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Test Taking 101


Pop quiz time! At the prospect of taking an exam, you:

  • A. Feel your stomach churn.
  • B. Sweat.
  • C. Rack your brain to remember what subject you’ve been studying.
  • D. All of the above.

If you responded with (D), you’re not alone. Thousands of people feel the pre-test butterflies. It’s a normal if not slightly uncomfortable reaction. But test taking doesn’t have to be a source of anxiety and stress. When you think about it, taking a test is about demonstrating your understanding of the subject matter you (theoretically) have been studying for a previous length of time. Whether the test is true/false, multiple choice, short answer, essay or fill-in-the-blank, if you follow a systematic approach to taking exams, you can reduce your stress and increase your ability to focus on what you know.

In addition to studying the course material, try these simple steps the next time you prepare to face an exam:

1. Arrive early. Before you go to the exam, make a list of what you’ll need, whether it’s number two pencils and a blue book, textbook and notes for open book exams, or a laptop and internet connection for online work. Being prepared ahead of time helps you avoid any last-minute scrambles that can leave you feeling scatterbrained.

2. Stay focused. Avoid talking to other students who are visibly stressed out. Stay positive and confident.

3. Sit for success. Sit in a well-lit, comfortable location. Sit up straight and be alert.

4. Read all test directions. You can easily avoid thoughtless mistakes by taking a few minutes to thoroughly review, understand and follow test instructions.

5. Preview the test. Taking time to scan the test will give you an idea of how much time each section may require.

6. Be strategic in your approach. Start by answering the easiest questions first. Then, if you know some questions are worth more points than others, answer those next. If there is an essay component, create an outline before drafting your answer.

7. If time allows, review all your answers before turning in your test. Make sure you haven’t overlooked any questions or left anything blank. Correct any mistakes, check grammar and spelling in your essay, and make sure you read the questions properly. You may uncover additional information in the questions the second time you read them that might change your answers.

If you practice these steps, and still find yourself paralyzed with anxiety, it might be time to speak to an academic or personal counselor. Tests are a part of life, but they shouldn’t send you under your desk in a fetal position. Some professional assistance can help bring you relief as well as help improve your academic performance.

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