While the thought of preparing for an exam can sometimes be overwhelming and stressful, there are steps you can take to lessen testing-related anxiety. No matter what type of exam you’ll be taking, it’s always important to spend time familiarizing yourself with the material, and avoid waiting until the last minute.
In order to compile the best test-taking tips, we’ve contacted testing coordinators, proctors and instructors to share their most helpful suggestions for students. Here are 15 expert tips to help you succeed in test-taking, ranging from several weeks before the test through the actual test-taking process:
In the weeks leading up to the test:
1. Pay attention in class and take good notes.
“I advise our students to prepare for tests from the first day of class by employing good listening, reading, note-taking, and studying techniques.” -Tina Totten, ARC Director: North Central Missouri College
2. Start preparing early, in small increments.
“The best advice for students in test preparation is to prepare early. This means read and practice throughout the unit of study. Furthermore, prepare for class, review after class and study in small chunks of time often, instead of big chunks right before the test.” -Dean Fritzemeier, Tutoring Coordinator: Muskegon Community Center
3. Take advantage of tips offered by your teachers.
“Pay attention to hints that the instructor may give about the test. Take careful notes and ask questions about items you may be confused about. Ask the instructor to specify the areas that will be emphasized on the test. Make sure you go to the class right before the test; it’s another prime time for the instructor to give out more hints or the format of the test.” -Becky Knickmeier, Library & Learning Services Specialist: Mid Michigan Community College
4. Find out the format of the test, and the types of questions that will be asked.
“Find out as much information as you can about the test. Knowing the format, number and types of questions can help a student mentally if you know what to expect and have prepared for it.” -Buffy Ruffin, Coordinator of the Learning Assistance Center, Tidewater Community College-Chesapeake
5. Avoid procrastinating.
“Do not procrastinate. The sooner you begin studying, the sooner you can identify areas you need extra help in.” -Caitlin Swisher, Testing & Tutoring Assistant Coordinator: Victoria College
6. Take practice tests.
“Do some prep work and take practice tests, because it will familiarize you with test structure, wording, pacing your answers, etc.” -Sandra Brintnall, Testing Specialist: Santa Fe Community College
7. Familiarize yourself with testing center logistics.
“My best advice for students taking tests would be preparing for the logistics of that day. It is important to know what time you need to arrive at the testing center, the parking situation for your location, and the rules of the testing center. Find the answers to any general questions you may have by either calling the testing center or browsing the website at least a day before the exam.” -Katie Watson, Testing Coordinator: University of South Carolina
On the morning of the test:
8. Make sure you bring all required materials.
“The advice I give to students the most is to make sure they have all the materials they are allowed for the exam, as well as ensuring they have any I.D.s or fees that they need when they come in to test. The issue we run across the most are students who are not prepared for their exams in one way or another.” -Jenny Schuhwerck, Testing Coordinator: Inver Hills Community College
“Be sure you know if any testing aids are allowed: a 3×5 card with notes, your textbook, a periodic table, etc. Particular calculators may not be allowed. Make sure yours is an approved model.” -Betsy Reese, Testing Coordinator: Metropolitan Community College – Penn Valley
9. Don’t bring your cell phone into the exam room.
“Leave most of your belongings in the car. If you bring your cell phone, you will need to turn it off and leave it in a locker. The proctors are monitoring you as you test.” -Betsy Reese, Testing Coordinator: Metropolitan Community College – Penn Valley
10. Use the restroom and eat something before the test.
“Eat before a test; having food in your stomach will give you energy and help you focus, but avoid heavy foods which can make you groggy.” -Becky Knickmeier, Library & Learning Services Specialist
During the test:
11. Start your test by doing a “brain spill.”
“For content and material that is high volume, do a brain spill as soon as you get your test paper or have access to an online test. Brain-spilling is everything you think you may need during the test that is not easily retainable, such as Spanish conjugation charts, formulas, an acronym for a process or different words.” -Clarissa T. Chestnut, Test Proctor: Central Carolina Technical College
12. Prepare for essay questions by creating an outline.
“Students often struggle with essay questions, and my best suggestion is to jot down a quick outline before starting the essay – it doesn’t have to be neat or fancy, but it should include every scrap of relevant information a student can think of, and it should be put into some kind of order (topic sentence, first detail/example, second detail/example, etc., conclusion). This allows students to review the information for completion and coherence–it’s easier to add missing information or trim anything irrelevant before the essay is in progress, and it helps students structure their thoughts and ideas so that their essay is clear and organized.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it’s less intimidating for some students to bullet-point their ideas. An essay question can paralyze a student with doubts and worries about how much they know and whether they’ll be able to communicate it clearly. By ignoring the essay component at first, students are able to get the information down on paper without being overwhelmed by the idea of writing – and then seeing their notes and realizing that they do know the material can empower them and give them the confidence they need to string their ideas together into an essay.” -Nicole Truitt, Student Enrichment Coordinator, Delaware Technical Community College
13. Skip over questions that you don’t know the answer to.
“Answer the questions you know first. It builds confidence. Go back to the ones you aren’t sure of. Always recheck your work. Take your time.” -Lori Chavez, Tutorials Center Coordinator/Instructor, Cabrillo College
14. Don’t rush through the exam.
“Every test should begin with thinking, ‘This is not a race. You do not receive extra points for finishing first. Read everything carefully and double check your work.’ We have a professor who puts that at the top of every exam. I wish they all did.” -Wendy Bredensteiner, Testing Center Associate: University of Nebraska at Omaha
15. Take deep breaths if you start to feel stressed.
“We tell our candidates to relax, take a deep breath and try to be calm. Stressing about the situation or other things in their lives needs to be pushed out of their minds until after the exam.” -Margaret Landsparger, Testing Center Coordinator, Michigan Tech University
We hope these testing tips will help you develop a game plan for upcoming exams, and give you the confidence to succeed. Happy studying!