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Taking the Exam

On the Day of the Exam

  • Eat healthy meals. Eat healthy foods that will not leave you with a sugar crash in the middle of the test. Eat something you find comforting to relax, and eat it in moderation.
  • Do something to relax before the exam. Listen to music, go for a walk, play a video game, or workout. Relaxing activities will help you avoid stress and help clear your mind of distraction.
  • Avoid studying the hour before the exam. Trying to cram more information might distract you from the material that you solidly learned while studying.
  • Avoid distractions from fellow students. Travel alone to the exam. Arrive early enough to choose your optimal space, away from others who might prove distracting. Do not talk to other students about the test. This might lead you astray from what you know and have prepared.

Different Types of Test Formats and Questions

Multiple-Choice Exams

Read all directions thoroughly and then quickly preview the entire test before starting. Are there sections of the exam weighted more heavily? Do the questions get progressively more difficult? If there is a difference between sections, set a rough time schedule for each section. Plan time to review your answers and change answers if appropriate. How to attack each question:

  • Answer easy questions first. If an item is too difficult to answer quickly, skip it and go back to it later.
  • Read the entire question before looking at the answer choices and, if possible, answer the question without looking at the answer choices. Then examine all the answer choices before deciding which is correct.
  • If the correct answer is not immediately apparent, eliminate any non-plausible choices. Is there an answer that differs from all the others?
  • Remember that the instructor is usually looking for the best answer, so if two answers appear possible, make a choice.
  • Use clues from previous questions. If you were certain of the answer for a previous question and it contradicts some of the possible answers on an item, then you can eliminate them.

Quantitative Questions

  • Understand the problem by answering a series of questions.
    • What is the unknown and what information do you need to find it?
    • Will drawing a sketch help?
    • Are there multiple parts to the question? Not answering each part is an easy way to lose points.
  • Find a way to solve for what is unknown.
    • Write down all that is given or known.
    • If it makes sense, draw a sketch to help visualize the problem.
    • Write down all relevant formulas.
    • Use proper notation that is consistent with that used in the formulas.
  • Solve the problem using the procedure you developed in the previous step.
    • Work neatly and carefully, and show your work for each step. This will help the grader follow your work, which might lead to partial credit. It also will make it possible for you to figure out where you went astray if your answer is incorrect.
    • Include the units in your answer.
  • Check your answers.
    • Carefully recheck your answer. Does your answer make sense to you? Is the quantity reasonable? Did you use all of the data that you originally decided was pertinent? Is your answer in correct units?
    • If your answer does not seem to make sense, rework the problem.

Essay Test Taking

  • Read through the entire exam before beginning, and plan how much time to take on each question.
  • Read the question carefully to determine what kind of response is required. Does the question simply require you to recall material from the course? Or does the question require that you analyze a new situation using what you have learned?
  • Start by outlining your answer. This might come from a pre-developed outline for a question you anticipated or can be developed on the spot. This will help you organize your answer and keep you from forgetting key points if you have to hurry to finish an answer.
  • Start with a strong introductory paragraph that establishes your argument with a clearly written thesis.
  • Make it easy for the grader to follow your argument by properly forming paragraphs and using marker words such as “first, second, third” or “the counter-argument.”
  • Provide details that support your argument. Each piece of information should be clearly connected to your argument. Do not include extraneous information just because it is something that you remembered.
  • Finish with a conclusion that demonstrates that you have addressed the question and made an argument. This will solidify your answer in the mind of the grader and give you a chance to assess that you effectively answered the question.