About Courses, Exams Online

A shared-information academic site is one, which gives students information about college professors and their courses.  They are controversial because some educators worry that the information that students share might sometimes cross over the boundary into cheating.  More about Cheating as a Test Prep Strategy

These information-share sites provide information on a college’s professors and courses, along with details of what the professor normally expects the student to know from the material.  Students are encouraged to upload their own class notes, and even quizzes and exams.  They also buy and sell textbooks.

Students, and even many professors, defend the sites, saying this is just the 21st century equivalent of students comparing their class notes among themselves.  Other professors are a bit more hesitant, pointing out that students are sharing exams and quizzes with one another.  However, the websites themselves point out that the only exams permitted are old exams that are not currently used in the course.  Studying old exams is one of the best study methods.  Administrators say they do their research first to make sure that no current exam questions make it to their sites. They say that every new college that they service, they find out what the school’s honor code is and work hard to conform with that code.

The critics, though, point out that sometimes instructors use the same exams year after year.

Of course, the old-faithful among college student sites remains Facebook.  Currently, it’s estimated that an astonishing 85% of college and university students use Facebook actively.  And there are more than 1,500 groups on Facebook devoted to the specific purpose of studying for various college classes.  However, Facebook does not currently make it easy to share exam questions among its members.

Bottom line:  What should your approach be to using these resources for test preparation?  It’s an ethical call, but few people see any problem with sharing notes or even with sharing previous tests that are no longer in use.  More discussion of the Ethics here from NPR.  For tests that are still being actively used, though, it’s a different matter.  Some might say it’s no different than handing a physical copy of this year’s exam to another student.

At the end of the day, while cheating may seem like a quick and easy way to pass a test or get through an essay; the repercussions for getting caught are so severe, that it would be better to cram for your exam or paper instead.


Myths About Exams

Myths About Exams

Everybody knows what’s involved in studying for exams, right? Well–maybe not. In fact, there are several myths that many people believe are true, but which actually do little or nothing to enhance the studying process. Chances are good that you’ve bought into one or more of these myths. Let’s take a look at some of the more common myths, and discuss what the truth is.

MYTH #1: I should study absolutely everything that’s in the textbook or that was discussed by the instructor.

The truth: Only a small portion of the material is included on any test. The key, then, is to figure out what was important enough that it will be included on the test. So how do you do this? You learn to pick up on certain clues. Continue reading “Myths About Exams” »

Test Anxiety Secrets!

anxietyThe Complete Guide to Overcoming Test Anxiety

Put down your class notes and textbook for just five minutes and take this short quiz. It might help with the rest of your study time.

1) Do you have a difficult time motivating yourself to start studying for a big test? ______

2) Do you expect that, no matter how hard you study, that you will do poorly on the test? ______

3) Do you find yourself easily distracted during your study time? _____

4) When you take a test, do you have difficulty understanding directions and the questions? _____

5) Do you feel physical discomfort such as upset stomach, a headache, breathing difficulties or tension as you take a test? _______

6) During the test, do you frequently space out and draw a blank? _______

7) Do you find it hard to organize your thoughts during the test? _______

8) Does your mind wander to other things as you’re testing?

9) Immediately after you finish a test, do you remember an answer that you couldn’t recall during the test? _______

10) Do you find that your test scores are usually lower than those on papers and other assignments? ______

Each of the above questions is a common symptom of test anxiety; if you replied yes to four or more, then anxiety is probably an issue with you and might be causing you real problems.

What is Test Anxiety

Test anxiety is not something dreamed up by students to explain why they do so poorly in their classes. It’s a recognized psychological phenomenon. Specifically, it’s a form of the psychological condition known as ‘performance anxiety.’ It’s described as a flight or fight reaction to people as they perform either in public or for others to evaluate.

Don’t worry though. Just because you experience test anxiety doesn’t mean you’re psychologically imbalanced. In fact, performance anxiety is experienced by most people at some time in their lives.

As with other forms of performance anxiety, test anxiety is your body’s reaction to a stressful situation. Any time you’re under stress, the body releases adrenaline. Adrenaline is a hormone that prepares your body for danger. Adrenaline causes symptoms such as pounding heart, sweating, rapid breathing and sweaty palms.

These symptoms interfere with basic thinking processes, such as remembering, problem solving and analyzing. In other words, test anxiety is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. You worry that you won’t do well on the test, and this triggers adrenaline. The adrenaline causes the symptoms such as the rapid breathing and fast heartbeat, which in turn interfere with clear thinking.

When these symptoms are present, basic thinking processes like remembering, analyzing, and problem solving are affected. That is the reason that students who experience test anxiety feel that their brain is not working right.

The biological state of anxiety evolved for good reason. Its purpose is to keep your body vigilant and ready to fight or run if you must. However, our biological evolution has not kept up with rapid changes in society. The adrenaline rush was meant give extra energy when your life is in danger, not put you on high alert before your college exam.

Another important cause of test anxiety is the worry about how others will perceive you if you do poorly on the exam. A student who regularly experiences test anxiety tends to be the one who puts a lot of pressure on him or herself to perform well. They feel they must do well to make parents happy or to maintain their status as the smart one in the class. One less-than-perfect grade is a blow to their self-confidence, which causes more test anxiety.

The Procrastination Connection

Most students who have a problem with test anxiety also have problems with procrastinating. This is not a coincidence. Our natural reaction when danger is perceived is to avoid the situation. So even though it’s not logical, when the deep-seated emotions sense that the upcoming test presents danger, the mind’s response is to avoid the issue altogether. Studying for the test is the logical thing to do, since this is what will help the student do well on the test; but on an instinctual level, the person wants to run away from anything pertaining to the test.

This just adds to the self-fulfilling prophecy we talked about earlier. The student does not want to study for a test that he or she thinks is going to be difficult. So, when he finally gets around to studying for it, adrenaline is released, and this interferes with studying and with taking the test. The procrastinator inevitably waits until the last possible minute to study, and this makes the test anxiety at exam time even worse.
This means, of course, that a perfectionist is more likely to have problems with test anxiety than the non-perfectionist. The perfectionist finds it hard to accept mistakes he or she might make, which releases the adrenaline that interferes with his or her performance during the test. More on Procrastination.

How to Handle Test Anxiety

Lets look at some specific strategies for handling test anxiety that you can use right now.

The Most important tip – Take care of yourself.

Studying and taking tests uses serious brain power so you want your mind operating at its sharpest. This means looking after yourself physically, mentally and emotionally.

Physical Preparation

Staying healthy can help you stay focused on the course material. Cramming and caffeine are OK if that is the only option, but it is not the easier or recommended option. Eat healthy and eat foods that keep your blood-sugar level stable: fruit, vegetable, grain and protein.

Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water. This sustain energy and focus. Remember cola, alcohol and caffeine dehydrate. Drinking straight water is best.

Reduce alcohol and caffeine. Caffeine actually makes you jittery, which is not conducive for concentrating. More on Caffeine. More on Alcohol and studying.

Keep your body moving. Hours of studying take a toll on the body. Exercise improves your mood, energy level and concentration. Exercise during your normal workout time is great but that is not enough. After you’ve been studying for a while, stop for a few minutes of exercise. A five-minute walk after you’ve been studying for a while is rejuvenating.

Get enough sleep. It’s easier for you to retain information if you keep a regular, healthy sleep schedule. College and University can be crazy and it isn’t always possible to get a full eight hours – do the best you can!
Take breaks. Reward yourself by doing something special for yourself. You might check your Facebook account or eat a bowl of ice cream.

Mental Preparation

Visualize yourself doing well. This means that you need to make yourself believe that you will do well and pass the test. If you spend your energy thinking about yourself failing, you create more anxiety. More anxiety makes it less likely that you’ll do well on the exam. So, you create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Staying positive and thinking about how great you’re going to do, will reduce anxiety.

Being positive and boosting your confidence is one thing – but don’t become over confident. A little anxiety is good and over confidences can cause you to become careless.

Watch Self Talk. Pay attention to what you’re thinking, both as you’re studying and as you’re taking the exam. Learn to immediately recognize any negative thoughts (I’ll probably bomb the multiple-choice section) and force yourself to stop the thought in mid-stream. Replace these negative thoughts with positive ones: I know this material, so the multiple-choice portion will be a breeze.

Keep your mistakes in perspective. This is both important yet difficult, especially for the perfectionist. However, you must remind yourself regularly that everybody makes mistakes and nobody is great at everything. Learn to think of mistakes as learning opportunities. One boy, for instance, was in a third-grade spelling bee and was eliminated for spelling the word business wrong. Forty years later, he says he has never spelled business as business ever again, all because he learned from a mistake.

Ask for help. Be willing to ask for help. While a little anxiety can serve as a positive signal to act, too much of it will cause you to perform poorly on the test. It’s better, instead, to get some help. Seek out a tutor or, if your professor is open to this kind of thing, speak directly to him about the issue. If you are taking a College exam or High School tests, go to the Counseling center. If nothing else, make plans well in advance to study with a group of friends; this goes a long way toward alleviating the stress that accompanies test anxiety.

Emotional Preparation

Get Happy! Or at least not sad! For many students, college life is a roller coaster of depressed emotions, so, getting yourself happy the week of the test is a great strategy to help you do well on the test. So, indulge in something the week of the test and avoid depressing situations, this way you will be in the right mind set for the test.
Deal with Anger before the test. It does not matter if you are angry with your roommate or test instructor; tell your self that it is not worth losing good marks on your test.

Don’t Fight Reality. Yes, standardized tests favor certain types of students and yes, they may not be the best measure of your knowledge and ability. None of that matters right now because you must take the test and it will count toward your final grade. Deal with it!

Breathing Exercises to Relieve Test Anxiety

Breathing exercises are one of the best ways to relive stress. You can do them sitting down and they will relax you quickly before you start your exam.
I AM exercise. Inhale slowly, and as you do so, say to yourself, “I AM. . .” Now exhale slowly, and complete the sentence, “. . .relaxed.” Do this several times until you feel the anxiety leaving you. Here are some breathing exercises from Dr. Andrew Weil.

Stimulating breath. This exercise is especially good before a test, because it relaxes, raises your vital energy level and increases your alertness. Sit upright and close your mouth (but keeping it relaxed). Now inhale and exhale in short, quick bursts, through your nose. Each inhale and exhale should last only about a half second. Keep them spaced evenly. This produces a rapid movement of your diaphragm. Suggestion: Do this in the back of the class, when not many people are around, or they’re likely to think something’s wrong with you. Do this exercise only for about 20 or 30 seconds. If you do it right, you should feel invigorated and free of stress.

Relaxing breath. This one is super-simple to do while sitting in a classroom chair. Sitting straight up, place the tip of the tongue to it touches the ridge of tissue behind the top front teeth. Keep it there during the entire exercise. Purse your lips slightly. Now exhale completely through the mouth; you should feel a “whoosh” go out of your mouth. Now close your mouth and breath in quietly through the nose, counting to four in your head. Now hold until you count to seven. Return your mouth to a slight pursing of the lips and exhale through the mouth, again generating the “whoosh,” to a mental count of eight. This entire motion counts as one repetition. Do it again three more times. Remember: quiet breaths in through the nose and “whooshing” breaths out through your mouth, with the tip of your tongue remaining in the same position. This exercise acts as a natural tranquilizer. If you feel a bit lightheaded as you do the exercise, don’t worry; it’ll pass.

Breath counting. Sit in your chair, with your spine straight and with your head slightly inclined forward. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Let the breaths be exhaled without attempting to influence it. The exhale should be slow and quiet. Now start the exercise by counting to “one” while exhaling. The next exhale is “two,” the next one, “three,” the next one “four,” and then “five.” After you reach five, start a new cycle, beginning at “one” again. Remember to count only when exhaling. Try to do this for about 8 or 10 minutes before the start of the test, and you should be fully relaxed and yet alert.

Okay, break time is over. Pull out the text and your class notes and let’s ace a test!

Online Relaxation Exercises and Resources


Several relaxation exercises with detailed description and instructions Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Detailed description of different types of anxiety – plus muscle relaxation exercises, breathing exercises, meditations and books. Videos and downloads – see Other Resources – Marquette University

Progressive muscle relaxation video  U. of Texas


Free guided meditations in English and Spanish – UCLA

The Meditation Podcast

Guided Medications and other resources – Health Journeys: Resources for Mind, Body, & Spirit


Yoga video 



Mastering Take-Home Tests

Mastering Take-Home Tests

If you were in college and given the option of taking an exam in class or at home, which would you select?  Most students would select the take-home test without hesitating.  There’s something appealing about taking a test at your own place according to your own schedule.

Honestly, though, take-home tests are often harder than in-class tests.  Because the professor knows you have the advantage of consulting reference materials and spending as much time on the test as you want, he often compensates by making the exam more difficult.  However, this doesn’t mean it has to be impossible. Here are a few suggestions to help you master the take-home exam and how to prepare for a test. Continue reading “Mastering Take-Home Tests” »

Common Mistakes Made on a Test


We all know that tests are not much fun and when we take a test and make a stupid mistake we can be really upset – especially when it is something that could have been easily avoided. So what are some of the common mistakes that are made on tests that we should try to avoid whenever possible? Continue reading “Common Mistakes Made on a Test” »

Strategies for Answering True-False Questions

True-False Exam Strategies

True-False exams can be difficult if you do not know how to handle the questions. The following true-false exam strategies will help take the confusion out of those tricky questions: All students have had trouble correctly answering a true-false question, especially if that student has a mindset that makes them read and analyze every question. True False questions are common on College exams, High School tests and Armed Services Entrance Exams like the AFQT and ASVAB. This is not always good for true false questions, as over analyzing it can cause you to create a meaning that is not there.

Here are some tips and suggestions:
Continue reading “Strategies for Answering True-False Questions” »