Test Taking Strategy

Testing is one tool used to make sure you are learning what you are supposed to be learning in a course.  Courses are designed with a specific curriculum developed to maximize the amount of important information needed to educate students on a topic.


Even when you feel pretty confident about your understanding of the course, being tested can sometimes cause anxiety and doubt.  


To make sure you are best prepared to take your course exams spend some time exploring the test taking strategies on this page.   

Managing Test Anxiety

YOU ARE NORMAL!  Most students experience some level of anxiety during an exam.  Test anxiety can get better.  You can improve your exam performance by following certain steps. (*Information provided by NCCC Wellness Center C 122)



  • Study well and be prepared

  • Visualize yourself succeeding

  • Allow yourself plenty of time, and arrive to the exam early

  • Avoid talking with negative students

  • Get a good night's sleep

  • Eat well and bring a snack to the exam



  • Read the directions carefully

  • Budget your test taking time

  • Change positions to help you relax (stretch if needed)

  • If you go blank, skip the question and go on

  • Use breathing exercises (Below)




  • List what worked, and remember these strategies 

  • List what did not work for improvement

  • Celebrate that you are on the road to overcoming this obstacle!

Breathing to reduce anxiety:


With one hand on the chest and the other on the belly, take a deep breath in through the nose, ensuring the diaphragm (not the chest) inflates with enough air to create a stretch in the lungs, then release.  The goal: 6-10 deep, slow breaths per minute for 10 minutes to experience immediate reductions to heart rate and blood pressure. 


To nix tension from head to toe, close the eyes and focus on tensing and relaxing each muscle group for two to three seconds each.  Start with the feet and toes, then move up to the knees, thighs, rear, chest arms, hands, neck, jay and eyes - all while maintaining deep, slow breaths.


Head straight for that "happy place".  Breathe deeply while focusing on pleasant, positive images to replace any negative thoughts.  A beach scene, graduation, a garden...any place that makes you happy and less stressed.

Addressing fear to reduce anxiety:

Realistic fears

I'm not ready for this test!

If I fail this exam I may fail the course!

Answer: Work on time management, increase study time, and make sure you are not seeking perfection at all times.  Moments before we take an exam is when we start to be honest with ourselves about our preparation.  To avoid this fear remember or write down how you are feeling, you will feel better going into the next exam if you prepare more than you have for this one.

Answer: Look ahead at your course syllabus, make sure you understand what portion of your grade each assignment and exam is worth.  Always talk with your professor about struggles and concerns you are having.  Sometimes there are more points left in a course then you realize.  Talk to your advisor about options moving forward if you were to fail the course.

Unfounded fears

Everyone will think I'm not smart enough!

I'm not sure if I'm smart enough for this program!

Answer: At this level of education "smart" is not  a factor.  Focus on how much work/study time you are committing to a course, you have all the information you need to do well.  Your grades are between you and your professor, use early exam grades to determine if you are putting enough time in.  Talk with your professor and seek out tutoring/academic assistance in The Learning Commons.

Answer: All students go through moments of doubt like this...YOU ARE NORMAL!  Remind yourself why you are taking the course to begin with and what passing the course will do for you.  If you are questioning your continued interest in the course or your degree program seek out a Career Advisor in The Office of Student Development to make sure you are in the right degree program to meet your personal interests and career goals. 

Mastering Question Types

Tests can be structured in several different ways.  Each question type requires a different strategy.  Understanding how to prepare for specific types of test questions and then how to approach those questions during a testing situation can greatly improve your outcomes.   Below are some tips, broken down for you by question type. 

Multiple Choice

  • Read the entire question.  Read a multi-choice question in its entirety before glancing over the answer options. Students often think they know what a question is asking before reading it and jump straight to the most logical answer. This is a big mistake and can cost you dearly on multiple-choice exams. Read each question thoroughly before reviewing answer options.

  • Answer it in your mind first.  After reading a question, answer it in your mind before reviewing the answer options. This will help prevent you from talking yourself out of the correct answer.

  • Eliminate wrong answers.  Eliminate answer options which you're 100 percent sure are incorrect before selecting the answer you believe is correct. Even when you believe you know the right answer, first eliminating those answers you know are incorrect will ensure your answer choice is the correct choice.

  • Use the process of elimination.  Using the process of elimination, cross out all the answers you know are incorrect, then focus on the remaining answers. Not only does this strategy save time, it greatly increases your likelihood of selecting the correct answer.

  • Select the best answer.  It's important to select the best answer to the question being asked, not just an answer the seems correct. Often many answers will seem correct, but there is typically a best answer to the question that your professors is looking for.

  • Read every answer option. Read every answer option prior to choosing a final answer. This may seem like a no brainer to some, but it is a common mistake students make. As we pointed out in the previous section, there is usually a best answer to every multiple-choice question. If you quickly assume you know the correct answer, without first reading every answer option, you may end up not selecting the best answer.

  • Answer the questions you know first. If you're having difficulty answering a question, move on and come back to tackle it once you've answered all the questions you know. Sometimes answer easier question first can offer you insight into answering more challenging questions.

  • Make an educated guess.  If it will not count against your score, make an educated guess for any question you're unsure about. (Note: On some standardized tests incorrect answers are penalized. For example, a correct answer may be worth 2 points, an unanswered question 0 points, and an incorrect answer -1 points. On these tests, you can still make an educated guess, but only when you're able to eliminate at least one or two incorrect answers.)

  • Pay attention to these words...  Pay particularly close attention to the words not, sometimes, always, and never. An answer that includes always must be irrefutable. If you can find a single counterexample, then the answer is not correct. The same holds true for the word never. If an answer option includes never a single counterexample will indicate the answer is not correct.

  • "All of the above" and "None of the above"  When you encounter "All of the above" and "None of the above" answer choices, do not select "All of the above" if you are pretty sure any one of the answers provided is incorrect. The same applies for "None of the above" if you are confident that at least one of the answer choices is true.


Essay exams require good organization and writing skills.  You have to understand a good deal of the topic in order to write an essay answer that covers all the expected information. 

  • While studying, look for connections within the material.  How are concepts or situations tied together and what are the specifics

  • Consistent studying and reading should take place throughout the course since essay questions require a great deal of synthesis and analysis of larger more in-depth information

  • Briefly look over the entire test to budget your time for essay answers.  They may take longer than other types of questions

  • Read the essay question carefully.  Watch for key words such as "discuss", "compare", "define", et.

  • Determine the amount of time you'll have for each question, and give more time to higher scoring questions

  • Do a "memory dump".  Jot down on scratch paper any ideas, facts, figures, etc. which could be used in answering the questions

  • Make a brief outline of the major points.  In some cases, even if you can't finish the essay, you can get partial credit for the outline

  • Use proper grammar, punctuation and sentence skills.  Always write complete sentences and begin your essay with the wording of the question.  Example: "The five major causes of the American Revolution were"...

  • Proofread your essay, make sure you answered all parts and make corrections as needed

Short Answer and/or Fill in the Blank

  • Study for understanding of the material, not just memorization

  • While studying, focus on topics and concepts not just facts and dates

  • If timed; pace yourself, not spending too much time on one question.  Skip over tough questions and return to them later

  • If you don't know the complete answer but remember something, write it down.  You may get partial credit if you are partly correct.  Leaving a blank will get you nothing

  • Give general answers if you do not know specifics, again, something might be better than no answer at all

  • If you're provided with a word bank, make sure to cross off words that you've used as you go

  • Consider the amount of space that has been provided.  If the professor leaves a half page for your answer that is a good indication of how long your response should be


True or false questions are often deceiving as you may think they are easy to answer. You only have the choice of either true or false as your answer. However, these questions can be more difficult than they look. Here are some test taking strategies for true false tests.

  • Watch for absolutes such as "always", "never", or "all", and "none".  If they are present, chances are the statement is false

  • Always choose TRUE unless you know for sure that the statement is FALSE

  • For a statement to be TRUE everything about it must be TRUE

  • Never leave a blank - you have a 50% chance of getting it right

  • Unusual sounding statements are likely to be false

  • Be careful when a statement has a negative such as "not", "do not", or "in" (e.g. "infrequent") and "un" (e.g., "unfriendly) - a negative can completely change the meaning of the statement

  • Qualified statements are usually TRUE - Qualified statements include terms such as some, most, sometimes, and rarely

General Test Taking Strategies

The best test taking strategy is being prepared, of course, but there are strategies that you can use to make sure that you are your most effective and efficient during exams.  Managing your anxiety, understanding different question types and implementing general testing strategy can help you score higher and feel more confident about your mastery of the material.  Here is a video that introduces 10 test taking strategies.  Awareness and finding strategies that work for you will help strengthen your test taking skill.

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