There are two main types of examinations: standardized tests, such as the Scholastic Aptitude Tests, and tests made up by a teacher. Each requires a different sort of preparation.
The best way to prepare for a teacher’s test is to keep up with the reading and study assignments. That failing, at least keep all quizzes, tests, and graded homework papers. Go over them for clues to your strengths and weaknesses. Note also the teacher’s likes and dislikes, pet theories, and ideas that he or she has emphasized. They will probably appear in the test.
Several weeks before the exam, find out all you can about it. What material will it cover? How long will it be? Will it be multiple choice, true-false, fill in the blanks, short or long essay? If a combination of these, how will the time be allotted and how much weight will be given to each section in the scoring? Ask former students what the teacher’s tests are like. If you are taking a standardized test, find out whether it is better to guess or to leave an answer blank.
For course exams, ask the teacher the above questions. For a standardized test, get a descriptive bulletin with practice questions from your teacher or guidance counselor or the company that distributes the test. Go over the pamphlet several times. You can also buy books that give extensive practice questions and strategies for almost every standardized exam.
Two weeks before the exam, gather all your course material: textbook, lecture notes, reading notes, quizzes, and homework papers. Take a couple of hours to go through this material, writing down the important topics. You might, for example, list the major heads and topic sentences in the textbook. Recall the points emphasized by the teacher. Then check the topics you are least sure of (your homework and quiz papers will come in handy now), and study these. Save your review of more familiar material until closer to the test time.
As you study, interact with your material. Don’t just read passively. Take notes on your notes. Underline with color. Make lists of definitions. Rework the math problems that you missed or work out new ones. To review facts, definitions, details, or vocabulary, make up 3 x 5 cards with short questions or definitions on one side and answers on the other. Go over and over these by yourself or with friends; even on essay tests you’ll need facts to back up your ideas.
Take a clock or watch; pacing yourself is important. Read or listen to the instructions with utmost care. On standardized tests, be sure you understand how to mark your answers. If you’re uncertain about any part of the instructions, ask.
On multiple-choice tests, read all answers to each question. If one answer seems right, mark it down. If you’re not sure, skip to the next question. Work with care, but don’t dawdle. You should consider all questions once; then go through the test again, picking up any you skipped. The second time through, try to get the answer by the process of elimination. If you decide three choices are wrong but don’t know which of the remaining two are right, play your hunches-but avoid wild guesses.
On true-false questions, remember that the longer the question, the more likely it is to be true. Words such as “always” and “never” usually signal a false answer; words such as “sometimes,” “often,” or “usually” may indicate that the answer is true. Your first response is likely to be right; don’t change it without good reason.
Read the questions carefully. If you have several essays to choose from and you must write more than one, choose all your topics before starting to write. On the back of your exam book or on a separate piece of paper, write down the ideas that immediately come to mind on each essay. For each essay, underline the key instruction word or words such as “compare,” “discuss,” “evaluate”; then be sure you do what is asked. Again on separate paper, jot down a quick outline of your first essay. Use about one third of your allotted time planning your answers and two-thirds writing. Use the best grammar, spelling, and penmanship you know. Neatness and care will affect your grade.