Test taking can be a stressful process. Whether it is for norm-referenced standardized tests or simple criterion-referenced tests given by the instructor, it is important that students don’t go into tests cold. They need a strategy.
The Importance of Strategy
Going into a test blind with no skills regarding how to proceed can leave test takers full of anxiety, causing decreases in scores, lowering the validity of the tests and resulting in inaccurate measurements.
While there is no cookie cutter solution for being successful on every test, a succinct set of rules and strategies that students use going into each test can greatly improve their chances of increasing their scores.
Strategies You Can Use
Here are 10 general test-taking strategies that can apply to any type of test.
- For in-class assessments, pay attention to what the teacher emphasizes. This is a simple thing to do, but it is vital to the success of in-class assessments. Instructors have a great deal to do during an hour of instruction. They typically choose to spend this time on the most important points rather than on the least important ones. When a teacher brings up an important point, writes it on the board or displays it on an overhead multimedia projector, write it down to study. You can bet it will be on the test.
- For end of chapter tests, focus on the bolded print and the questions at the back of the chapter. The textbook authors focus on textbook course writing, so they highlight the most important aspects with the font or in some other way.
- Remember that 80% of understanding a topic is in the terminology. This especially applies to specific subject areas, such as science, math and history. Once you understand the terminology the author or instructor is using, you will be able to obtain up to 80% of the core concepts required to pass a test on the subject. Focus on the definitions if nothing else and see if you can develop a high level of understanding of the subject matter in this way.
- Study a little EVERY DAY. Some people like to wait until the last minute, but this is not a good idea for a number of reasons. While cramming can sometimes work, you will often forget much of what was on the test once the assessment is completed, which defeats the purpose. If the goal is ONLY to pass the test, this might work, but it is difficult to obtain a working knowledge of any subject in one night of quick cramming. Start small and build on the learning, adding bits and pieces at a time. This way you will always be adding to what you know and you will truly understand it, rather than just having a surface knowledge enough to pass a test.
- Practice relaxation exercises before a test. Visualization is a technique whereby you learn to focus on a relaxing scene or some pleasant experience and then transfer this to the stressful situation. Test anxiety can decrease scores due to the feeling of discomfort, which detracts from mental processes. Encourage kids to do whatever they need to do to relax prior to exams if they suffer from test anxiety.
- When studying, consider the form of the test to will determine how you will want to study. For example, if the test is multiple choice, focus on specific information. If the format is essay style, have both a broad and specific knowledge of the subject and be able to tell others about it. True and False questions can be the toughest because they require only one word to make them incorrect. Students should be very meticulous in how they answer these.
- When taking a test, focus on the ones you know first. Have students remind themselves that they do not have to answer ALL of the questions. The goal is just to get as many correct as possible for the highest score. Focusing on the ones they know best first and coming back to the harder ones ensures they get some answers and will increase their confidence in the test-taking process.
- Manage your time. This is perhaps the most challenging, because it requires students to use their study time on the most important things, which means figuring out what will be on the test. Remember that good teachers teach the most important concepts and these are what will be on the test. If you listen in class and study accordingly, you should do well on the test as long as the test lines up with the objectives.
- Standardized tests are usually multiple choice, except for the open-response type items. While there is no way you can study for standardized tests, you can prepare mentally by practicing online tests that involve three or four choices or by making up your own tests. There are many test-taking strategy websites devoted to helping students perform better on standardized tests. Many of the specific test companies provide specific strategies for performing better on their exams. You can search the test name on Google to find out more.
- Do your best. This seems like a simplistic approach, but it is the best one. Encourage kids to relax and do the best they can. They need to understand this on a dual level. The test IS important, as we have discussed. Standardized tests become a part of their school record that will follow them indefinitely and may influence which types of programs or colleges they can get into. On the other hand, tests are not the “be all and end all" of their lives. Many successful millionaires, company executives, and other highly successful individuals have achieved a great deal of success without performing well on tests. Ever heard of Steve Jobs or Bill Gates? Both Harvard dropouts who chose to thwart the formal system of education and make their own way, but they did learn just enough to do what they needed.
Helping Children Succeed
The world typically expects some sort of formal assessment to show what you can do. While entrepreneurs can do their own thing, invent some amazing product and never have to take a test, most people are required to illustrate their expertise in formal ways, such as standardized tests and classroom-based assessments.
For this reason, we must communicate to students that they should do the best they can, but not just tell them this. We should offer some tools to help. Further resources are listed in the References section. You may wish to use these to help your child with test anxiety, and find strategies for studying, taking notes and improving test experiences.
Helping Your Child Succeed with Standardized Tests
Although highly debated and somewhat controversial, standardized achievement testing is a fact of life. Learn some tips and approaches that can enable you to help your child do his or her best on assessments of every kind.
- The Benefits of Achieving Well on Standardized Tests
- How to Study for Math Tests the Common Core Way
- General Test-Taking Strategies That Apply to Any Test
- What Kind of Learner is your Child?