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Tests and Exams

All Along Throughout the Semester:

Keep up with your reading for your courses so that you will not be dependent on ineffectual eleventh hour cramming before tests.  Cramming for tests is to learning, as binging and purging is to nourishment.

Interact with all that you read and learn.  Ask questions of the text.  Chart the essences.  Figure out what is central and essential.

Watch for clues as to what might be on future tests.  If there are no clues, or in addition to the clues, imagine the test questions you might write if you were the professor covering this material.

Before Studying for the Test: 

Find out what kind of test it will be —short essay, long essay, multiple choice, some true and false, some definition, problem sets only?

What will the test cover?  Will it cover only the material since the last test, or will it cover all the work so far in the course?  Will it include the work you have done in the lab?

Determine what you must bring with you when the time comes.  Is it open note, open book?  Are you to bring a calculator?

Make summary sheets or note cards for study.  Break what you must learn into conquerable chunks.

Studying for the Test:

Utilize available daytime hours to study.  Daylight hours are often more productive than late-night hours for study.

Review over several evenings.  Avoid all-nighters.  Just before sleep, go once again through anything that has to be memorized by rote.

Study in fifty-minute stretches, followed by ten-minute breaks.

Study with a friend and classmate; share your questions, pool information.  Compare what you each have thought most essential in the class.  Quiz one another, discuss theories, debate issues.

Prior to the Exam:

Get enough sleep. 

Neither skip meals nor eat to dullness.  Eat breakfast on test day.

Avoid caffeine pills or excessive coffee or sugar.  These stimulants take you up but can drop you suddenly.  If you are nervous they can exacerbate anxiety.

To the Exam:

Bring a watch and extra pens or pencils.

Make certain you have whatever else you have been asked to bring to the exam —  blue books, calculator, books for open book test, etc.

Plan to arrive a little early so you can relax, find a seat you like, and settle in. If you are rushing to get there at the last minute, your agitation could well interfere with your focus. Don’t sit near anyone who exudes anxiety, it can be contagious or distracting.

Avoid last minute discussions about material for the upcoming test with classmates as you enter the exam room.  This is very apt to confuse you or erode your confidence.

Taking the Test:

Some situational anxiety is normal and keeps you functioning at your peak.  But avoid worry and negative thinking.  Don’t compare yourself or your abilities with others or worry about what they are doing.  Relax and be in the present.  Do not worry about how you might have studied harder or differently.  Do the best you can, tackling the test as who you are with what you know right now.

Read all the directions carefully and thoroughly.

Figure out the worth of each question and how to divide the time allotted.  

Scan the questions.

You might want to answer the easiest questions or the short answer questions   before tackling the harder or longer questions.

Read each question very carefully before beginning the answer.  Watch for key directional words, which point to the type of answer solicited.  Are you being asked to repeat memorized information or are you being asked to analyze that information or reach conclusions on the basis of it?  Are you being asked to define and explain something or to prove, demonstrate, or give examples?  Watch the key directional words!

Make sure all of your behavior at the test site is such that you could never be suspected in any way of unethical behavior, i.e. cheating.

There will always be some joker who completes the test early and leaves.  Do not let this rattle or hurry you.   Stay steady on your course; stick to your time plan.

If you temporarily go blank on material you know, accept this as normal.  It happens to everyone.  Move on and come back to this question.

Don’t panic.  Pause and breathe deeply for a moment if you feel anxious or overwhelmed.

Try to leave time at the end of the test period to look back over your answers.

Remain with your test until you have thoroughly checked and proofread your answers or until time is up and the tests are called in

Once a Test Is Returned to You:

Review the returned test.  Was the test what you had expected?  Was your grade what you had expected?  Go over what you got wrong or omitted. 

Study any comments the professor wrote on your test.  Make an appointment with him or her if you wish to discuss the test. 

Ask yourself what was most beneficial among your study techniques?  What helped you the most?  What helped you the least?  How might you study more productively for the next test in this class?  Make notes on these thoughts while they are fresh in your mind.  If you did not do as well on this test as you had hoped, brainstorm strategies to be more ready for the next one.

If You Make an Appointment to Discuss the Test With Your Professor:

Bring your test.  Come with questions.  Ask for explanations of anything you have not correctly understood.  Ask for suggestions on how to master this particular subject. 

Be positive and enthusiastic.  Be respectful and interested. Do not complain, wheedle, or whine.  Do not present excuses for your performance unless perhaps the excuses are true, unique, inherently interesting, and vital as stories in their own right.  Even then, the offering of excuses most often does not win respect.

Learn as much as possible at the meeting.  Your conference with your professor could potentially help you with future test grades, but make sure learning rather than your current test grade is the focus of the encounter.

References and Resources for further study:

Study Habits and Test Anxiety.  

Test Panic Tips, Essay Test Preparation. 

Other suggested texts:

Millman, Jason and Walter Pauk.  How to Take Tests: New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969.

Pauk, Walter.  How to Study in College (2nd Ed.).  Boston: Houghton Miflin Co., 1974