Test-Taking Strategies

Below is a list of common sense items that you can follow to prepare for any test that you may have to take.

  • Practice, practice, practice.  The more you are familiar with the test format, the less likely you are to panic when you take the real test.
  • Study for the test over an extended period of time rather than trying to cram the night before.
  • One of the best ways to build vocabulary and reading comprehension is to read; newspapers, books, magazines...these will help more than trying to memorize vocabulary lists.
  • Eat a good breakfast that morning and get a good night's sleep the night before.
  • Wear comfortable clothes.
  • Arrive at the test location a few minutes early so you won't feel rushed at the beginning of the test.
  • Take a deep breath and relax your mind before the test begins.
  • Don't get distracted by other test takers in the room.
  • Don't fall into the trap of looking for patterns in the answer.  There really can be three (or more) "C" answers in a row.
  • Pace yourself - calculate the amount of time you have to answer each question and avoid getting bogged down on any one question.  Use a watch to help you budget your time.  If you get stuck on a question, move on to the next (and make sure you skip it on the answer sheet).  You can always return to a question later.  Sometimes returning to a question after answering others can give you a fresh perspective.
  • If you have time left at the end of the test, review your answers.  Don't second guess unless you are certain that you've misread or misinterpreted the question.  Watch out for careless errors and double check that you've written all of your answers in the correct locations.
  • Read all answers in full before trying to answer a question.  Pay attention to all of the details given.  At least some of the answer choices will be designed to trap you if you don't read the question fully.  Also, identify your answer first before looking at the answer choices, since some of the choices will be designed to prime you into misinterpreting the question - don't jump to conclusions.
  • Eliminate any answers that you know are incorrect, especially on questions where you are having trouble arriving at the answer.  Eliminating a few wrong answers can increase the chances of a random guess being correct.
  • Consider all the answer choices before writing down your final answer.  If one of the answers is an "all of the above" choice, make sure there is more than one correct answer.  If you've identified at least two correct answers, choose the "all of the above" option.
  • Write things down - most exams allow for scratch paper.  Use the paper to work out problems, write out formulas, spell words and think things through.
  • As you fill in answers on your answer sheet, make sure you match each test item to its numbered space on the answer sheet.

Critical Reading Strategies

  • Before you begin reading a passage, skim the questions that follow it to focus your reading.Look for key ideas as you read.
  • Pay attention to the connotation of words.
  • Draw conclusions from the information provided.
  • Read the passages - we all tend to read through things quickly and jump straight to answering the questions.  Make sure you read the entire passage first (and re-read if necessary).  If you are able to, underline or highlight important details in the passage.  Only then should you move on to answering the questions.
  • Look for main ideas as you read a passage.  They are often stated at the beginning or the end of a paragraph. 

Multiple Choice Question Strategies

  • A multiple choice question consists of a stem and a set choices.  The stem is in the form of a question or an incomplete sentence.  One of the choices correctly answers the question or completes the sentence.  Many tests offer four answer choices, but no matter how many choices are given, you can use the same strategies to guide you to the best answer.
  • Read the stem carefully and try to answer the question before you look at the choices.
  • Pay attention to the key words in the stem.  They may direct you to the correct answer.
  • Don't jump to conclusions about the correct answer until you've read all of the choices.
  • After reading all of the choices, eliminate any that you know are incorrect. 

Vocabulary / Word Meaning Question Strategies

  • Connotation is the suggestion or feeling a word carries beyond its literal meaning.  For example, small is a neutral word.  Compact has a more positive connotation relative to small, but dinky has a negative connotation.
  • If you don't know the exact meaning of a word, look for clues in nearby sentences.A simile is a figure of speech.  The words 'like' and 'as' are clues that a comparison is a simile.
  • Eliminate any answers that are not the same part of speech as the meaning of the word in the passage.

Writing and Grammar Question Strategies

  • Read the entire passage to grasp its overall meaning.  Pay particular attention to any underlined parts.
  • Before choosing a revision, read through all of the answer choices to decide which one is best.  Your selection should produce a sentence that is grammatically correct.
  • If you are asked to combine sentences, think about how the ideas relate to each other.  When you understand the connection between the thoughts, you will know how to join them.
  • Some questions will test your knowledge of language conventions.  Make sure that pronouns agree with antecedents and that all verbs agree with the subjects.
  • Some questions will also tests your knowledge of commonly confused words.  Read sentences carefully to determine how each word is used before deciding which choice is best.

Strategies for Responding to Writing Prompts

  • Short-response prompts are often fact based rather than interpretive.  Get right to the point in your answer, and stick to the facts.
  • Make sure that you write about the assigned topic.  Support your answer with details from the passage, such as a quotation, a paraphrase or an example.
  • When you are writing an extended response, build your paragraphs around clear topic sentences that will pull your ideas together.
  • If you are asked to interpret a passage, don't just copy the author's words.  Try to clearly express the ideas in your own words so that the reader understands your viewpoint.
  • Proofread your response for errors in capitalization, punctuation, spelling and grammar.

Strategies for Writing an Essay

  • Before you being writing, take a minute or two to gather your thoughts.  You don't need to prepare a complete outline, but jot down the main points that you want to make.
  • When writing a persuasive essay, state your point of view in the introduction.
  • Facts and examples make your writing come to life, no matter what the topic is.  Use them in the body of your essay to clarify your points and to strengthen your arguments.
  • Try to consider the opposing point of view and respond to it.
  • Make sure your essay has a conclusion, even if it's just a single sentence.  A conclusion pulls your ideas together and lets the reader know you have finished.
  • Allow time to reread what you have written.  If you make a correction, do so neatly and legibly.
  • Essays are graded on focus, organization, support of ideas, style/word choice and grammar.

Strategies for Answering Math Questions

  • Sometimes it can help to calculate the answer in two different ways.
  • Use estimation techniques to give you a baseline answer to check against.  For example, instead of multiplying 412 by 24 to arrive at 9,888, multiply the most significant digits (400 by 20) to arrive at 8,000.  You know that the answer is going to be a little more than 8,000; this helps you recognize smaller answers as errors.