Test Question Tips

Strategies for Specific Types of Tests

Expand all

Essay Questions

While preparing for the test...

Spend time writing out answers to questions
What is your process? How long does it take you? Where do you get stuck?

Create practice test questions
Practice outlining and writing your essay. Consider how much time you will have to work on similar questions on the test day.

Consider the supporting content
Know what articles, theories, and sources you might use to support your answer. You might want to use content from lecture discussions or online posts. Ask what is expected of you in terms of citations.

Practice making connections
How is the course material linked, or how is it building on ideas? How might you create opposing arguments or write a critical analysis?

During the exam...

Create a schedule for yourself
If six questions are to be answered in sixty minutes, allow yourself seven minutes each. If the questions are not equally weighted, adjust your schedule. When the time is up, move to the next question. After answering the questions within your schedule, use the remaining time to refine or complete your responses. 

Before starting the exam, read through all of the questions
Jot down whatever comes to mind when you read the prompts - dates or names or articles that you do not want to forget. Doing this can help you focus completely on the question at hand and can help to reduce anxiety by reminding you how much you know.

Be sure you understand the question
Before you write your answer, be sure you understand what is being asked. If it is not clear, ask for clarification. Underline key wording of the question such as “name three” or “compare and contrast” to be sure you are completely answering the question.

Outline the answer before you begin writing
An outline can lead to a more organized, complete, and clear essay. If for some reason you are unable to finish the answer, having an outline of where you were planning to go with your answer can illustrate to your instructor what your overall essay arc would have been and demonstrate your thought process.

Include an introduction and conclusion
The introduction may be a rewording of the question into a statement containing your main point. A compact conclusion, highlighting the main points and tying the main ideas into a neat bundle, should follow the body of the answer. Both the introduction and the conclusion should be concise.

Proof the exam before turning it in
Look for spelling errors, omitted words, transposed numbers, etc.

If you are not sure, offer approximates rather than specifics
Naming a date incorrectly could throw your entire answer off. Write something like "During the early years of Impressionism" rather than "In 1864" if you are not certain of the specific date.

Multiple Choice Tests

On your first pass through the test, do not guess on questions. Answer the questions you know, and mark the ones you do not know to revisit them later. If, on a second visit to the question, you are still unsure of the answer, try out some problem-solving strategies:

Critically read the question
Underline key concept words as well as absolute words like "never," "all," and "always".

Try to answer the question without looking at the answers
Seeing if you already know or can calculate the answer without seeing choices can help you reduce confusion over similar answers.

Read and consider all of the answers
You need to select the BEST answer, even though there may be more than one good answer.

Narrow down distracting answers
When you are unsure of an answer, eliminate answers you know are incorrect so that you are choosing from a shorter list of possible answers.

Look for clues in other questions
At times, tests include clues or bits of information that jog your memory, and these may show up in other questions or portions. If you still do not know the answer, you can try some strategic guessing. These strategies aren't meant to be used if you already know the answer, or if you can make an educated guess!

Try to spot decoys or distractors
Rule out any answers that do not make sense given common sense or the scope of course content.  

Beware of the “all of the above” answer
If one possible answer does not apply, do not choose “all of the above", however, if 2 or more answers are correct, chances are that "all of the above" is correct.

Beware of two similar answers
Test-makers may use two similar choices to confuse you. If you are going to guess, pick one of the two.

Take a guess
Cross out the answers you know are wrong, then make your best educated guess between the remaining possibilities. 

Answer every question
Even if you are guessing, be sure to choose an answer.

Memorization

Being able to recall facts and all details of a chapter or topic. It is the who, what, where, when, why, and how. For math classes, it is remembering equations and what steps to take to solve a certain type of problem. Memorization takes time and practice. The sooner you start, the better.

Using mnemonics, (HOMES – for the Great Lakes), songs, rhymes, pictures, or any other technique that works for you. Practice throughout the weeks prior to the final exam.

Understanding

Being able to apply, critique, analyze, evaluate, and synthesize the things you have memorized. Once you’ve memorized the facts, ask yourself questions like these (depending on the class):

  1.    Why is _____ important?
  2.    How does this compare to ____?
  3.    Discuss the pros and cons of ____.
  4.    What ideas validate ____?
  5.    What are some alternatives to ___?
  6.    How would you compare ____ to ____?
  7.    What can you infer from ____?
  8.    How would you solve ____?
  9.    What facts support _____?
  10.   What would the result be if _____?

Developing understanding is often facilitated by studying with a peer or in a study group to build your ability to create and defend your answers.