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Taking tests can be exciting, stressful, and anxiety-inducing in equal measure.

Whether you’re a student gearing up for your SAT or a teacher helping your students revise for a rigorous test, we’ve put together some essential test-taking tips to boost the chances of success.

Of course, it is important to understand that these test-taking strategies must be adapted to suit the relevant subject or test type. For example, a math exam student will need to use different skills compared to a student writing a history assignment.

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Step 1: Give yourself enough time to prepare

No special techniques or strategies can replace thorough preparation and hard work. This means studying hard throughout the school semester rather than cramming your revisions into the week before your test. If you fail to absorb the relevant course content fully, you will find completing the test very difficult.

To ensure you are fully prepared, you must spend as much time as you need revising any course material you have struggled to understand. Returning to difficult topics can be frustrating and tedious, but doing so will help to ensure that you are well-equipped to take on any difficult test questions. It may be worth asking your teacher for extra help and guidance if you find a particularly difficult topic.

Step 2: Arrive early and focus on keeping calm

One of the most valuable test-taking skills is keeping calm and focused before your pen hits the paper. Arrive early, breathe deeply and gently sip some water to calm your nerves. Doing so could help in the following ways:

  • Your confidence will increase
  • You will be able to stay focused on the test and will be less prone to distraction
  • Arriving early will give you some extra time to ask any last-minute questions to your teachers or to discuss your revision with other students

Step 3: Listen carefully to all test instructions given by your instructor

Teachers often make last-minute tweaks to test instructions, so it is important to listen attentively to everything they say before the test begins. If you miss any instructions, do not hesitate to ask for them to be repeated.

Step 4: Perform a ‘memory dump’

Depending on the test you are taking, a so-called ‘memory dump’ may be a useful way to improve your performance and ensure that you can display your wide range of knowledge. The premise of the ‘memory dump’ is very simple. You just need to quickly note down all of the useful information you will likely need for the test as soon as you begin. This will ensure that you do not have any frustrating mind blocks halfway through the test. Helpful information to write could include:

  • Equations
  • Formulas
  • Dates
  • Author names

Step 5: Read test instructions VERY carefully

It is easy to misunderstand test questions if you do not pay close attention to every word. Indeed, test directions usually contain vital information that will help you to score as many marks as possible. In this way, it is important to read questions carefully and to realize that teachers often throw in trick questions to throw students off. For example, there may be two correct answers to multiple-choice questions, or students may be asked to complete two questions out of five options.

Failing to recognize this kind of information could seriously damage your grade.

Step 6: Plan how you will use the time you are given

Plan out how much time you will dedicate to each exam question and stick to this schedule. This will help to ensure that you finish on time and gather as many marks as possible. You must give yourself more time for very difficult questions or those with more marks.

It may also be a good idea to complete the questions you are confident about answering first and approach the more difficult ones afterward.

Step 7: Stay positive

One of the most difficult test tips is maintaining an optimistic attitude throughout the test. Negative thought processes could lead to a loss of confidence and could encourage you to waste time. If you find yourself panicking about the difficulty of the test questions, start by calmly answering the questions you know the answer to. If the questions throw you off, try to make an educated guess based on the revision you have been doing.

It is also important not to over-analyze any patterns that emerge in the test. For example, if you are taking a multiple-choice test where many of the answers appear to be a this does not necessarily mean you are going wrong. It could be a way to test your confidence in your answers.

Step 8: Trust your instincts

If you’re unsure about an answer, stick to your gut instincts. Lingering on a question and constantly changing your answer may actually be counterproductive by eating into your time.

Step 9: Try to finish early

Try to finish the test early so that you can go back and review your answers carefully. If you are writing an essay, you can also use any extra time to review your paper for spelling mistakes or grammar issues.

Step 10: Assess your performance and build on it in the future

Successfully passing tests is a skill that can be built up over time. In this way, treating every test as an opportunity to hone your test-taking skills is a good idea. Start by analyzing which test strategies pay off and which take up too much time. If there are any areas you particularly struggle with, do not hesitate to ask your teacher for some advice.