Working with Time Limits
Every exam has a time limit. The time limit may be a strictly imposed amount of time, or it may be the length of your class. For example, classroom exams may be limited to one hour, while placement and exit exams have time limits for each section of the exam. Because some time limits are very strict, it is important to know how to work within the time limits.
Advanced preparation. Never cram for an exam. Rome was not built in a day, and neither was the content of your exam. In other words, the material included on the exam was not covered in two or three hours, and it cannot be learned in that time. The best way to prepare for an exam is to make studying a daily habit. Reviewing your notes a little each day saves time and decreases your anxiety about the test.
Plan your approach. If the exam is one in which you can skip around, rather than being stuck on one section at a time, find out what point values are assigned to each section. Work on the sections with the highest point values first so you can get the maximum points for your time. If you cannot skip around, decide how you are going to work on the section. Will you skip questions that you don’t immediately know? Will you work from start to finish, one at a time? Having a plan of action decreases your anxiety and helps you work within the time limit.
Watch the clock. Granted, every teacher you have ever had has told you to work on your test and not watch the clock. You do need to be aware of the time, however. It is helpful to bring a watch and place it in the upper corner of your desk. That allows you to be aware of the time without spending time looking for the clock.
Pace yourself. For most types of questions, it is better to answer the easy questions first, and then come back to the questions that take more time. For reading comprehension, read the essay first to keep from spending time looking for answers in the text. With all questions, if you find yourself spending too much time on one question, make a mark next to it and move on. You can come back to it later. It does you no good to spend so much time on one question that you run out of time with ten questions unanswered.
Practice. Many standardized exams have practice versions of the test that are available online or at your local library. Use those practice exams to help you become familiar with the types of questions asked. You can also practice completing the exam sections within the time limits. This will help you prepare for the exam, and it will help you feel more relaxed when faced with the time limits.
Use the scratch paper. If you are given a blank piece of paper to use when taking the exam, use it. Complex mathematical problems will be solved more quickly and easily by writing them on the paper. You can write down formulas, patterns and other memory tricks that will help you as you take the exam.
Review. If you have time, review your answers. If there is not time to review all of your answers, review the answers to easy questions to ensure you get those correct.
Time limits do not have to spell disaster when you are taking tests, regardless of what type of test you are taking. Stay calm, work within the time limits, and use the tips mentioned above to gain an edge on any exam. See our Post on Working with Time Limits.