This past month, I have seen some hectic studying and some haphazard practice test-taking! There’s a lot of stress in the air, and it’s understandable. Students are worried about their state and national tests, as well as their regular class tests. All the questions I’ve received these past two months have been about studying for–and taking–tests. Since we’ve already covered some tips here and here on studying for tests, let’s see what can be done about TAKING the actual tests.
1) Underline and make notes. The CA High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE), the SAT, the ACT, pretty much all the AP tests… they all have reading components. The student reads a selection and then has to answer questions about that reading. How can students remember what they read? Answer: by taking notes, just as they do with reading material in English class, History class, whatever.
However, because it is a test, the notes don’t have to be long. For example, just underline or jot down the main idea of a paragraph. Underline or circle examples of good imagery. Make a note about what the tone of the reading was, and so forth. Taking notes, even quick ones, will help you understand and remember the material better. Then, when you’re looking for the answer to a question, you’ll also be able to spot ideas faster if you have jotted things down. Your eyes are naturally drawn to your writing. So they’ll see that you wrote “main idea: we should take care of Nature” much easier than finding the answer in the reading again.
2) Answer the question in your mind BEFORE looking at the answer choices. (This deals with multiple choice questions, of course, but all the aforementioned tests are multiple choice.) Tests like these tend to put similar (or even WRONG!) answers into the answer choices. I hear all the time that “reading the answer choices just confused me.” I highly recommend answering the question yourself first, and then looking at the choices to find the one that matches the answer that you already thought in your head. By doing this, it reduces the chances of the answer choices planting ideas into your head. If you have to cover up the choices to prevent yourself from reading them before you’ve thought of something, then do it!
3) Manage the time wisely. Time is limited, and it should be used carefully. Understand how much time you have to take the test: how long can you spend on each question? In each section, answer all your easy questions first. This will give you a boost of confidence. It will also get you through a bunch of questions quickly, which means you can focus a little more time on the harder questions. Good time management helps reduce the feeling of being rushed.
Also, keep an eye on the clock (time remaining) so that you have enough time to finish. Students have told me, “I didn’t know I was running out of time!” That should never happen. Even if you may not have enough time to complete what you wanted, you should always know when time is coming to an end.
And last of all, BREATHE! If you’ve prepared and gotten a good night’s sleep, it should all be okay.
Good luck and happy learning!