Writing an exam involves certain techniques in the presentation of
paper, which gain the attention of the scrutinizer. Here are some
important strategies that can add value to your answers. Go through
the below list of general and specific strategies that work for exam
Test taking strategies
These strategies may be used for most types of tests in nearly every
subject and should become part of every student’s test-taking plan.
They are arranged in the order in which they should be used when
taking a test.
Information dumping refers to quickly writing down all information that
one feels he/she may forget or confuse as the test is completed. If you
fear you will forget or confuse names, dates, formulas, etc., and hence
dump that information on the back of the answer sheet as soon as you
receive it. Refer to the “dumped” information when answering
Read the directions
Read all the directions given for all sections of the test, very carefully
before attempting the exam. Pay special attention to words like “and,”
“or,” “have to,” “may” and “best.” Think well and select which
questions you would like to answer. Check if the answers may be used
more than once, or if there is more than one answer for each question.
Break up complicated directions and run-on sentences into smaller
parts. Circle or underline complex directions so you don’t forget to
follow them carefully.
Scan the test paper
After reading the directions, quickly scan the entire test paper. Take
note of the types of questions: essay, true-false, matching, etc. Pay
particular attention to the number of questions and calculate the
amount of information required to answer each. Look at the point
values for each section or question. Quickly categorize sections as easy
or difficult, and make a note in the margin next to each section. Most
exams encountered in school are accuracy tests, on which students are
graded for content and organization.
Develop a plan
The next step involves quickly developing a plan for completing the
exam. Plan your time on how much to spend on which question, and
stick to your schedule. Leave the time-wasting, lower-point questions
for last. Start with the easy questions, with the material you know the
best, or the type of question (essay, true-false, multiple choice, etc.) on
which you do the best. However, if you start with the questions you
know the most about, be careful not to go overboard and spend too
much time on them.
Plan to give more information in the answers to the higher-point
questions than in the answers to the lower-point questions. Budget
time for check your answers or fill in blanks. Check your watch after
every section or each page to make sure you stay on schedule. Plan to
use the entire time period allowed for the exam; there is no sense in
rushing through the test.
Read the questions carefully
Don’t skip sample questions and answers, because they may give you
clues as to what the teacher expects or how answers should be marked
or organized. The complicated questions should be broke down into
manageable parts initially and then work on each one. Number each
part to make sure all of them are answered. Never over interpret the
questions and search for some hidden meanings.
Make educated guesses
If you happen to face a question, which answer is not known to you,
make a mark to go back to it later after you have worked through the
entire test once. If you work over something you don’t know, you’re
wasting precious time. However, avoid rereading questions over and
over again as that wastes time too. When you don’t get the answer,
look for clues in the questions and the answer choices (for multiple
choice or matching). Clues include grammar (only the correct answer is
grammatically correct), verb tense (past, present or future tenses
should match between question and answer), word type (noun versus
verb), and singular versus plural (should match between question and
answer). Look for content clues in other test questions.
Look out for careless mistakes
Reread the directions to make sure you have completed each section of
the test correctly. Then reread the questions to make sure you read
them accurately and understand what they are asking. Double-check
your answers after you have completed the test and the pressure is
reduced. Reread answers to make sure that you wrote what you
intended to write and that you answered all parts of the question. Be
sure that all numbers and letters are clearly legible. Double check any
math calculations, using a different method if possible. Make sure all
answers are in the right places. Be sure all questions have an answer,
even if it is just a guess (unless you are penalized for wrong answers).
Here are some strategies discussed specifically relating to certain type
Essay tests allow teachers to test students’ abilities in remembering,
organizing, and evaluating information. Let us have a look at the
strategies for taking essay tests presented in the chronological order.
They should be used before and during the exam.
Read the directions carefully
Students should read the directions carefully as they relate to very
important points that should be kept in mind while answering essay
Pay attention to the following points when reading directions:
Are you to answer every question or do you have choices?
Do you need to include certain number of ideas?
Are you expected to write answers with certain specific
information like a few sentences or a paragraph, etc.?
Are you supposed to include examples?
Decide how to divide all available time among the questions. Plan to
spend more time on questions that count for more points allow time to
check answers after completing all questions. Allow half of the time for
writing an outline and half for writing the answer, for each question.
Read all questions before answering them
The habit of reading all the questions before answering reduces test
anxiety as you come across the familiar questions. The brain starts
processing information, by determining what has to be written and up
to what extent of information is requested for the answer and how it
should be answered etc.
While answering complex questions, try to break them down into
smaller parts, numbering each to make sure all are answered. Scribble
some points roughly at the end page of your answer sheet as you read
each question, to hint you something.
Carefully examine instructions for directional words
Observe the verbs that essay questions often contain, which indicate
the students to do certain things. Know what is required by carefully
going through them. Students must know what these words mean in
order to provide the information that the teacher wants. The most
commonly used directional words and their definitions are provided
below. Be aware of variations on these words that are specific to
certain teachers; not all teachers use the words in the same way.
Analyze: Divide the subject into its component parts and discuss each
Compare: Show how the things referred are the same and how they
Contrast: Show how they differ.
Criticize: Examine the advantages and disadvantages and give your
Defend: Give those details that prove it or show its value.
Define: Just give the meaning.
Describe: Give the complete structural and behavioural details of it and
examples that show what it is and how it works.
Discuss and review: Examine from all angles. Teacher might mean
trace, outline, describe, compare, list, explain, evaluate, defend,
criticize, enumerate, summarize, or tell all you know about it.
Distinguish: Tell how this is different from the other ones similar to it.
Evaluate: Give your opinion as to the advantages and disadvantages.
Explain and show: Explain about what it is and Show, in logical
sequence, means explaining the reasons on how or why something
happened (or both).
Illustrate: Give some examples on how it works.
Justify: Give the facts relating to the topic, supporting it and then prove
how it is actually true.
Name, list, tell, and enumerate: Give just the information that is
specifically asked for. List out the things related.
Prove: Show that it is true and that its opposite is false.
Summarize and outline: Give the main points relating to the topic.
Produce the gist of it.
Trace: Show how something developed in a step by step sequence
Good essay writers spend half of their time formulating an outline
before answering a question. This may seem like a large investment of
time, but outlining ensures that each response is organized properly
and answers the question asked. If one has prepared for the exam by
reorganizing information and answering practice essay questions, the
organizing process is completed ahead of time and precious testing
time is saved.
The outline should be initially divided into general points and specific
details. The general points usually are taken from the information in the
question. Otherwise, try to restate different parts of the question. If the
essay questions had been anticipated, try to remember the outline you
prepared before the exam. Such outlines have to be organized in a
manner depending on the question and the discipline.
Five common methods of organization
Organizing answers in chronological order refers to explaining them in
the order of historical events, cause to affect, step-by-step sequence
From general to specific
These include the general topic to subtopics, the theoretical ones to
practical ones, generalizations to specific examples etc.
From least to most
Such answers include presenting the easiest ones to the most difficult
ones, least important to the most important ones, least effective to the
most effective, least controversial to most controversial, least
complicated to most complicated, from the smallest to largest, weakest
to strongest, from worst to best, From most to least, from most known
to least known, from most factual to least factual (fact to opinion) etc.
Giving both sides
Giving both sides include mentioning of pros and cons, assets and
liabilities, similarities and differences, hard and easy, bad and good,
effective and ineffective, weak and strong, complicated and
uncomplicated, controversial and uncontroversial. Remember that
outlining is not the only way to organize information. One may choose
to organize the main ideas and specific details for the essay in an
alternate format, such as a herringbone map, a table, a hierarchy or
grouping, a flow chart, or a spider map.
Active involvement and enthusiasm in answering the essay helps a lot
to make you express better. Recall personal experiences related to the
topic or exciting lectures, books and movies that interested you in the
subject. While these won’t be part of your answer, they help to get you
in the right state of mind.
Writing your answer as if you were writing a mini term paper helps you
give a nice structure to it making it look appealing. Your answer should
have a title, an introduction or topic statement, a body and an ending
or conclusion. The topic statement you selected can be a reworking of
Each general point of your outline should turn out into one paragraph
that begins with a general summary sentence, usually a complete
sentence containing the information in the outline. Skip a line between
The ending lines of your essay can be a summary of the answer or may
be a restatement of the topic sentence. It could be your interpretations
or opinions. Never try to introduce new information in the ending,
because it confuses the reader leaving the topic incomplete. Use ample
details and examples in the answer.
Usage of clear labeling words, such as examples, comparisons,
similarities, contrasts, differences, supports, arguments, reasons, most,
probably, main point, exceptions, etc. will be added advantage.
Underline key words. Think in three’s: three paragraphs, three
sentences per paragraph, three examples per main point, etc. Avoid
one sentence paragraphs. Be direct and to the point.
Don’t waste space
Although it’s a good idea to skip lines between paragraphs, don’t skip
lines between sentences. Avoid decorative or illegible handwriting that
takes up a lot of room on the paper. Also, it is not a good idea to fill up
extra test booklets by wasting space. Some teachers understand
wasted space as a cover up for not knowing the material.
Check your work
You should have some allotted time for checking your answers.
For content, did you answer the question, and stick to your point
For organization, did you answer all parts of the question, and are
paragraphs and sentences logically ordered?
For writing, is your answer clear, is your writing legible, is your
grammar correct, and is your punctuation correct?
If you prepared for the different questions
Sometimes students anticipate that certain questions will be asked, but
the test questions turn out to be different. When this happens, make
sure you have completely answered the questions you do know. Then
look for ambiguity in the questions you don’t know, since lack of clarity
may allow some scope in your answer. Stretch what you do know about
the topic by giving many examples and comparisons. Add less relevant
information by linking it with general statements.
If you run out of time
If you are running out of time and haven’t yet answered all questions,
write down the outlines and indicate that you ran out of time for
that/those question(s). Some teachers will give partial credit for
With all the above mentioned strategies, one can easily get the best results. Are you still struggling with
issues like test anxiety or stress and depression? Do you need help in choosing a nice career? Is your
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