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College Resource Center : Accounting : General Study Aids : Effective Test-Taking Strategies

Effective Test-Taking Strategies

Preparing to Take a Test and Handling Test Anxiety

  • Get a full night's sleep the night before the test. On the day of the test, you need to feel mentally and physically prepared.
  • Try to avoid additional stress at home and on the day of the test.
  • If exercising is part of your routine, the stimulus of a workout--even a short one--would be a good way to get yourself physically relaxed and mentally alert.
  • Eat a light breakfast. If the test is later in the day, avoid eating a heavy meal just before the test.
  • Wear comfortable clothing.
  • Make sure you have the supplies you need. Take a good pen that does not run and a pencil in case you want to write notes or make checkmarks on the test paper to erase before turning in the test.
  • When you get to class, sit and relax for a moment. Do some deep breathing exercises if you feel anxious.
  • Talk positively to yourself. Tell yourself you are going to do well, reassure yourself that you are prepared, and believe that your memory will be sharp and accurate.
  • Arrive early so you have time to look over notes at the last minute instead of frantically reviewing them in your head.
  • Avoid conversing with classmates about the test or listening to conversations about the test. Anything others may say about the test that is in sharp contrast to what you are thinking could make you feel anxious.
  • Remember to wear a watch so that you can easily keep track of the time during the test. Looking up at a clock in a room may cause you to glance around, which can break your concentration.
  • Do not get hung up when you do not know an answer. Losing time by dwelling on a hard question will increase your anxiety because you will have to rush to complete the test. Go back to the harder questions after you have worked through the end of the test.

Watching for Key Words in Essay Test Questions

Discuss. This is probably the most open-ended type of essay question. Normally a particular aspect of a topic will be requested as the focus of the discussion. Your instructor is probably looking for key points that were emphasized when this topic was discussed in class or presented in the reading materials. When answering this type of question, it is important to focus on major points and not get caught up in side issues or details that may also have been covered concerning the topic.

Trace. This word indicates that you should discuss the stages or phases of something, such as a political movement or change in scientific thought over a specified period of time.

Explain. This word indicates a specific question that relies on reasoning. You will often be asked to explain "why" or "how." Logic is important in a question that calls for explanation. Remember not to confuse reasons with facts.

Compare and Contrast. Compare means to show similarities, and contrast means to show differences. However, sometimes the word compare is used to mean similarities and differences. Use your judgement, depending on the subject matter, when you see the word compare used alone. You may be asked to compare/contrast properties or characteristics, points of view, strategies, or other elements--usually of no more than two things. The best approach for most topics is to compare/contrast on a point-by-point basis, rather than discussing all the points for one and then all of the points for the other.

Analyze. To analyze something means to identify its components and explain something about them. What you need to explain should be clearly stated in the question. In fact, an analysis is really a sophisticated form of explanation. It implies that, having studied the topic, you would have greater insight than someone who has not. For that point in time you become an "expert" on the topic, giving your insights--much as a political analyst tells us what the President "said" right after we have listened to a nationally televised speech. The word interpret is used in a similar fashion, but an interpretation is more likely to be based on your personal opinions and ideas, whereas an analysis is more frequently based on facts.

Summarize. A summary is a brief overview, covering important points without going into great detail about them. In a summary, you will often draw a conclusion about the subject based on the points summarized.

Describe. This term calls for details of, for example, a physical object, a process, or a concept. It might call for a description of features, ideas, characteristics, or other elements.

Source: Adapted from College Success by Roberta Moore and Barbara Baker.



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