Tip #8: Test Taking

Successful test taking involves specific strategies before and during a test.  These strategies will allow you to gauge how much time to spend preparing for a test, the most productive ways to spend your time preparing, the most effective locations to prepare for tests, and how to prepare for different types of tests commonly given in college.

Why is test taking important?

Employing effective test-taking strategies will improve test grades.

Examples of test taking strategies for all disciplines

Before the test, remember the following:

  • Study in a location that is quiet and private.
  • Review your class notes, books, and study guides on a daily basis (Procrastinating until the night before the test and then cramming is the least effective strategy).
  • Review your class notes, books, and study guides on a weekly basis.
  • Study in chunks (20-50 minutes) separated by breaks (5-10 minutes).
  • Ask your instructor what to expect on the test, the format of the test, how to review, and if review questions are available.
  • Engage in collaborative learning by forming study groups to test each other, compare notes, brainstorm and anticipate test questions, etc.

During the test, remember the following:

  • Relax.
  • Read the directions carefully.
  • Answer the easiest questions first.
  • Ask yourself if your final answer makes sense to you.
  • Pace yourself by tracking time.
  • For short essays exams, answer each question exactly by changing it into a topic sentence and retaining as much of the question as possible and then creating a brief outline.
    • Question: What is a theme of Hamlet by William Shakespeare?
    • Topic Sentence: One theme of Hamlet by William Shakespeare is . . .
    • Outline: briefly outline the order of your ideas before starting.
  • Never cheat or plagiarize, regardless of how unprepared you find yourself.


Begin preparing early

  • Pay attention during class: every minute you daydream in class is many more minutes of studying later.
  • Do assigned homework problems: math is a building process and in order to understand the next step you need to comprehend the present and previous ones.

Simulate test conditions

  • After you have studied and think you know the material, practice it under test conditions.
  • Solve unassigned homework problems and see if you can finish them in the allotted time for the exam.

Know your professor

  • Study a copy of the exam of a previous class if available. If not available, ask for a copy of a previous class exam

Form a study group of 3-4 dedicated students

  • Not only will other students be able to help you with problems, but by helping others you will better learn the material. If you are unable teach another student a topic you believe you know, chances are you don’t know that topic very well after all. If you can’t teach it, you don’t know it!


Carefully read the instructions

  • Make sure you are answering the question that is being asked!
  • Often students know how to solve a problem, but they misread or misinterpret the question itself.

Check that you have correctly rewritten the problem

  • If you use a scratch piece of paper make sure that you correctly rewrite the problem.
  • Don’t skip steps. Start from the beginning.

Clearly write each step of the solution

  • Be neat and don’t rush writing numbers down.
  • Keep checking your solution as you are working.
  • Neatness makes it easier to recheck your work.

Don’t Dilly Dally

  • If you get stuck on a problem, move on and come back to it later.
  • When you are finished, recheck all your work.
  • Internal Links for Test Taking

    The Learning Skills and Tutoring Program offers College Success Workshops and Study Skills Handouts on test-taking strategies.

  • External Links for Test Taking

    • Dartmouth College Academic Skills Center provides tips on how to study and take tests.
    • Study Guides and Strategies offers several useful handouts on taking tests: 10 tips for test taking, true/false tests, multiple choice tests, short answer tests, open book exams, oral exams, and essay exams.
  • Sources

    The Community College Experience by Amy Baldwin (Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2005).

    Cornerstone: Building on Your Best, 4th Ed., by Robert M. Sherfield, Rhonda J. Montgomery, and Patricia G. Moody (Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2005).

    Becoming a Master Student, 10th Ed., by Dave Ellis (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003).

    Study Guides and Strategies

    Dartmouth’s Academic Skills Center