Saturday, April 11, 2009

Test-Taking 101

As your scheduled date for an exam approaches, do you get anxious and wonder how to face taking the exam? Success on a test is greatly influenced by what you do to anticipate the situation, as well as what you do during the testing period. Luckily, there are many things you can do to help yourself remain calm in testing situations so that you can do your best.
You may already be doing some of the things I'll suggest here, and some may not apply to your situation. You decide what works best for you. Here are a few things that you might want to try.
  • Review your notes after each assignment or group of class assignments. This will help reinforce your understanding of the content and will help you remember things better as you approach an exam later.
  • Plan your time before the test. Try to schedule all the events that have a set time for the week or weeks before the exam (for example, your work schedule, any family outings you have planned, campus classes you must attend, etc.). This will help you focus on how much “real time” you have available to study. Then, determine how much time you need to study for each exam, and block that time on your calendar. Consider it an appointment with yourself!
  • During your study time, plan breaks that will help you relax and re-energize. Maybe watching a movie or a light TV sitcom, or eating a snack, might help you unwind. Sometimes, a 15-minute nap does the trick, though an extended “nap” may just be another way to avoid studying! The important thing is that you limit your break time as well as your study time. It is very easy to procrastinate, get too involved in the diversion, and get off track. Conversely, studying for long periods can become counterproductive as well. When you study for too long with no break, you can lose focus and learn less effectively.
  • Exercise your body and your mind. Move around during your break, stretch as you study, take some periodic deep breaths – the goal is to keep your blood circulating and take in oxygen.
  • Get enough sleep: Plan to sleep the number of hours that your body needs, usually 7 – 9 hours a night. For most people, it is a myth that they can function well on a few hours of sleep. Sleep deprivation is, in fact, a way to perform worse on a test. An “all-nighter” is a desperate and risky effort that will probably backfire.
  • Study with others: Some students develop study groups which meet at defined times to review and exchange information about the important course content that is likely to be tested. Be sure to set goals and time limits for group meetings or they can just be a waste of time you can’t afford. Use the Cyber Cafe or other Open Forum in your course Blackboard site to find other students in your ELI classes who might want to study together, or ask your professor for help setting up groups.
There are lots of other ways to prepare effectively for tests and minimize test anxiety. What else has worked for you? What pitfalls have you avoided? Add your suggestions in the comment area so others can benefit.


  1. I also would recommend making flash-cards from the vocab that will be on your exam. Most all courses i have had, have used vocabulary comprehension to some degree. The flash cards also help in making quick connections to other subjects later in the semester.


  2. That is a great tip, Mike! One thing you might also want to try, if you like flashcards, is visiting the official website of the textbook you are using. (The website is probably listed somewhere in your textbook. If it's not, you can always use Google; search the author's name and publisher, and you'll probably find it pretty easily.) Often, these sites provide electronic flashcards for you to use. (They may also provide other activities and resources, such as PowerPoint presentations on each chapter, practice quizzes, and short videos to help you understand the material.)

    Some people prefer to have the physical cards in their hands, but the advantage of using the electronic cards is that you don't have to spend all that time making the flashcards, and can spend all your time learning the terms instead!

  3. Wow, very cool - I didn't realize the publisher had such tools. I'll look for it on my BIO course publisher's site, thanks!

  4. To review for a test I go through the text and other class materials and type up my own test questions, and answers. This does two things – helps me identify the important stuff and, as I develop my answers, review it.

    The typing part is important for me -- going through the effort of typing and editing my Q & A clarifies the info and gives me a firm grasp of it.

  5. John, those are both great suggestions. Coming up with your own questions is a great way of "thinking like the teacher" and helps you solidify your learning of the course material in a different way. And practiting answering them makes it even more valuable.

    Personally, I think your point about the importance of actually typing/writing out your answers is really crucial to making this technique successful. Sometimes, students study a study guide or other materials by just thinking about how they would answer a question, but that doesn't always show you where your misunderstandings are the way you can see them when you actually make yourself fully explain something in writing (as you will have to do on the actual test!).