Rockford, Illinois

Test Taking Skills

Test Taking Skills

Taking a test is similar to taking a ride in a car. Although no one in the car has total control of the car and every driving situation, the person in the car who has the greatest sense of control is the driver. Therefore, the driver frequently handles driving situations in a more relaxed and comfortable manner than the passengers in the car.

Similarly, the person in the test situation who is the most relaxed and comfortable is the person who has a greater sense of control. Therefore, to reduce the average anxiety that is a part of preparing for and taking a test, the student needs to work on gaining a sense of control in the testing situation.

The student can feel less anxious in a testing situation by learning to control that which he or she can - emotional self, physical self and academic self. Students often forget that their body and mind are integral; thus, both need to be carefully attended to, especially at particularly stressful times like test time. If the emotional and physical selves are attended to and controlled, then the academic self will be allowed to perform at its best.

  1. Emotional Self: The self that controls the feelings and emotions about taking the test.

The following guidelines should be considered in helping to control the emotional self.

  1. Think positively about yourself. Before and during a test, many people begin having doubts about their knowledge and ability. If these doubts are allowed to persist without being checked and transformed into positive statements, the student's anxiety will undoubtedly increase.
  2. Dress for success. Often if a student feels confident and positive about the way that he or she looks, these feelings will transform into his or her actions and thoughts. This student is also likely to acknowledge but then quickly disregard negative self talk that occurs during a test.
  3. Come to the test prepared. This does not only apply to academic preparation. Just as important is the need to bring the materials that will be needed for the test, including books, notes, concept cards, pencils, paper or any special test response booklets. If a student forgets such materials, he or she could feel less empowered and even defeated before the test ever begins.
  4. Acknowledge your role as a student in the test situation. Remember that the test is not a race between the students within the class. Instead of focusing on WHEN individuals finish the test, the student should focus on HOW he or she is finishing the test.

    As the student begins the test, he or she should preview the test to see what types and how many questions need to be completed. Then, the student should spend a minute or two planning how long he or she will spend with each problem and/or section of the test. Finally, the student should question if enough time is being allowed to finish each question with special consideration given to answer essays or more difficult problems on the test? In addition, the student should feel comfortable and confident that he or she has the right and responsibility to ask questions during the test, in particular, the student should ask questions where he or she may have some confusion about the wording or directions of a question. In any case, however, the student needs to be sure to ask a SPECIFIC question. In this manner, the teacher will not likely feel that the student is "fishing" for an answer.
  5. During the test, answer easy questions first. There is no rule that says that test questions have to be answered in numerical order. However, a student can increase his or her confidence while reducing his or her anxiety by answering easy questions first. By increasing confidence in this manner, the student will be more likely to relax which in turn aids in recall of information and enables the student to answer more difficult questions. Furthermore, test questions are often interrelated, so answering one question may lead to answering another more difficult question. Finally, by answering easier questions first, the student can ensure that they have answered questions they are knowledgeable about before time runs out.
  1. Physical Self: The self that controls how your body reacts and feels in the testing situation.

The following guidelines should be considered in helping to control the physical self:

  1. Establish and maintain a regular sleeping pattern. In response to busy schedules with numerous tasks and priorities, two areas of daily living are often neglected or slighted. The first area a student may cut in his or her schedule in an attempt to find more time is that of sleep. Naturally, the amount of sleep a person needs varies. It is true that some individuals can function efficiently on less sleep; however, an average of 6 to 8 hours still holds true for most people. IF a student wakes up sluggish or becomes sluggish quickly within the day or if the student finds that he or she is less attentive, it could be due to lack of sufficient sleep.

A mind and body tat is well-rested is better prepared to handles the rigors of a testing situation. Of particular importance is the fact that the mind is able to recall information much more efficiently if a sufficient amount of sleep has been obtained. For this reason, an all night cram session can be particularly detrimental to test performance.

2. Establish and maintain regular, nutritional eating habits. Nutrition and regular eating is another area that a student might choose to neglect in response to his or her schedule and time constraints. Doing so, however, is to neglect the fact that nutrition is necessary for the body and the mind to function.

It is important to eat the right amount of the right foods. Students need to be aware of how and what they eat and how much they eat can affect their ability to perform a test. Balanced, nutritional meals with appropriate amounts of protein and carbohydrates are especially important. Typically, this type of meal gives the greatest amount of energy over a longer period of time. Therefore, this type of energy can best sustain the body and mind throughout the testing situation.

Students should also be aware that too much food or heavy meals consisting of large amounts of fat before a test can also be detrimental to their test performance. In this case, a greater amount of oxygen is needed in the digestive system to process the food. The oxygen is reduced in other areas of the body, including to some extent the brain, which in turn makes the person tired. Being tired dulls the mind's ability to recall and recite information and thus can lead to poorer test performance.

3. Recognize and control symptoms of General Adaptation Syndrome. General Adaptation Syndrome describes the physiological response of the body to situations of fear or anxiety. In such situations, the body responds with an increase in adrenaline which causes other reactions such as an increased respiratory rate, quickening pulse, sweaty palms and nervous stomach.

  1. Academic self: The self that controls how he student is prepared academically and how the student handles taking the test.
    The following guidelines should be considered when controlling the academic self.

    1. Take control of the test once it is given. The student should remember that each part of the test is important. Therefore, a student will want to overview the entire test to determine what is expected and to determine where he or she will want to begin taking the test. In doing this, the student can also identify time constraints of specific test questions and identify a necessary pace to answering all questions on the test.

In reviewing the test, the student needs to read all directions carefully. Sometimes test directions are different than usual expectations; for example, the directions for group or multiple test questions may ask the student to identify all the answers that apply rather than the best. Also, time limits and point information may be given in the directions which will further enable the student to plan his or her attack of the test.

The student should also be sure to answer all questions on the test unless directed to do otherwise. Instead, students often choose to skip or leave blank those questions of which they are unsure. This only guarantees that the student will lose points for the test question. At least if the student makes a reasonable guess he or she will have a chance to earn some, if not all, of the points for that particular question. Finally, the student should check his or her answers carefully before turning in the test. This can help the student to eliminate careless errors in his or her test performance. If, however, the student is second guessing a previous response, he or she is better off leaving the initial response to the question. In other words, a first guess is often better than a second guess.

  1. Remember that thorough test preparation is necessary. The goal of thorough test preparation is to put as much of the course information into long term memory as possible. In order to do this, a student needs to practice and predict test questions over a long period of time, preferably beginning as soon as the information is presented either in the lecture or text materials.

One method of test preparation, PLAE, is explained on the following pages. If a plan, such as one developed using the PLAE method, is utilized, the student will have much more confidence in his or her preparation and, in turn, have less anxiety about his or her ability during the test.



PLAE is an acronym that stands for preplanning, listing, activating, and evaluating. PLAE is a method of test preparation which encourages the student to plan and implement an effective and adequate test preparation strategy.

Preplanning Stage

  • The student's purpose in this stage of test preparation is to gather information about the test and establish goals for the test.
  • The student can activate this part of his or her test preparation the minute he or she first finds out that there will be a test.
  • Some questions the student will want to be able to answer during test preparation include:

1.      When is the test? - Day, date and time

2.      Where is the test? - Sometimes a test may be given in a room different than the class is normally taught in, especially a final exam.

3.      Specifically, what other obligations are there during the week of the test? - The student needs to keep in mind all tests, assignments, projects, as well as any appointments or special occasions in his or her personal life which might interfere or distract from studying for this exam.

4.      What does the test cover? - What chapters, lecture notes, videos, additional readings, or handouts?

5.      What kind of test will be given? How many items or questions will there be on the test? What types of questions will be asked? Will it be an essay exam, multiple choice, short answer, or a combination of these things? Will there be 10 questions or 100 questions? Will there be factual or memory level questions? Will the questions require you to make inferences? Will they be application questions? Having this information will help in better identifying which questions to predict and practice in preparation for the exam.

6.      How much does the test count in the total evaluation process? -Considering this information can help in identifying what priority preparation for this particular exam should have in relation to overall study time. This also helps to keep long-term grade goals for a particular course in mind throughout the semester.

7.      What is my goal for a grade on this test? - This goal also helps to determine the priority of the test preparation in regard to overall study time. Furthermore, goals need to be realistically obtainable considering possible conflicts and time constraints.

8.      How much time is needed for studying, reciting, and reviewing? - How will this predicted time commitment affect the regular study schedule?


Listing Stage

  • The student's purpose in this stage of test preparation is to select and plan study strategies that will be most effective in acquiring and maintaining the necessary information and understanding needed for the test.

  • First, the student will need to list recitation strategies, such as concept cards, practicing questions and answers generated in Cornell notes or outlining answers to essay questions. In addition, the student should define "Why?" the selected strategy will be the most appropriate and effective for this particular test.

**The student should realize and remember that the same study strategies do not work with the same amount of effectiveness for different types of tests or for tests of different content materials.

  • The following chart can be utilized to complete this first part of the listing stage:

Secondly, the student needs to complete a plan of study. This plan will very specifically outline what study activity the student will act on, when and where the student will study, how long the student will study, and why the student will engage in this outlined study activity.

** There is also a need to keep track of whether the outlined study activity was completed as defined, but this can only be completed as the plan is put into motion.

The following chart can be utilized to outline a plan of study:

When preparing the plan, the following questions should be considered:

1.      Is the study time distributed over several days?

2.      Has the student allotted at least two blocks of time to test him or herself over the key concepts? Or for a friend to test him or her?

3.      Are specifically stated goals for learning identified in the "Why?" column of the study plan?

4.      Has enough time been allowed to complete each task?

5.      How much total time has been scheduled for test preparation in the study plan?

6.      How does the total scheduled study time compare to what was identified in the Preplanning stage?

7.      Will the goals identified in the Preplanning stage be accomplished with this plan?

Activating Stage

The student's purpose in this stage is to activate the plan developed in the Listing stage and to monitor his or her level of completion of activities, as well as effectiveness of identified study activities.

The following questions should be addressed at least 3 times during the duration of the operation of the plan:

1. Is the plan being followed?

2. If not, why? What is interfering? What are other obligations that had not been previously accounted for?

3. How can the plan be modified without sacrificing the grade goal identified in the Preplanning stage?

4. Are concepts being remembered and understood? Are the study activities selected in the Listing stage working?

5. If not, why? Should another study activity be selected? If so, which one? Or should study time distribution be changed? Or should more self-testing blocks be built into the study plan?

Evaluating Stage

  • This stage of the PLAE strategy is done after the test has been taken and returned.

  • The student's purpose in this stage is to question him or herself regarding his or her test performance and the strengths and weaknesses of the overall study plan and its implementation.

  • Questions that the student should ask him or herself to determine these items include:

    1. Was the test what was expected?
    2. Was the study plan followed? If not, what events or situations interfered with carrying out the plan?
    3. How many hours were actually engaged in planned study activities?
    4. Were study hours distributed or massed?

  • All of the PLAE study plan sheets should be filled with the appropriate classroom materials, so that the student may refer back to them when preparing plans for the next test for the course. By keeping the plans and analyzing their effectiveness, students will begin to see patterns of their own strengths and weaknesses in studying.