main navigation
my pace
Learning Center

Know How to Take the Test

Essay Exams

  • Get enough sleep and eat before the exam so that you will be rested and alert, two things that will help you do the active thinking the exam will require of you.
  • During the exam, make sure to stay relaxed. Anxiety is very distracting and can drain your energy.
  • Read all of the questions first. Sometimes you will have a choice as to which questions to answer. Decide which you understand the best and which you can do the best job on. Also, get a sense of how many minutes you can allot to answering each question.
  • Read the question carefully, underlining important parts of the question and determining exactly what the question is asking for, i.e., note the kind of work the question asks you to do: compare, define, evaluate, etc.
  • Outline before you start writing. Use this outline to record immediate ideas and facts, to brainstorm, to list important supporting information to include in the answer, and to decide on an organizational structure. Organization is often crucial in a successful essay exam; it's not just what you know but how you present it.
  • Don't get off track. Remind yourself of your outline and of the question, so that you don't get sidetracked and forget what you are answering.
  • Provide plenty of supporting detail.
  • Use transitional sentences to make important shifts in your thinking and in your answer. They help your professor read your answers and follow your thinking.
  • Check the clock often. Don't get too caught up in one question and forget to move on and leave time for others.
  • Reread your answers to check for sentence-level clarity, spelling, and grammar, all of which count!
  • Don't worry if others seem to be writing more than you or are finished ahead of you. You have no way of knowing what they are writing, so don't jump to conclusions that shake your confidence. Focus your energy on your exam!

Objective Tests

  • Get enough sleep the night before the exam so that you are rested and alert during the exam.
  • Before you begin, make sure you survey the entire exam. Make sure to count the pages and get an overview of what the whole entails. You will need to get a sense of how quickly you need to work and which questions are worth the most points.
  • Read each question carefully to make sure you know what is being asked. If the question is phrased in a long sentence or contains multiple parts, underline exactly what the question is asking.
  • Be alert to key words in the question such as
    • Not
    • All
    • Except
    • But
    • All but
  • If the test is multiple choice, try thinking of the answer before you look at the choices.
  • Also, consider all the options before making your choice.
  • Mark any questions that you've skipped or that you've answered but are unsure of. Return to them when you are finished with the questions you have confidently answered and give them careful thought.

Make sure to check all of your answers before you turn in your exam.