You Were not Born a Bad Test Taker
Maybe you’ve heard somebody say this. Maybe you’ve said it yourself. Right after doing poorly on yet another test, the person exclaims, “I know the material; I’m just a bad test-taker.” Or even worse, “I was born a bad test-taker.”
It’s true that some people are bad test-takers, but few if any people were born that way. Like most negative aspects of ourselves, this was a trait that was acquired over the years. And fortunately, just because you’re a bad test-taker right now, it doesn’t mean that you have to stay that way.
In fact, you SHOULD NOT stay that way. It’s important for everyone to learn how to take tests. Believe it or not, the last exam that you took will not be the last test that you ever take. You’ll be taking them throughout your life. Increasingly, most better-paying jobs now have a test that you must first complete before being hired. You will have to take an Entrance Test to get into College, and even the Armed Services has Entrance Tests. Plus, there’s a chance that at some point, you’ll be required to go through a workshop that includes a test. It’s better to go ahead now and learn the skills that you need to stop being a “bad test taker.”
What is a Bad Test Taker?
First, let’s look at what most people mean when they say that someone is a “bad test taker.” Usually, it means one of three things:
1) The person freezes up during a test. Psychologists consider the act of freezing during tests a kind of “performance anxiety.” A person who suffers from performance anxiety is one who gets so nervous and worried about how he’s going to do, that this worry itself causes him to do poorly. It becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. In fact, psychologists have gone so far as to say that there is no difference between the person who freezes on tests and the person who doesn’t perform well during sex because of anxiety about how well he’ll do. More on How to Handle Test Anxiety.
2) The person who simply hasn’t learned good test-taking skills. This is someone who knows the material that’s being studied, but the format of the test or the way that the questions are asked perplex him, and he gives wrong answers. See our Ultimate Guide to Test Preparation.
3) The person who just didn’t study but doesn’t want to admit it.
We can’t offer much advice to the third person, other than: STUDY! So we’ll spend the rest of this article discussing person 1 and person 2.
Test Anxiety: The best way to handle any kind of performance anxiety is to know for a fact that you’re going to do well. This is true for test-taking, also. If you’re absolutely confident that you know the material, then test anxiety will almost completely disappear. That means that you need to study until you’ve got the memory committed to your memory on a deep level.
How do you know that you truly know the material? Try explaining it to someone else. If you know something well enough that you can teach it to someone else, then you know it well enough to ace any test. And that alone will give you the confidence you need to overcome test anxiety.
Poor Test-Taking Strategies: By this, we mean that some people get suckered by the teacher’s and test’s trick questions. For instance, if the correct answer on a test is Betty Ford, the test-writer might try to fool you by offering Betty White as a possible answer. You just remember “Betty” and immediately select Betty White–the wrong answer. If you’d known, though, that many times on multiple-choice tests, the test-writer will have a wrong answer which sounds close to the right one, you would have been better equipped to handle this question.
There are entire websites (including this one) and articles written about strategies for multiple choice tests, as well as strategies for essay tests, for reading comprehension tests, and others. If your problem is not being able to answer questions that you know, then you should investigate some of these strategies.
Nobody is destined to always suffer as a “bad test taker.” With some practice and determination, you can improve your test-taking—and your grades.