Taking TestsPart 1: How Do Tests Work? - Total Testing Education

Taking Tests
Part 1:
How Do Tests Work?

In this 3 part series we’re taking a look at tests. Love them or hate them – we all end up having to take them. In part 1 we’ll delve into how to effectively prepare for tests; in part 2 we’ll discuss what and how tests are written and how they’re graded; and finally in part 3 we’ll get practical with some test taking tips.

Let’s get going with part 1 – Preparing for your test

To prepare for a test, it seems that learning all your notes and lessons materials should get you a great result. So this article just needs to tell you how to better organize your materials and retain more information, then on test day you can spit it all back out and get an outstanding grade. But we’ve all tried this and the reality is often quite different. How many times have you felt that you know the materials inside and out, but when you get to the test you either don’t know how to answer the questions or get a low grade. Sound familiar?

How to prepare well for a test

We’re going to suggest something that sounds so obvious that you’ll probably stop reading – but don’t! Please keep reading….

If you are going to be successful on a test, you need to learn how to answer the questions

Obvious right? I have to learn the subject matter in order to answer the questions. But that’s what I do, I learn the subject matter and still can’t answer the questions. No, let’s read it again, you need to learn how to answer the questions. Experienced test takers will tell you there are two parts to preparing for a test – first, there’s the subject matter – and second, there’s the questions themselves. You need to learn to deal with both. Most people forget about learning how to answer the questions.

Preparing to take a test

With our new insight, to prepare for taking a test, here’s your strategy:

  1. Learn all your class notes and subject matter thoroughly.
  2. Review previous tests and identify every type of question that can be asked. If you look through years and years of tests, you’ll be able to say when you see a particular type of question showing up again and again, but with slightly different content in it. Give each type of question you identify a name or a code, so that when you get into the exam, you can look through the questions and say “question 1 is a type A, question 2 is a type B etc..” An examiner once told me that ‘there’s only so many questions that I can ask!’ If you find that you cannot answer a particular type of question, reach out to your fellow students or faculty for guidance. You simply have to learn to answer each question type.
  3. Next you need to practice answering each type of question. You need to end up with a process that is something like – when I find a type X question, first I need to look through and find the data in the question, second I need to remember X, Y and Z that I learned, then three, I need to write down P first, then Q second, and take something from P and add it to Q etc. etc. You basically are becoming a question answering robot. Preparation is your programming.
  4. Once you have done this preparation in step 3 for each type of question, you get to be human again. You get to decide which types of questions you find easiest or prefer, and those you find hardest or dislike. Now go through the list of question types from step 1, and add a priority to each type. You can use A, B and C, or 1, 2 and 3. It’s a way for you to remember in the test itself, which questions types you will answer first, or if you have to choose say 5 questions from a possible 8, you can leave those types you like least.

IF you have reviewed and learned your class and study material, AND you know what types of questions to expect, AND you have a method to answer each type, AND you can prioritize which questions you will answer – THEN you are ready to take your test! However, next week we’ll take a look at how tests are written and graded, which may change how you go about answering questions in your next test.


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