Prep for Success: Studying and Test taking Techniques

Test Preparation Strategies
Know what to study.
Review the topics on the syllabus.
Professor or TA (teaching assistant) may mention topics that will be on the
exam in class (or you can ask).
Review notes – what did the professor spend the most time talking about?
Review main points in reading assignments
Are details like names and dates important to study or are the “big
concepts” (e.g., the move from an agrarian to an industrial society) more
important to know?
Ask the professor or TA if you are “on the right track” with your study plan.
Ask whether you should focus more on the book or notes. (Don’t always get
an answer to this question but it is always worth asking!).
Some final exams are “cumulative”. This means that they cover material
from the beginning of the semester. Therefore, it is important to keep all
previous tests that are handed back to you to study from. However, there
are many classes where tests are reused and so students do not get them
back. If tests are not returned to you, make an appointment with the
professor or TA to review your tests.
Test Preparation Strategies
Who should you study with?
*Should you study by yourself or with
1. Those who get confused or doubt
themselves when studying with
others are better off studying
2. Those whose learning styles
indicate that they are social
learners are better off studying in
a group (or at least with one other
Test Preparation Strategies
How should you study?
*Know the format of the test – for example,
multiple-choice or essay.
*Multiple-choice is the most common
format for introductory classes and for
upper level classes in such subjects as the
sciences at U of I.
How to study for a
multiple-choice exam:
1. Focus on studying details like definitions, lists,
2. Review words in bold print in textbooks
3. Review information you have highlighted or
taken notes on in the text
4. Summarize and put information on note cards
(works best for definitions of new vocabulary
or concepts and lists of processes)
How To study for a
multiple-choice exam:
5. Group note cards by topic or some other
similarity to make it easier to study from them.
6. Don’t just study individual cards or facts; make
associations/connections between them.
7. Study examples of terms/concepts.
8. Complete practice test questions, if available.
Focus on the application of information.
9. Remember to “quiz” yourself to be sure you can
recall the information.
Reflection Questions
What has worked best for you
when preparing for a multiple
choice exam? What has been
difficult in preparing for a
multiple choice exam?
How To study for
an essay exam:
1. Study the “big” overall concepts of the class as
well as some relevant examples of each
2. Ask yourself questions that your professor
might ask (if you don’t get study guide
questions). Include “What”, “Who”, “Where”,
“When” and (especially) “Why” questions.
Writing down the answers to your questions
becomes your own study guide.
How To study for
an essay exam:
3. Some classes require you to apply the
knowledge you have to a specific situation.
Practice by making up possible questions. For
example, “How would Franklin Delano
Roosevelt looked at our political system
today?” In order to answer the question, you
have to know what Roosevelt thought in his
day, you would have to know about our
political system today and you would have to
be able to apply this knowledge to answer the
How To study for
an essay exam:
4. Study not only the definitions of terms
and concepts but examples of those terms
and concepts and make associations/
connections between terms and
concepts. Also, practice being able to apply
the information (for example, if you were given
a case study).
Reflection Question:
What works for you when
studying for an essay exam?
How To study for a math exam:
1. Practice what you are learning by completing
homework problems and extra example
problems, if necessary, for you to understand the
process and the formulas needed.
2. Math classes are usually cumulative – every
new topic builds upon what you have learned
previously. Because of this, it is important not to
wait until the last minute to learn all the
material. As you learn a new topic, check to see
how it relates to something you have already
How To study for a math exam:
3. Be aware that college courses in math
usually require you to apply your skills to
familiar and unfamiliar types of problems
instead of just memorizing a problem type
or formula.
4. Apply Pólya's four-step process:
1.) What quantity is the problem asking you to
2.) Which skills, procedures or formulas can be
used to solve the problem?
3.) Solve the problem.
4.) Review your solution. Does it seem reasonable?
If not, review the steps you took to solve the
problem to check for mistakes.
From: George Pólya, How to Solve It, Princeton University Press, Princeton (1945)
Other alternative problem solving
1. Draw a picture or diagram of the
2. make a list of steps
3. work the problem backward from the
4. try to “reason it out”
5. try alternative example problems of the
same type.
How to do “word problems”/
applied problems:
1) Convert the problem into mathematics.
2) Draw a picture and label it with all the
quantities (numbers or variables)
mentioned in the problem. In order to
finish converting the problem into
mathematics, find equations which
describe relationships among the
variables, and describe the goal of the
problem mathematically.
How to do “word problems”/
applied problems:
3) Solve the problem you have come up with
using the four-step process above or
other problem-solving strategies.
4) Once you have solved the problem
mathematically, convert the math back to
words so that you have now solved the
original applied problem.
For more information, please refer to this website:
General Strategies for Test Taking
Most of the time, your first answer is the correct
one. Thus, in most cases, it is to your advantage
NOT to change your first answer. Many students
tend to “second guess” or doubt themselves and this
causes them to change their answers.
2. An exception to “A.” above is if you know that you
tend to be impulsive when taking an exam and often
pick the first answer that you see without reading
the other choices. In this case, review the question
and all of the answer choices, if possible, before
handing in your exam.
Test Taking Strategies
When an exam gives you choices like “a and b”, “a, b
and c”, “a and d” or “all of the above”, take each
individual choice and determine whether or not the
statement is true or false for that individual choice.
Put a “t” by each statement that is true. Then count
up all the “t’s” and select the appropriate answer.
2. Many students can narrow their answers down to
two choices and then have problems selecting the
correct answer. Look at each choice and try to
determine the word or words that make the choices
different. You can also try to put the response
choices into your own words and try to answer the
question by “matching” your answer with the closest
related answer choice.
Reflection Question:
What other strategies have worked for you?
Essay Test Taking Strategies
1. Understand what the question is asking
for. Circle or underline words that tell
you what you need to do to answer the
essay question. This way you will give
only the information that is required and
not any irrelevant information. This can
remind you to answer each part of the
Essay Test Taking Strategies
2. Should be organized with a thesis and written
in paragraph form, unless your instructor
informs you otherwise. Sometimes, students
lose points in their answer if it is unorganized
and their points are hard to follow. To combat
this, be sure to proofread/review your
answer. Also, be sure to “back up”/support
your points with examples.
Managing Your Time with Extended
Time Test Accommodations
1. Extended time” accommodation does NOT
mean unlimited time. Thus, you still need to
be able to manage your time when you take
an exam with extended time. Extended time
is usually 1.5 or 2.0 times the regular time
for an exam.
2. Try not to spend too much time on one
question (know when to “let go”).
3. Know how much time to spend on each
question by noting how many points the
question is worth.
Managing Your Time with Extended
Time Test Accommodations (cont.)
4. Plan to spend a few minutes before the test
reviewing the test and some time after you
have finished the test to review your answers
before handing it in.
5. If you tend to be impulsive and choose the first
answer you see, it is important to review your
answers at the end of the exam.
6. However, if you tend to “second guess”
yourself and talk yourself out of the correct
answer, then just review the questions that
you were really not sure about.