Test Taking Techniques

Multiple-Choice Questions:

  • Be sure you understand the question before reading on to the answer choices.
  • Try to formulate a correct answer before looking at the answer choices.
  • You can usually eliminate one or two answers right away.
  • If two answers seem similar, reread the question to determine the focus, as sometimes the difference between two similar answers is a matter of emphasis.


True/False Questions: 

  • The entire statement must be true for the answer to be true; if it is partly true and partly false, the answer will be false.
  • Avoid answering true for “all or nothing” statements; if you can come up with one exception to “all” or “every”, the answer is false.


Fill in the Blank (Cloze) Questions: 

  • Read the question first, substituting “blank” for the missing word.
  • Try to complete the response on your own before looking at the answer choices.
  • If necessary, read the question substituting various responses in the blank to “hear” which choice works correctly.


Matching Lists:

  • Be clear as to whether answers are used once and only once.
  • Match those you are sure of first, then use the process of elimination for the rest.
  • When matching terms and definitions, read the definition clues, then match those with the correct term; it is easier to scan down the list of terms for the correct answer than to read through multiple definition options for each new word on the list.


Short-Answer Questions:

  • Read the question carefully. Most ask for specific details.
  • Note key words in the question and any specifics about answer length (e.g. “In 3-5 sentences explain two causes of …”).
  • Be sure your answer reflects understanding, not just rote memorization, of information.
  • Word the answer as concisely as possible while still being complete.


Essay Exams: 

  • Read and follow instructions carefully.
  • Know what is being asked for by the use of verbs such as explain, discuss, enumerate, contrast, compare, justify, describe, trace, evaluate, or summarize.
  • Make use of a “brain dump.”  Brainstorm and jot down points when you first get the test so that you’ll remember them once you start writing.
  • Systematically plan your answer (make an outline or concept map).
  • Start with a strong statement and use good transitions to show the relationship of ideas. Be complete and thorough, but not wordy. Use instructor’s key words and phrases. Write neatly.
  • When you are finished, reread the question and reread your answer to make sure you have covered everything.


Math or Science Questions:

  • Determine at the beginning what information the question gives you and what it asks you to figure out.
  • Draw a picture or diagram if it will help you.
  • Pay attention to units and be sure to include the appropriate labels in your answers.
  • Do as much as you can as well as you can on problems with which you struggle; partial credit is better than no credit.

Troubleshooting Test Errors

What if you get a test back and it has a low grade? Never waste a poor test grade! The next time that happens, go through your test and, using the scenarios and possibilities below, evaluate why you missed a particular question. The information you uncover in this process may reveal an area where you need to modify your test prep or test-taking strategies for future testing success. If you’re unsure of how to make changes in your methods, ask your instructor or see a Student Success and Academic Advising Center staff member for help.

Insufficient Information

  • I did not read the text thoroughly.
  • The information was not in my notes.
  • I studied the information but could not remember it.
  • I knew main ideas but needed details.
  • I knew the information but could not apply it.
  • I studied the wrong information.
  • I missed class the day the information was taught/discussed.

Test Anxiety

  • I experienced mental block.
  • I spent too much time day-dreaming.
  • I panicked.
  • I was so tired I could not concentrate.
  • I was so hungry I could not concentrate.

Lack of Test Wisdom

  • I carelessly marked a wrong choice.
  • I did not notice limiting words in the question.
  • I did not notice a double negative.
  • I changed a correct answer to a wrong one.
  • I skipped a question/section/page.

Test Skills

  • I misread the directions.
  • I misread the question.
  • I made poor use of time provided.
  • I wrote poorly organized responses.
  • I wrote incomplete responses.
  • I failed to proofread my answer.


(Adapted from Longman and Atkinson (1994). Study Methods and Reading Techniques. St. Paul: West Publishing Co. p 221)