12 Test-Taking Strategies To Help You Prepare for an Exam

Updated February 3, 2023

A person surrounded by research or study materials sits on their couch at home while studying the screen of their laptop.

Test-taking strategies are helpful methods that individuals can use to prepare for an important exam. If you have an upcoming test or are studying for an exam, you can use test-taking strategies to prepare and increase your confidence before taking a test. There are many methods to help prepare and perform well during an exam, and knowing your options may help identify which strategies work best for you.

In this article, we define test-taking strategies and share 12 strategies you can use to prepare for an exam, along with benefits and tips to consider while preparing.

What are test-taking strategies?

Test-taking strategies are techniques and methods that individuals can use when preparing for and completing an exam. It's useful to perform test-taking strategies when preparing for big exams, like a college entrance exam, a standardized test or a certification exam. You can use these strategies for short tests and quizzes as well. Test-taking strategies can vary depending on the type of exam you're taking. For example, college students may use different test-taking strategies than elementary-aged students.

Here are some benefits that you might encounter when using test-taking strategies to perform well on an exam:

  • Earning a higher score: By using test-taking strategies, you can earn a higher score on your exams. This is because you may use strategies that help you better prepare for your exams.

  • Feeling more relaxed: You can feel more relaxed when taking an exam if you're using test-taking strategies. For example, if you arrive at the exam early, you may have time to relax and study before starting the test.

  • Maintaining a positive attitude toward tests: It's common for individuals to feel anxiety about tests. By using test-taking strategies, you may feel a more positive attitude toward exams since you can prepare properly, which may help you feel confident about your exam performance.

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12 test-taking strategies

Here are some different strategies that may help you perform well on an exam:

1. Study exam materials

To prepare for an exam or assessment, be sure to spend a sufficient amount of time studying. Try searching online to find the subjects or questions you might encounter on the exam and study that material thoroughly. Here are some tips to help you study:

  • Limit distractions, like phones or televisions, while studying.

  • Take breaks periodically to help you focus.

  • Make vibrant notes using colors or designs to help you remember them.

  • Study in a quiet setting.

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2. Attend preparation courses

Some institutions offer preparation courses for specific exams. Consider attending one of these courses to better prepare for the exam. You may learn about the material on the exam, or you might have the chance to take a practice exam during the course. Use online resources to determine if any colleges or educational institutions near you offer preparation courses for the exam you're getting ready to take. Some colleges also offer online preparation courses.

3. Consider taking a practice test

Taking practice exams before taking a real test is a helpful test-taking strategy. Practice exams give you insight into the type of questions you may answer on the test and can help you determine your areas of improvement. If you have trouble with a specific question or subject, try to remember it so that you can study it more before taking the exam. Search online to find practice tests or contact the institution offering the exam to learn if they provide practice tests.

Related: 6 Tips To Help You Find the Motivation To Study

4. Rest the night before the exam

It's important to give your body sufficient rest the night before the exam. Try to get at least eight hours of sleep. To limit potential distractions during the exam, be sure to eat a proper meal and try to use the restroom beforehand.

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5. Arrive early

It's useful to arrive early to your exam to help you relax before beginning the test. Try arriving 15 to 20 minutes before your exam starts. This can give you more time to adapt to the test-taking environment and prepare your materials. Bring study materials that you can examine while waiting to begin. Don't cram your study materials while you wait for your test.

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6. Save the challenging questions for last

Before answering questions on the test, search through the entire exam. This can give you a brief overview of the exam's content and it allows you to recognize a particular set of questions or a subject that you're most familiar with. If the exam proctor allows, try answering the questions you're most comfortable with first, then move to the more challenging ones. Doing this makes you feel more relaxed and confident when answering challenging questions.

7. Read questions several times before selecting an answer

Before deciding on the correct answer, read a question several times. This allows you toto understand the question betternd you may be able to recall that question from your studying or practice exams. If you're taking the exam alone, consider reading the question out loud to yourself and if you're taking the exam in a room with others, read the question several times in your head.

Related: 7 Types of Assessment Tests for Jobs and What To Expect

8. Identify keywords

Keywords are words or phrases that can give you insight into how to answer a question. Identifying keywords may help you understand the question, which may assist you in forming a correct answer. For example, if the word "define" is in a question, you likely define a word in your answer. Here are some other common keywords on exams:

  • Compare

  • Contrast

  • Write

  • Evaluate

  • Explain

  • Provide examples of

9. Use scratch paper

Scratch paper is a blank paper where you may write notes to help you complete the exam. Each exam has different rules regarding the use of scratch paper. Some exam proctors don't allow you to use scratch paper, while others allow you to use scratch paper for specific portions of an exam. If the proctor lets you use scratch paper, write notes that may help you answer questions. You may write down math formulas, helpful lists or exam tips. Depending on the exam's guidelines, you may submit the scratch paper along with your exam.

10. Ask questions

While completing an exam, you may encounter a question that's challenging to understand due to formatting issues or readability. It's helpful to ask for clarification to help you better understand a question. While proctors often can't give you information about the answer to the question, they may clarify the question's content or directions.

11. Check your exam before submitting it

Once you finish all the exam parts, check it before submitting it. This ensures that you complete each part of the test and lowers the chance of missing a question or section. Consider taking a five-minute break after finishing the exam before reading it through to help you feel refreshed when checking your answers.

Related: 21 Study Tips for College To Help You Succeed

12. Relax during the test

Another strategy people use during tests is relaxing. This can include taking deep breaths and working on relaxing tense muscles, which are more common during testing since you may feel stressed. Make sure you pay attention to what your body needs for relaxation and take 30 seconds to one minute to relax periodically throughout the test.

Tips for employing the right test-taking strategies

Here are some tips to consider when searching for the right test-taking strategies:

Use the strategies that work best for you

As you begin taking tests, you can learn the test-taking strategies that work best for you. Try to review your previous exam scores to identify the strategies that helped you the most and the strategies that may have little effect on your performance. This can help you better prepare for your future exams. For example, you may find that taking practice exams doesn't help your performance while taking preparation courses and using scratch paper allows you to perform successfully.

Talk to colleagues or peers about their preferred strategies

It may be helpful to speak with your colleagues or peers about the strategies that they prefer using while taking a test. By doing this, you may identify new ideas or strategies that can help you or offer them useful techniques they can adopt in their test-taking routines. Talk with them about their preferred strategies, then ask them to describe what the strategy involves and how they benefit from it.

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Review areas of improvement

After receiving the test, find areas of improvement in your test-taking strategies. You may also identify a specific subject or question type that requires improvement. For example, if you want to write more effective essays, you may use a strategy that involves writing practice. It's important to review areas of improvement from previous exams to help you do better on future tests.


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