Strategies for Answering Questions

Learning Objectives

  • Identify strategies for answering typical kinds of test questions

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

—Albert Einstein

Strategies for Better Test-Taking Performance

In many respects, test-taking is a skill. If you learn some key strategies, you can be quite successful in taking tests. There are many skills and strategies you can employ to help you be a better test taker:

Brigham Young University (BYU) has a put together a set of general guidelines for test preparation, along with specific strategies for doing well on different kinds of tests. Read BYU’s test preparation recommendations here.

Another list of strategies, widely used, is LAB B2OWL—an acronym to help you remember critical aspects of successful test-taking strategies. Watch the following video, which describes the strategies in detail. Then review the main concepts in the table,[1] below.

You can view the transcript for “Exam Strategies – Test Skills” here (opens in new window).

L LOOK: Look over the entire exam before you start. Take care to read the directions, underline test words, and circle questions you don’t fully understand.
A ASK: If you have any questions at all, ask. For example, if the exam doesn’t indicate total point allocation, be sure to ask your instructor.
B BUDGET: Budget your time based on the point allocation for each question. For instance, let’s say your exam has one essay question worth 50 percent, and 5 identifications worth 10 percent each. If you have two hours to take the test, this gives you one hour to complete the essay, and 10 minutes for each of the five short-answer questions. You will have 10 minutes in reserve to review your work before turning it in.
B2 BEGIN X 2: Begin with an easy question in order to build your confidence and get warmed up for the rest of the exam. Begin each answer with a thesis topic sentence. Restate the question in a single sentence to help you focus your answer.
O OUTLINE: Be careful to write a quick outline for your essay on a separate page before you begin. This will help you organize your facts and focus your ideas. It might also serve to show your professor where you were going if you don’t have time to finish.
W WATCH: Watch for key testing words like analyze, define, evaluate, and illustrate. These help you understand what your professor will be looking for in an answer.
L LOOK: Finally, look over your exam before turning it in to make sure you haven’t missed anything important.

The infographic, below, depicts key strategies you can use to improve your performance on tests. If you carefully examine the illustrations in the infographic and connect them with the text, you will likely remember these techniques in the future when you most need them.

Studying and Exam Prep Secrets. Set Goals: “Studying” for 2 hours mean nothing, instead, try a goal like “write 300 words”. Aim to Understand: Looking for concepts and arguments will allow you to remember MORE than if you just study facts. Do the Hard Stuff First: This will mean that as your exam gets nearer, your studying will get easier. Don’t Cram: Studies Show that pulling an all nighter actually reduces a student’s grade. Get Rest, Stay Healthy: Get plenty of rest and eat healthy goods for sustained energy. Image credit: UBC: a place of mind.


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  1. "Preparing for Exams." Learning Commons. Web. 25 Apr. 2016.