Thursday, October 8, 2009

Test-Taking Strategy Tips

Check out these excellent test-taking strategy tips from Michelle Klein, adjunct professor of Biology at ELI. Use these for studying and test taking and see if your grades don’t improve.

1. All multiple choice tests are not the same. Previously, in your academic life, you may have received multiple choice questions that were based on recall. To do well on these, you simply needed to recognize the correct answer. In contrast, other exams are based on information discrimination. This means that you are being tested on your ability to process information, and apply different concepts to one question. Furthermore, you are being tested on your ability to differentiate an ‘almost right’ answer from a ‘completely right’ answer. Whenever possible, you need to distinguish this before taking the exam, and prepare yourself for the appropriate assessment experience. In brief: a recall question will ask “what color is the sky”; however, discrimination questions will ask “If the sky turned black, why would this happen?” This is a very different paradigm; so be prepared with practice and strategies.

2. It’s all in the words. Sometimes there will be two answer options that both seem to fit. However, take a closer look. There are often one or two words that make the difference. Read each question carefully. Before looking at the answer options ask yourself: 1) What is this question really asking? 2) Do I know the answer? In fact, see if you can come up with the answer without looking at the options. If you are allowed to use scratch paper, write down the correct answer first. Then go through the answer options. Remind yourself that every word counts and is equally important. Also, always read through every answer options. Some possible answers are worded in such a way that they sound correct; but they are not. This isn’t a trick; this is testing your ability to find correct information in the face of incorrect information. In your future career, whatever it may be, your boss will ask you to solve problems, and this type of critical thinking is what your professor may be looking for.

3. Those ‘except’ questions. In keeping with the above information, you will often encounter ‘except’ questions. These are phrased as “All of the following are correct except” or you’ll see the words false, incorrect, incorrect pairing… etc. These questions require a thought process that is the exact opposite of what you may be used to. Instead of looking for the right choice, you are looking for the wrong choice. These questions often get students confused and frustrated. Recognize them for what they are, skip them on your first round through the exam, then take them as a group. Remind yourself that you are looking for the “wrong” answer.

4. The brain needs food. Did you know that your brain can use up to 70% of the glucose in your bloodstream when you are focused on a task? This is why you get so tired and hungry when studying. Therefore, make sure you are well fed before entering the Testing Center. By the way, ‘well fed’ does not mean a candy bar from the vending machine or a fast food meal. The term ‘well fed’ means quality food: protein, complex carbohydrate, a vegetable or two (or three).

5. The brain needs sleep. A well rested brain can process information efficiently. A tired and stressed brain is easily confused and doesn’t understand half of what it reads. Be kind to your brain, and take the exam when you are as rested as possible! Never, ever try to cram the night before.

6. It takes time. Allow yourself plenty of time. Remember, if you are going to be reading each question carefully, you’ll need lots of time.

7. Trust your first instincts. Quite often, students become a little confused and/or frustrated during the exam. When combined with a tired and hungry brain, students then begin to second guess their answers. While you can backtrack and change answers, please promise yourself that you will trust your first instincts, and do not change an answer unless you are absolutely convinced that your first answer is wrong.

8. It takes practice. The more prepared you are, the better you will fare. So, use course study guides and Google to locate lots and lots of practice questions. This will reinforce information, review content and give you practice with higher order multiple choice questions.

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