Top 8 test taking strategies for students

Taking a test is hard, and you need test taking strategies to excel. Test are usually stressful, and you seem to forget everything you've studied the night before.

Coming from a personal instructor, the most common question is “What are the best test taking strategies?”. And that's a great question to ask. Honestly.

What you have to keep in mind is that different test require different strategies. For example, the SAT are completely different from the GRE. Same goes for the ACT and your finals etc.

While each test has it's own set of test taking strategies, we've listed the top 8 most common of them all.

The best test taking strategies are:

  1. Be prepared
  2. Arrive early and take time to relax
  3. Listen to last minute instructions
  4. Do the easy tasks first
  5. Go for wrong answers
  6. Write down your “cheat sheet”
  7. Find clues within the tests
  8. Know when to leave a blank answer

Bonus: Not listing it in, the very best test taking strategy is to test yourself first. Do not let the exam be the first test you take. You have to test yourself first – in real-ish conditions – before actually taking the real test. This allows you to be prepared beforehand.

8 best test taking strategies

test taking preparation

Be prepared

This goes without saying that there's no substitution to being prepared. If you haven't studied throughout the semester, it's going to be harder to be prepared. Also, if you haven't reviewed anything before the test, you will not know the test material.

In this case, no strategy in the world will help you. This only goes if you've studied at all for the test. The best way to be prepared is to:

Spend as much time as needed to fully understand the material that will be covered on the test. We can't stress that out enough that you have to know the material in order to succeed. This will guarantee you to score well and achieve a high score.

Since most teachers “modify” the questions, you have to understand what the answer means and not just remember it. This way, you will never get surprised of the questions.

If you're having trouble studying, check out our blog on 11 study tips and techniques to study better.

Arrive early and take time to relax

Leave 10 minutes early from home and use those 10 minutes to just relax and feel good.

This way you'll:

  • Increase confidence on yourself
  • Organize your thoughts better
  • Be narrow to focus for the test
  • Allows you to ask any last minute questions

Many studies have shown that teachers or instructors are aware that students need help, and they're very opened to help. The students who ask last-minute questions are usually called “brain pickers”. Asking last minutes questions also allows you to memorize things better and understand the material better.

Listen to the last-minute instructions

More often than not, the instructor will give instructions a minute or two before taking the test.

If you listen closely to it, you might benefit from it. The main benefits would be:

  • Being prepared for last-minute alteration of details by the instructor
  • Avoiding the possibility of anxiety increasing due to missing the test instructions
  • The possibility that the instructor will “slip” an answer while giving you instructions

But, if by any chance you miss the instructions don't be afraid to ask  for them to be repeated. The instructor will come to your desk and walk you through it.

Do the easy tasks first

Easily 99% of all tests allow you to pick whichever question you want to answer first. What we suggest is that you pick the easiest one to do first. This helps you a lot on “cleaning up” the test, and giving you time for the more complex ones.

At first, you might not realize which questions are hard and which are easy. That's easy to solve, as long as you try them all out and make judgement as you move on.

Doing the easy tasks first allows you to:

  • Gain momentum
  • Increase your confidence (very important)
  • Review the material before moving on
  • Sorting out the test

Additionally, this helps a lot when you're taking a timed test. It enables you to get to more questions faster as you won't get stuck on a hard question.

test taking easy

Go for wrong answers

You read that right.

On multiple-choice, there are far more wrong answers than right ones. Obviously.  In a question with 4 answers, usually 3 out of 4 are wrong. That's 75%!

This indicated directly that the chance of finding a wrong answer is significantly higher than finding the right one. Obviously, again.

That being said, you have to seek out and eliminate what you know is a wrong answer. This allows you to save time, opposed to looking what's correct. After all, it's easier to find the 75% rather than the 25%. This test taking strategy requires mental shift, but it works like a charm.

What helps more is if you cross them out physically too, not just in your mind. X the hell out of them.

Write down your “cheat sheets” on the test

To clear things out, we're not supporting you to cheat. Ever.

What we're trying to say is that when you start the test, write down anything you have memorized and will need for the exam.

For example:

  • Math – write down the formulas you will need
  • History – write down the most important dates and timelines
  • Physics – write down the formulas you know
  • Geography – write down the capitals of the states you know

You can always use acronyms or mnemonic device to remember your German or Spanish vocabulary. Write it down immediately on the test using it as an alternative to cheat sheets.

Simply write down any kind of thing you've memorized for the test right into the test. This helps you save energy for “storing” it inside your brain.

test taking cluesFind clues within the test

Sometimes in tests, there are questions that are answered by another question.

One time when I was taking a test in Geography, the second question said: “What is the capital of Switzerland?”. I struggled for like 5 minutes to remember because I knew I read it somewhere, decided to skip it. Not three or four questions below, the question said: “What is the population of Basel?” and it got to me.

What I've learned from that is that if a question is hard, don't sweat it. Skip it and save it for later.

And if you're watchful enough, you might've end up with a clue to answer it from a different question like me.

Of course, that was just pure luck (or was it?) and it will not happen all the time. But it's worth a shot.

Know when to leave a blank answer (and when not)

Some tests have bad answer penalties. You can get minus points for answering wrong.

This usually goes only for the tests you take at school and this policy doesn't apply to tests like:

These tests are for a higher level and don't deduct points if you don't answer correctly.

Depending on whether you get minus points, you should guess the answer if you're not sure if it's right or wrong.

For example, on open response or essay questions you should always write whatever you can about the topic. This means even if you're not sure whether it's the right or the wrong answer.

Doing this only increases your chances or earning at least some points.

The only time you're supposed to leave a blank answer is if the test is timed out and you get the feeling that you might not finish in time. In this case, you should put all your time and energy into answering the question you know and get maximum points. If you have time at the end, go back to the blank ones and give them another shot.

While these test taking strategies are great and can help you a lot, there's one “law” that is more efficient. Prepare properly before taking a test. Nothing beats that!