How To Take Exams

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Some of the following suggestions pertain to any type of examination; others may be useful for a particular type of examination. 

 

Get relaxed just before the examination. This can be done by engaging in some satisfying activity. Perhaps you enjoy walking, or talking to friends, or listening to music; if so, try to arrange matters so that you can do the thing which will be most relaxing to you before the test. Sleeping is an excellent way to relax. To study right up to the test time is often not a successful technique. The amount you will learn will be small and you may get yourself "keyed up" and "jittery" and as a consequence be unable to express yourself well on the examination. 

Don't go to the examination room too early, because you will usually find yourself in the midst of poorly prepared students who have come early to get information from others who are somewhat tense and excited. Such persons may make you tense and unsure of yourself. Go to the room on time but not too early and concentrate your attention on the details for the examination such as sharpened pencils, pen and ink, etc. 

If you have the option, select a seat in which your performance will be maximized. Consider air, lighting, being able to see the blackboard, and the possible disturbance of other students who leave early. 

Essay type examinations:

  • Read the general directions with care. If the directions call for answers to each of the first four questions, for example, and any two of the last three questions, you can rarely get away with substituting one of the last three for one of the first four. It is disturbing not to be able to answer one of the required questions, but a substitution won't work, and the best thing to do is to answer the ones you know as exhaustively as possible.
  • Read all the questions first to see what information fits best where. Roughly plan your time, allowing the most time for the questions worth the most points.
  • Answer the questions you know best first.
  • When you start to answer a question it is well to read the question twice in order to be certain that you know what the question involves. Note the key words (see handout, "Important Words in Essay Questions"). Then it is desirable to jot down the points you recall in some brief form before you start to write. Put those points in order and then reread the question again. It will not take much time to do this and may save a great deal of time later. Having organized the points, start writing by expanding on the points you have listed. If ideas occur to you about questions you will have to answer later, jot down the idea briefly in relation to them as they occur to you on some scratch paper. If you don't jot them down immediately, you are likely to forget them when you come to the question to which they pertain.
  • A well-organized essay should contain the following:

    • A direct statement of your thesis (e.g., "No, I do not believe that..."). 
    • Supporting material (show relationships, give examples, add facts, etc.). 
    • Transitional words and phrases (make your train of thought clear to the reader). 
  • After writing your answer it is well to look at the question again to make sure you have answered all that was asked. 
  • Make writing as legible and neat as possible. Certainly the instructor cannot give you credit for something she/he cannot read. 
  • If the question has a number of parts, label the parts in your answer. Your instructor grades you on the answers she/he can find. Often the instructor is rushed as she/he scores    tests. Help yourself by labeling parts of your answer. 
  • Remember that appropriateness and quality of answers rather than quantity of writing will determine the grade you will get on the examination. 
  • If you're running out of time, jot down an outline or list major points rather than not attempt them at all. You may get partial credit. 

Objective type examinations: 

  • Read the general directions with particular care. The slightest misunderstanding may mean the difference between a good grade and a poor grade. Ask for clarification if something is unclear.

  • Attempt every question, but do not spend too much time on any one. Students often check those questions that they cannot answer immediately and return to them later after they have answered all the questions they can in the first reading. Most exams are scored for number right. In this case, answer every question. If, however, you are warned against guessing, then you must rely on only your clear memories. Some tests are scored number right minus a proportion of the number marked wrong and to guess is not an effective technique. Also, if the directions say that there is only one correct answer to each question, you may suffer if you put down two.

  • Close attention should be given to phrasing of questions especially with regard to such key words as least, one, greatest, chief, best and most--this applies equally with essay type questions.

  • If, in answering a true/false type question, you change it from negative to positive or vice versa, you may be able to evaluate the statement more easily.

  • When you have finished all the questions, do not change your answers unless you are quite certain that your original answer was wrong. Studies of examination papers show that students more frequently change from right to wrong answers than the reverse!!! 

 

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