Students who have not learned good test-taking skills are working with an unseen handicap. In almost every objective test, they give up points needlessly due to undisciplined testing behavior, irrational responses to test items, or a variety of other bad habits. This tutorial focuses on overcoming this costly handicap.
Effective test-taking is not about gimmickry. It is not about outwitting your teachers in a guessing game or applying some magical formula to test-taking. Instead, the successful student must apply critical reading and thinking skills to the test and avoid making careless mistakes.
Let's begin by dealing with the careless kinds of mistakes that make students moan and groan when they get their tests back. First, let's state the obvious: read the directions carefully. Many students are in such a hurry to start the test that they do not read the instructions and make careless errors as a result.
Secondly, monitor your time so you do not get in a last-minute rush to finish the test. If there are 50 items and your teacher limits the testing time to 50 minutes, then you obviously have only about a minute to answer each question. The point here is not that you should time each item with a stopwatch. Simply monitor your progress periodically to make sure that you do not get caught in a time crunch.
Third, do not start second-guessing yourself and changing your original answers. Research has indicated that your first hunch is more likely to be correct. You should only change answers to questions if you originally misread them or if you have encountered information elsewhere in the test that indicates with certainty that your first choice is incorrect.
Finally, allow enough time to go through the test to make sure that you have not left an item blank, mismarked the answer sheet, or made some other simple oversight.
Three Phases of Objective Test Taking
It might help to think of your objective test taking as falling into three distinct phases, which, if followed in sequence, should improve your final grade:
Phase One: Go through the test and answer only those items that you are confident you can answer correctly, skipping the other items momentarily. This strategy helps you build confidence and assures that you will get credit for what you know if you run low on time. Also, as you read and answer questions, you are making mental associations and reviewing the material. A term listed further into the test may be the one that was just on the "tip of your tongue" when you were trying to answer an earlier item.
Phase Two: Go back through the test and focus on items you skipped in the first phase, using a slightly different strategy: identify and eliminate what you are relatively sure are incorrect answers. Try cutting down on the possible choices to improve your odds.
- Based on the knowledge you have of the subject, eliminate choices that are definitely wrong or unlikely.
- On multiple-choice items, eliminate choices that do not link grammatically to the stem of the question. (Teachers may not phrase the incorrect answers as carefully as the correct one. If a choice is added to complete the stem and the result is an awkward or ungrammatical construction, it is most likely not the correct answer.
- Eliminate choices that would be logically excluded by other possible choices. For example, if the possible answers to an item are a.) sleeping, b.) listening, c.) staring, or d.) napping, since a. and d. mean basically the same thing, and since only one answer can be correct, then it is logical that neither could be the correct answer.
Phase Three: Once you have exhausted your knowledge and narrowed the choices remaining by eliminating unlikely answers, its time to make your best guess. But you don't have to make this a coin-flip decision. The next section looks at some issues that can help you improve your odds even further.
You're Not Guessing...You're Thinking Critically.
You can improve your odds by keeping in mind some important information about language:
- Be especially cautious of items that contain absolute terms--words like always, never, invariably, none, all, every, and must. It is not impossible, but it is much more difficult, to write an absolute statement that is accurate and valid. Try substituting a qualified term for the absolute one, like frequently or typically in place of always or most, or some in place of all or every. If the statement is more or less valid than the original one, take that into consideration in choosing your answer.
- The opposite tendency also gives you valuable clues. Sometimes, teachers will add qualifying or clarifying terms or expressions to the right answer on multiple-choice items and true statements on true-false tests to avoid having to argue with students or defend the item later. The result is longer, more detailed items. Consider this example, and note how the underlined terms in the statement make it more valid and less arguable:
Under typical conditions, most of a child's core values are set by approximately age ten.
On the other hand, the "decoys" on a multiple choice test and false statements on true-false questions may not be worded so carefully; they may sound a little too absolute or too "pat." With the qualifiers missing, the validity of the statement is highly suspect:
A child's values are set by age ten.
When you have applied everything you know to the question and are still forced to guess, choose multiple choice answers that are longer and more "qualified" in their phrasing. Apply the same "yard stick" to true-false items: guess true for more detailed, qualified statements and false for those that are short and contain absolute language.