How to take a test – The Complete Guide

How to take a test

Taking exams is stressful and we all know that. But it isn’t that bad! There are a few simple things that you can do to increase your score on any type of test. Here is the first part of a quick compilation of tips for taking tests:

1. Fast or Slow?

Look over the test quickly before you start. Or better yet, ask your professor. Determine whether the test is for speed or accuracy. If the test is for speed, like many standardized tests, your strategy is clear – answer as many questions as fast as possible.

Watch out though! There are a few tests that are made for accuracy. The teacher expects all students with an average grade to complete the test without being rushed. Wrong answers on this type of test will cost you big time!

2. Make time your friend.

See our article on time limits.

Budget your time evenly from the start to the finish. Stick to it! Virtually all standardized tests have a time allotment for each section. Find out in advance, and/or look through the st before you begin. If you can’t find out the time allotment for each section, use the points or percentage of the score as a proxy for the time limit for each section.

Use the allotted time for each section and move on to the next section whether you have completed it or not. Stick with the instructions and you will be able to answer the majority of the questions in each section.

With speed tests you will not be able to complete the entire test, and you are not expected to. Finding this out in advance will determine your test strategy.

3. Easy ones first.

This is a time tested strategy for taking a test, and is as true today as it has ever been. First, read the question and decide if you can answer it in less than a minute. If so, answer it and go on to the next question. If not, mark it for later and go on to the next question.

You don’t have to answer the questions in the order they appear on the page. Answering the easy questions first, boosts your confidence, relieves anxiety and gets your memory running smoothly and focused on the material.

The easy questions are your warm up!

4. Read All the essay question options first.

Read all the choices first. Then answer the questions that you can answer quickly within the designated amount of time (See #3 above). Answering the easy questions first will focus your mind on the material and you may be able to answer the difficult questions.  See our post on answering essay questions

5. Answering the difficult questions.

Don’t waste a lot of time on the difficult questions. Mark them for later. When you have gone through the whole test, go back to the ones you have marked. Again, after your ‘warm up’ on the easy questions, you may be able to answer the difficult questions easily.

If you run out of time, don’t worry, you will have gained points by using your time the most efficiently, and answering as many questions that you know the answer to.

Do not skip a lot of questions and do not waste your time by reading the question over again. We suggest not to skip any more than one out of every ten questions.


The purpose is to write the test not to watch your watch! Take off your watch and put it on the top corner of your desk in front of you. Check your watch to make sure you are on schedule. Don’t check your watch every few minutes. Try checking your watch after you complete each section. If you tend to not to be as fast as you need to be, check your watch a bit more often. Focus on answering the questions, not on what time it is.  See Working with Time Limits

6. Don’t leave early.

Use all the time allotted to you. There will be lots of time to relax, party or whatever after. If you finish early, spend the remainder of the time checking over your paper. Make sure you have answered all of the questions. Check every answer carefully to make sure it is accurate.

7. Read the directions carefully.

Spend a few minutes reading the directions carefully before starting each section. Studies show students who read the instructions get higher marks! If you just glance at the instructions, you may mis-understand and could blow the whole thing.

Read the instructions carefully and critically. Very small changes in the wording of the instructions or the punctuation can change the meaning completely.

Don’t make any assumptions. Just because the instructions are one way in one section doesn’t mean they will be exactly the same in all sections. Focus your attention and read what the instructions actually say, not what you think they are saying.

When reading the instructions, underline the important parts. For example, if the instructions ask you to circle the best answer, underline circle and best. This flags the key concepts and will keep you focused.

If the exam is an answer book style, copy the instructions to the top of the page in the answer booklet. For complicated instructions, carefully divide the instructions into smaller parts and number each part.

8. Divide and conquer

Solving smaller bits is always easier. For complicated questions, divide them into smaller pieces and solve the smaller pieces separately.

9. Every bit helps.

If you are permitted calculators, or other materials, make sure you bring them even if you don’t think you will need them. Use everything at your disposal to increase your mark.

Watch for Careless Errors. Careless errors are throwing point away! Here is a short checklist for catching careless errors.

Budget time for checking. If you have read parts 1 and 2, then you know how important budgeting your time is. Budget extra time for checking your paper.

Read your answers again. Read over all of your answers critically to make sure they say what you want them to say, not what you think they say.

Check your numbers. Check all of your numbers to make sure they are legible.

Do it 2 ways. On numerical answers, check your answers using a different method if possible.

Reason Your Way Through Tough Questions

If you are really stuck, develop a strategy of attach for difficult questions. If you have already left the hard questions for last, and now you are still stuck, here are some tips:

1. Read the question again looking for hints. Can you re-word the question in different ways? This may give you clues. Or perhaps the question can be broken down into smaller pieces and each piece solved, or understood.

2. Elimination. If the question is multiple choice, eliminate what are clearly wrong answers.

3. Use the rest of the test. If you can’t answer a question, look back over the rest of the test to find a question on the same topic. You may find clues in the rest of the test.

4. If all else fails – guess. If possible narrow down your guesswork by the process of elimination. This will give you a much better chance.

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Modified: September 26th, 2017
Published: October 9th, 2007

5 thoughts on “How to take a test – The Complete Guide”

  1. Pingback: Ever forget everything right before a test?

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