At Work

How to Refine Your Test-Taking Skills on Test Day

As a student, test taking is one of the most important parts of your high school, college, and perhaps graduate school careers. Whether you are taking the SAT, an AP exam, the GRE, or another big test, honing your test-taking skills is crucial. Try following these guidelines to do just that:

Just breathe
When you first enter the test-taking room, take a few moments to compose yourself. Take deep breaths and ease your mind. Try to boost your confidence by thinking positive thoughts. Remember, you’ve prepared and you can do this. Do not panic!

Make a quick test plan
Once the test begins, take a minute or two to review the papers in front of you and create a plan. Consider how you are going to split up your time for this test. Approximately how long will you spend on each section? Which questions will you start with? How many minutes will you set aside for yourself at the end to review your work? Having a test plan is a fantastic way to stay organized, but ensure you also set limits. This is crucial, as you want to prevent yourself from getting too stuck on one part of the test and running out of time to review your responses at the end. If you have a solid idea of the test structure and time constraints before you come into the exam room, it would be wise to formulate a test plan ahead of time. After all, the more time you can save during the exam period, the better!

Read — and re-read — directions
Now that you have set a test plan, it is time to begin working. An obviously key part of taking a test is carefully following the directions. Do not skim over these; read each and every word. The directions give you insight into your instructor’s plan for the test, so take it seriously.

Start with the questions you know
The order in which you answer the test questions should be strategic. Build up your confidence at the beginning by answering all of the questions you absolutely know. From there, consider moving on to the questions with highest point values. After that, go back and answer the rest of the questions that remain. If you find you have a few questions unanswered during the last few minutes of the test, think about whether this test employs a guessing penalty or not, and answer accordingly — i.e. if the test deducts points for wrong answers, leave the questions blank; if the test does not deduct points for incorrect answers, consider making educated guesses.

Since you created a test plan, ideally you have at least a few minutes at the end of the exam period to review your work. Use this time to make sure you have completed all portions of the exam: check the front and back pages, make sure the scantron is accurate, and be sure you put your name on it! Next, review your answers. How you choose to do this is up to you. Some find it helpful to review the questions you were certain about so you can verify that you selected the correct answers. Others find it helpful to review those questions of the test that were moderately challenging, in hopes that a second-pass through may jog their memory about the topics.

Once you feel comfortable, turn that test in and pat yourself on the back. You did it! When you receive your score later, think about what strategies worked and what didn’t, and consider adjusting your test-taking skills accordingly for the next test you face.

Jenny Modlisz is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.