In order to prepare properly for a test, you will need to ask not only what the content for the test will be, but also which types of questions the test will contain. Different question types require different study strategies. Listed below are descriptions of a number of different question types as well as study and preparation strategies for each.
Multiple-choice tests usually consist of a question or statement to which you respond by selecting the best answer from among a number of choices. Multiple-choice tests typically test what you know, whether or not you understand (comprehension), and your ability to apply what you have learned (application). Some questions might assess your ability to analyze or evaluate information, but these kinds of questions are difficult to write so they aren't common on multiple-choice exams.
There are no special tricks for studying for multiple-choice exams. General study skills apply:
- Stay current with assignments.
- Review your notes after each class.
- Schedule regular study sessions.
- Indentify materials you don't understand and ask questions.
- Form study groups to share notes and check each other's understanding.
- Create your own multiple choice questions about the content for practice.
Tips for Taking Multiple-choice Exams
- Read the question or statement carefully.
- Try to answer the question in your head before reading the answer choices.
- Read all of the answer choices carefully.
- Eliminate answers you know are incorrect
- If you know more than on answer is correct, consider if "all of the above" is possibly the correct choice.
- If "all of the above" isn't a choice, or isn't the correct choice, then select the BEST answer from those you think are correct.
- Never leave a multiple-choice question blank unless you are penalized for guessing. If you don't know the answer, eliminate the ones you know are not correct and then make an educated guess.
[top of page]
True-false tests contain statements that the student marks as being either true or false. In order to qualify as true, all parts of the statement must be true. In general, true-false tests check your knowledge of facts. Again, general study skills and best practices apply to studying for true-false tests.
Tips for Responding to True-false Questions:
- Every part of a true sentence must be "true."
- Read each statement carefully and pay close attention to negatives, qualifiers, absolutes, and long strings of statements.
- Qualifiers like "never," "always," and "every" mean that the statement must be true all of the time. Usually these types of qualifiers lead to a false answer.
- Qualifiers like "usually, sometimes, and generally" mean that if the statement can be considered true or false depending on the circumstances. Usually these types of qualifiers lead to a true answer.
- If any part of the question is false, then the entire statement is false, but just because part of a statement is true doesn't necessarily make the entire statement true.
[top of page]
Essay questions require students to write answers to statements or questions. To complete a successful essay exam, you need to be able to recall relevant information and to organize it in a clear way, generating a thesis and building to a conclusion. Instructors give essay tests to determine whether or not students can make connections among various ideas, apply course information to new situations, and (most importantly) demonstrate that they have made the information their own.
Essay exams are a useful tool for finding out if you are able to sort through a large body of information, figure out what is important, and explain why it is important. Essay exams challenge you to come up with key course ideas and put them into your own words using the interpretive or analytical skills you've practiced in the course. Essay questions are typically used to assess your ability to analyze or evaluate material, as well as to create (synthesize) new material based on your knowledge.
You should pay close attention to the words in the question or statement, called directives, which tell you exactly what is expected in your answer.
Directives ask you to answer or present information in a particular way. For a list of words and explanations,
see Study Guides and Strategies, essay terms.
Tips for Preparing for an Essay Exam
- List all topics you expect to be on the test, including key topics covered in class and in the readings. List important subtopics for each.
- Organize your notes and readings around the list of topics and review all the materials to be covered.
- For each topic and subtopic, specify who, what, where, when, how, and why.
Tips for Taking Essay Exams
- Read through the questions once and note if you have any choice in answering questions or if you are to answer only some of the questions
- Pay attention to how the question is phrased and to the "directives," words such as "compare," "contrast," "criticize," etc.
- Answers will come to mind immediately for some questions.
- Jot down thoughts, ideas, and keywords as you read each question.
- Set up a time schedule to answer, review, and edit all questions.
- If six questions are to be answered in sixty minutes and are all of equal difficulty and value, allow yourself only seven minutes for each.
- If questions are "weighted," prioritize that into your time allocation for each question. When the time is up for one question, stop writing, leave space below your answer (if it is a pencil and paper exam), and begin the next question. Incomplete answers can be completed during the review time.
- Before attempting to answer a question, put it in your own words then compare your version with the original. Do they mean the same thing? If they don't, you've misread the question. You'll be surprised how often they don't agree.
- Focus on what you DO know about the question, not on what you don't know.
- Make a brief outline for each question.
- Number the items in the order you will discuss them to be sure you don't miss any part of the question.
- Get right to the point.
- Use words from the question in your answer.
- Begin with a strong first sentence that states the main idea of your essay.
- Use your first paragraph to provide an overview of your essay and present your key points.
- Use the rest of your essay to discuss these points in more detail.
- Back up your points with specific information, examples, or quotations from your readings and notes.
- Make sure you answer everything the question is asking.
- Instructors/graders are positively influenced by compactness, completeness, and clarity of an organized answer.
- Writing in the hope that the right answer will somehow turn up is time-consuming and usually futile.
- To know a little and to present that little well is, by and large, superior to knowing much and presenting it poorly the former will generally earn you a better grade.
- Begin each paragraph with a key point from the introduction.
- Develop each point in a complete paragraph.
- Use transitions, or enumerations, to connect your points.
- Keeep your time limit in mind.
- It is better to write "toward the end of the 19th century" than to say "in 1894" when you can't remember, whether it's 1884 or 1894. In many cases, the approximate time is all that is wanted; unfortunately 1894, though approximate, may be incorrect, and will usually be marked accordingly.
- Summarize in your last paragraph:
- Restate your central idea and indicate why it is important.
- Complete any questions left incomplete.
- Allow time to review all questions.
- Edit and correct misspellings, incomplete words and sentences, and miswritten dates and numbers.
- Outline the answers to the questions you don't have time to finish.
[top of page]
Short-answer questions or statements are similar to essay questions, except they can be answered with just a few words or sentences. They test foundational knowledge which is usually factual. When completing short-answer questions, it's important to pay attention to the directive words in each item.
Tips for Preparing for Short-answer Exams
- Create flash cards with key terms, dates, and concepts on the front and definitions, events, and explanations on the back.
- Develop summary sheets of the course materials.
- Focus on key words, events, vocabulary, and concepts.
- Organize your notes and materials around the key words, events, vocabulary, and concepts you have identified.
Tips for Taking Short-answer Exams
- Read the question carefully and make sure you answer everything that is requested.
- When answering questions, respond directly to the question or directive focusing on keywords and ideas.
- Write concise answers presenting key facts in short sentences according to the test instructions.
[top of page]
Fill-in-the-blank items, also known as completion questions, provide students with a partial sentence or question and then require them to write the word (or words) in the blank that best completes the statement or question. Fill-in-the-blank and short-answer questions test your ability to recollect facts you have learned.
Tips for Preparing for Fill-in-the-blank Exams
- As you organize and review your class notes, underline new terms, important dates, noteworthy phrases, and the names of key people.
- Review readings and other materials in the same manner; underline important information and put parenthesis around key sentences.
- Make lists or flash cards of the information you have identified to study.
Tips for Taking Fill-in-the-blank Exams
- Read each question or statement carefully, picking up clues about the answer from the wording of the question.
- Completion questions test facts and basic knowledge, so don't overanalyze the question.
[top of page]
To complete a matching assessment activity, you must select one item from each of two columns. The two items must fit together correctly based on the assessment directions.
Tips for Taking Matching Exams
- Read the directions to see if only one match is allowed per item.
- Carefully read all of the choices.
- Determine if what is being asked for is a person, place, thing, etc.
- Answer the items you are sure of first.
- If necessary, check off items as you use them.