What test-taking strategies have you noticed your most successful students employ? How could other students benefit from utilizing some of those methods? Share your comments below. 

Regardless of where your students are in their school careers or what courses they’re enrolled in, the same basics tips for test taking apply. The process of acing their exams starts long before test day — with preparation as a crucial first step — and continues after test day. In How to Study in College, authors Walter Pauk and Ross J.Q. Owens offer many helpful hints that you can share with your students to help them ace any exam.

Before the Test:

  • Attend Class & Take Notes – Be sure to attend class, and take detailed notes during class lectures. Many professors will give hints on topics and ideas that may appear on upcoming tests to encourage attendance and participation. Additionally, your class notes will be crucial in test preparation.
  • Ask Questions – Don’t be afraid to ask your instructor about the upcoming exam. For example, ask what type of questions will appear on the test (essay, multiple choice, fill in the blank, etc.), and also inquire about time limit and whether class notes or textbooks will be allowed. Teachers want you to succeed, and therefore will often answer questions that enable you to better prepare for the exam. Finally, if you’ve had exams given by this professor before, be sure to look over those for clues, such as test style and what types of information they focus on.
  • Testing-Taking Strategy – Find the test preparation strategy that works best for you. Try multiple studying techniques, such as note cards, outlines, or summary sheets. Creating study helpers like these will allow you to focus on the most important details and allow you to study and learn key ideas during the preparation stage. (pp. 311 & 317)

During the Test:

  • Read Instructions Carefully –Ensure that you read all instructions before starting the exam. The instructions often contain important information, such as the recommended length of answers, approach you should take, or the number of questions that need to be answered. Ignoring the instructions could negatively affect your overall success on the exam.
  • Annotate on Each Question – Be sure to read the content of the test questions before you begin each section. Underline or circle important words that will help you answer the question, specifically anything that affects the meaning of the sentences, like negatives or qualifiers.
  • Jot Down Immediate Knowledge – Before you begin the exam, do a “knowledge dump,” where you quickly jot down any information that you feel you may forget during the test. For example, write down any dates, terms, or ideas that you found difficult to remember during your study sessions. Specifically, you may want to note anything that is purely memorization.
  • Increase your Confidence – Begin the exam by completing any questions that you feel extremely confident in answering, as this will increase your level of confidence for the rest of the exam. Additionally, map out your allotted test time by section to keep you confidence and on track, but be careful to not stress out about it or rush through the test. (pp. 330- 331)

After the Test:

  • Learn from Experience – Regardless of your final test score, review what questions you got right or wrong on the exam. The completed exam is a record of how you performed on a variety of topics and question types. Additionally, be sure to analyze how the instructor graded the test, specifically if he or she gave partial credit on some questions. Adjust your test-taking strategy moving forward based upon your analysis. (p. 332)


Reference: Content adapted from Pauk, Walter and Ross J.Q. Owens. 2013. How to Study in College. Eleventh Edition. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.