How to Ace your Exams
I’m probably alone in this, but for the most part, I actually enjoy taking exams. As a naturally anxious person, they stress me out, but for the most part, I really enjoy being able to put all of the knowledge that I’ve learned to use. There is no more rewarding feeling to me than taking a final exam in a really difficult subject that I’ve put a lot of work into mastering.
If you don’t feel the same way it’s totally understandable. I’m here to share with you my secrets to exam taking that help me get good grades, and hopefully knowing these will make your exams at least a little less stressful.
.5) Study early and often.
This isn’t a guide about how to study, but it’s so important that you prepare well before an exam! Be sure to study not just the night before the test, but all throughout the unit and especially the week leading up to it!
1) Familiarize yourself with the exam.
As soon as you get the exam, write your name on it. Then, flip through it so you know what you’ll be asked to do. Is the exam all multiple choice? Will certain sections be harder than others?
If I have an exam composed of both multiple choice and essay questions, I make sure to read the essay questions first. Then I do the multiple choice questions, being sure to keep the essay questions in the back of my mind so I can start thinking about what to write about.
2) Do the easiest questions first.
This is especially important if your exam is timed. You don’t want to miss out on easy points because you spent all of your time on a couple of hard problems.
If I don’t have a pretty good guess at the answer right away, I skip the question and come back later. I always make a small mark (even if I’m not allowed to write on the test because a small line by the question number can easily be erased-shh!) so I know to come back. If you’re using a scantron, be absolutely sure that you skip the line of the question you skip. Getting off on the numbering can devastate your grade.
3) Use the process of elimination.
If a multiple choice question has five possible answers, you’ve only got a 20% chance of guessing right. However, if you can eliminate two answers, your chances shoot up to 33%. You hear this all of the time, but that is because it works.
4) Watch out for clues in other questions.
Sometimes, a question will actually be answered on the next page if you keep an eye out for that sort of thing. More often, a clue will be given that eliminates a possible answer from being correct. If one question asks what the purpose of the ribosomes is, and another question says that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, you can assume that the answer to the first question is not the powerhouse of the cell. This doesn’t answer the question, but it gives you higher odds of guessing correctly.
5) Look for questions with opposites.
If a question asks “which of the following is false” and then has answers like “hot air rises” and “hot air sinks”, you know the answer has to be one of those because they cannot both be true. Even if you have no idea what the right answer is, you’ve narrowed it down to 50/50 odds of guessing right. These are usually a little trickier than this, but keep an eye out for them.
6) Learn the professor’s testing style.
I’ve had professors who only put “all of the above” if that’s the right answer, and professors who frequently use “all of the above” even though it’s almost never the right answer. Picking up on patterns like these don’t guarantee you’ll get the right answer, but they’re a good place to start if you have to guess.
7) Outline your essays.
Take a few minutes to think about what you’re going to say and in what order to save it. This is stressful because it feels like you’re wasting time you should be using to write, but having a simple outline before you start will save you time in the writing process because you’ll know what to say.
8) Be sure to spell words correctly.
This especially applies if you are given a word bank, or if the word you are using is written in the prompt or elsewhere in the test. This sounds so simple but I’ve heard about many professors who dock points for misspelling a word that they’ve already spelled for you.
9) Make sure your handwriting is legible.
Most professors are geniuses at deciphering college student scrawls, but the most heartbreaking thing I’ve seen is when a really smart student failed a test once just because the teacher had no idea what his paper said. Don’t let that be you.
10) If you have any time left at all, go over your test a second time.
This feels like an unnecessary step when you’ve just spent so much time going over the test the first time, but I almost always catch some kind of mistake. Make sure that your numbering is correct, that you answered all of the questions, and that you filled out the right bubble. If you’re taking a math test, double check your arithmetic. It’s easy to lose a negative sign or make a small addition error. If the test has essay questions, read over them and make that you said what you wanted to say, it makes sense, and words are spelled correctly.