14 Tips for Test Taking Success - Harvard Summer School (2024)

From pop quizzes to standardized tests, exams are an important part of the life of every high school student.

The best way to ensure that you’ll get the grade you want is to understand the material thoroughly. Good test taking skills, however, can help make the difference between a top grade and an average one. Mastering these skills can also help reduce stress and relieve test-taking anxiety.

In this blog, we’ve divided our tips for test taking into two categories: seven things you can do to prepare for your next exam and seven things you should do once the test begins. We’ve also included four strategies that can help with test taking anxiety.

We hope these test taking tips will help you succeed the next time you are facing an exam, big or small!

Seven Best Strategies for Test Prep

You’ve probably heard the quote (originally credited to Alexander Graham Bell): “Preparation is the key to success.”

When it comes to test taking, these are words to live by.

Here are the seven best things you can do to make sure you are prepared for your next test.

1. Cultivate Good Study Habits

Understanding and remembering information for a test takes time, so developing good study habits long before test day is really important.

Do your homework assignments carefully, and turn them in on time. Review your notes daily. Write out your own study guides. Take advantage of any practice tests your teacher gives you, or even create your own.

These simple steps, when done habitually, will help ensure that you really know your stuff come test day.

2. Don’t “Cram”

It might seem like a good idea to spend hours memorizing the material you need the night before the test.

In fact, cramming for a test is highly counterproductive. Not only are you less likely to retain the information you need, cramming also increases stress, negatively impacts sleep, and decreases your overall preparedness.

So avoid the temptation to stay up late reviewing your notes. Last minute cramming is far less likely to improve your grade than developing good study habits and getting a good night’s sleep.

3. Gather Materials the Night Before

Before going to bed (early, so you get a good night’s sleep), gather everything you need for the test and have it ready to go.

Having everything ready the night before will help you feel more confident and will minimize stress on the morning of the test. And it will give you a few extra minutes to sleep and eat a healthy breakfast.

4. Get a Good Night’s Sleep

And speaking of sleep…showing up to your test well-rested is one of the best things you can do to succeed on test day.

Why should you make sleep a priority? A good night’s sleep will help you think more clearly during the test. It will also make it easier to cope with test-taking stress and anxiety. Moreover, excellent sleep habits have been shown to consolidate memory and improve academic performance, as well as reduce the risk of depression and other mental health disorders.

5. Eat a Healthy Breakfast

Like sleeping, eating is an important part of self-care and test taking preparation. After all, it’s hard to think clearly if your stomach is grumbling.

As tough as it can be to eat when you’re nervous or rushing out the door, plan time in your morning on test day to eat a healthy breakfast.

A mix of complex carbohydrates and healthy protein will keep you feeling full without making you feel sluggish. Whole wheat cereal, eggs, oatmeal, berries, and nuts may be great choices (depending on your personal dietary needs and preferences). It’s best to avoid foods that are high in sugar, as they can give you a rush of energy that will wear off quickly, leaving you feeling tired.

And don’t forget to drink plenty of water. If possible, bring a bottle of water with you on test day.

6. Arrive Early

Arriving early at a test location can help decrease stress. And it allows you to get into a positive state of mind before the test starts.

Choose your seat as soon as possible. Organize your materials so they are readily available when you need them. Make sure you are physically comfortable (as much as possible).

By settling in early, you are giving yourself time to get organized, relaxed, and mentally ready for the test to begin. Even in a high school setting, maximizing the time you have in the test classroom—even if it’s just a couple of minutes—can help you feel more comfortable, settled, and focused before the test begins.

7. Develop Positive Rituals

Don’t underestimate the importance of confidence and a positive mindset in test preparation.

Positive rituals can help combat negative thinking, test anxiety, and lack of focus that can easily undermine your success on test day. Plan some extra time to go for a short walk or listen to your favorite music. Engage in simple breathing exercises. Visualize yourself succeeding on the test.

Your rituals can be totally unique to you. The important thing is developing a calming habit that will boost your confidence, attitude, and concentration when the test begins.

Explore College Programs for High School Students at Harvard Summer School.

Seven Best Test-Taking Tips for Success

You have gotten a good night’s sleep, eaten a healthy breakfast, arrived early, and done your positive test-day ritual. You are ready to start the test!

Different types of tests require different test taking strategies. You may not want to approach a math test the same way you would an essay test, for example. And some computerized tests such as SATs require you to work through the test in a specific way.

However, there are some general test taking strategies that will improve your chances of getting the grade you want on most, if not all, tests.

1. Listen to the Instructions

Once the test is front of you, it’s tempting to block everything out so you can get started right away.

Doing so, however, could cause you to miss out on critical information about the test itself.

The teacher or proctor may offer details about the structure of the test, time limitations, grading techniques, or other items that could impact your approach. They may also point out steps that you are likely to miss or other tips to help improve your chances of success.

So be sure to pay close attention to their instructions before you get started.

2. Read the Entire Test

If possible, look over the entire test quickly before you get started. Doing so will help you understand the structure of the test and identify areas that may need more or less time.

Once you read over the test, you can plan out how you want to approach each section of the test to ensure that you can complete the entire test within the allotted time.

3. Do a “Brain Dump”

For certain types of tests, remembering facts, data, or formulas is key. For these tests, it can be helpful to take a few minutes to write down all the information you need on a scrap paper before you get started.

Putting that important information on paper can relieve stress and help you focus on the test questions without worrying about your ability to recall the facts. And now you have a kind of “cheat sheet” to refer to throughout the test!

4. Answer the Questions You Know First

When possible, do a first pass through the test to answer the “easy” questions or the ones you know right away. When you come to a question that you can’t answer (relatively) quickly, skip it on this first pass.

Don’t rush through this first pass, but do be mindful of time—you’ll want to leave yourself enough time to go back and answer the questions you skipped.

*It’s important to remember that this technique is not possible on some tests. Standardized computer-based tests often do not allow you to skip questions and return to them later. On these types of tests, you will need to work through each problem in order instead of skipping around.

5. Answer the Questions You Skipped

Once you’ve done a first pass, you now have to go back and answer the questions you skipped.

In the best case scenario, you might find some of these questions aren’t as challenging as you thought at first. Your mind is warmed up and you are fully engaged and focused at this point in the test. And answering the questions you know easily may have reminded you of the details you need for these questions.

Of course you may still struggle with some of the questions, and that’s okay. Hopefully doing a first pass somewhat quickly allows you to take your time with the more challenging questions.

6. Be Sure the Test is Complete

Once you think you’ve answered all the questions, double check to make sure you didn’t miss any. Check for additional questions on the back of the paper, for instance, or other places that you might have missed or not noticed during your initial read-through.

A common question is whether you should skip questions that you can’t answer. It’s not possible to answer that question in a general sense: it depends on the specific test and the teacher’s rules. It may also depend on the value of each individual question, and whether your teacher gives partial credit.

But, if you’re not penalized for a wrong answer or you are penalized for leaving an answer blank, it is probably better to put something down than nothing.

7. Check Your Work

Finally, if you have time left, go back through the test and check your answers.

Read over short answer and essay questions to check for typos, points you may have missed, or better ways to phrase your answers. If there were multiple components to the question, make sure you answered all of them. Double check your answers on math questions in case you made a small error that impacts the final answer. You don’t want to overthink answers, but a doublecheck can help you find—and correct—obvious mistakes.

Four Ways to Cope with Test-Taking Anxiety

Nearly every student gets nervous before a test at some point, especially if the exam is an important one. If you are lucky, your pre-test nervousness is mild and can be mitigated by these test taking tips.

A mild case of nerves can even be somewhat beneficial (if uncomfortable); the surge of adrenaline at the root of a nervous feeling can keep you focused and energized.

For some students, however, test taking anxiety—a form of performance anxiety—can be debilitating and overwhelming. This level of anxiety can be extremely difficult to cope with.

However, there are a few things you can do before and during a test to help cope with more severe stress and anxiety:

1. Take a Meditation or Sitting Stretch Break

Take a minute or two before or even during a test to focus on your breathing, relax tense muscles, do a quick positive visualization, or stretch your limbs. The calming effect can be beneficial and worth a few minutes of test time.

2. Replace Negative Thoughts with Positive Ones

Learn to recognize when your brain is caught in a cycle of negative thinking and practice turning negative thoughts into positive ones. For example, when you catch yourself saying “I’m going to fail”, force yourself to say “I’m going to succeed” instead. With practice, this can be a powerful technique to break the cycle of negative thinking undermining your confidence.

3. Mistakes are Learning Opportunities

It’s easy to get caught up in worrying about a bad grade. Instead, remind yourself that it’s ok to make mistakes. A wrong answer on a test is an opportunity to understand where you need to fill in a gap in your knowledge or spend some extra time studying.

4. Seek Professional Help

Test taking anxiety is very real and should be taken seriously. If you find that your anxiety does not respond to these calming tips, it’s time to seek professional help. Your guidance counselor or a therapist may be able to offer long-term strategies for coping with test taking anxiety. Talk with your parents or guardians about finding someone to help you cope.

Following these test taking tips can’t guarantee that you will get an A on your next big test. Only hard work and lots of study time can do that.

However, these test taking strategies can help you feel more confident and perform better on test day. Tests may be an inevitable part of student life, but with preparation and confidence, you can succeed on them all!

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14 Tips for Test Taking Success - Harvard Summer School (2024)


What are 5 testing strategies? ›

However, there are some general test taking strategies that will improve your chances of getting the grade you want on most, if not all, tests.
  1. Listen to the Instructions. ...
  2. Read the Entire Test. ...
  3. Do a “Brain Dump” ...
  4. Answer the Questions You Know First. ...
  5. Answer the Questions You Skipped. ...
  6. Be Sure the Test is Complete.
Sep 29, 2022

What is the most important test taking strategy? ›

Taking practice exams before taking a real test is a helpful test-taking strategy. Practice exams give you insight into the type of questions you may answer on the test and can help you determine your areas of improvement.

How to study and get 100 on a test? ›

Follow these study tips to make your best grade!
  1. Get informed. Don't walk into your test unprepared for what you will face. ...
  2. Think like your teacher. ...
  3. Make your own study aids. ...
  4. Practice for the inevitable. ...
  5. Study every day. ...
  6. Cut out the distractions. ...
  7. Divide big concepts from smaller details. ...
  8. Don't neglect the “easy” stuff.

What are 10 test taking strategies? ›

Multiple/Choice Test Tips
  • Answer all questions in order. ...
  • Read questions carefully. ...
  • Words like always, never, completely, and only are absolutes. ...
  • Watch for words like not, least, and except. ...
  • Anticipate the answer. ...
  • Eliminate answers. ...
  • Go with your first choice. ...
  • Don't look for answers to fall in a pattern.

What are 3 good test taking strategies? ›

Survey the entire test prior to taking the exam. Take a few deep breaths and relax tense muscle - repeat throughout the test. Read directions carefully - ask questions. Answer easier questions first - this will help calm you down.

What are the four 4 basic testing methods? ›

It is important that everybody understands this. There are generally four recognized levels of testing: unit/component testing, integration testing, system testing, and acceptance testing.

How do you get an A+ in every class? ›

The 21 Secrets of A+ Students
  1. Know your learning style. ...
  2. Color code your notes. ...
  3. Start assignments immediately. ...
  4. Follow the instructions. ...
  5. Break tasks down into manageable chunks. ...
  6. Use technology to help you focus. ...
  7. Find an environment with few distractions. ...
  8. Study smart not hard.
May 24, 2023

Is 4 days enough to study for an exam? ›

Ideally, studying should start at least five days in advance of the exam to allow students an ample amount of time to go over course concepts and materials, and reach out to their instructor or peers if they find they have any questions.

How do I become a good test taker? ›

Before the Test
  1. Be prepared. Spend the time to study and understand the material thoroughly before the day of the test.
  2. Take breaks. Take breaks while you're studying. ...
  3. Hide. Study in an out-of-the-way place. ...
  4. Sleep. ...
  5. Eat healthy. ...
  6. Arrive early. ...
  7. Avoid those who increase your anxiety. ...
  8. Approach the test with confidence.

How can I improve on test taking? ›

Test Taking Skills
  1. Remember: You want to start with the material you're not confident about.
  2. Utilize practice exams.
  3. Don't just memorize facts. Material makes more sense if you are able to understand how it all fits together.
  4. Do not attempt to “cram” the morning of an exam.

What are the first 3 multiple choice test taking strategies? ›

How to Take Multiple Choice Tests
  • Preview the exam. ...
  • Start with questions you can answer readily. ...
  • Recycle through the test. ...
  • Set goals for time and pace yourself accordingly. ...
  • Read the questions carefully: twice if necessary. ...
  • Circle or underline key words in questions.

Which questions should you answer first when taking a test? ›

Answer the easy questions first, then the harder ones. Don't get nervous if some questions look unfamiliar. Skip them and return to them later.

What is most commonly the most common multiple choice test answer? ›

In multiple-choice questions, first, B and E are the most likely answers in 4- and 5-option questions, respectively and, second, same answer is least likely to be repeated in the next question.

Does chewing gum help with test taking? ›

In fact, some studies show chewing gum can actually increase feelings of relaxation, increase attention, lower stress levels, and improve memory. Now, this is not to say that simply chewing gum while studying will get you an automatic 100% on an exam.

How do I overcome test anxiety? ›

Here are some strategies that may help reduce your test anxiety:
  1. Learn how to study efficiently. ...
  2. Study early and in similar places. ...
  3. Establish a consistent pretest routine. ...
  4. Talk to your teacher. ...
  5. Learn relaxation techniques. ...
  6. Don't forget to eat and drink. ...
  7. Get some exercise. ...
  8. Get plenty of sleep.

What are the 4 levels of testing? ›

In software testing, there are four levels of testing: Unit testing, Integration testing, System testing, and Acceptance testing.

What are the 3 phases of the test? ›

Box 11.1Three Phases of Laboratory Testing
  • Preanalytical phase. Selecting the appropriate test, obtaining the specimen, labeling it with the patient's name, providing timely transport to the laboratory, registering receipt in the laboratory, and processing before testing.
  • Analytical phase. ...
  • Postanalytical phase.

Which test must be performed first? ›

Static testing is performed first - Manual testing.

What is the best time to study? ›

Best time to study according to science

According to science, there are two windows of time the brain is most receptive to new material: 10:00 am to 2:00 pm, and 4:00 pm to 10:00 pm.

What GPA would all A+ be? ›

How to Calculate Your GPA
8 more rows

Is an A+ a 100%? ›

Common examples of grade conversion are: A+ (97–100), A (93–96), A- (90–92), B+ (87–89), B (83–86), B- (80–82), C+ (77–79), C (73–76), C- (70–72), D+ (67–69), D (65–66), D- (below 65).

What is the 20 rule for studying? ›

Simply put, 20% or less of the studying you are doing is leading to the majority of your results. Furthermore, 20% or less of your course content comprises the majority of the content on your exams. Remember, professors (whether they know it or not) are applying the 80-20 rule to their exams.

How many hours a day is best to study? ›

Studying for 3 to 4 hours a day is the best number as it is realistic without being too small to actually get the work done. It has also been shown that this period of time allows your brain to work at full capacity without burning it out.

What is the 1 2 3 study method? ›

To try this technique, review your material in spaced intervals similar to the schedule below: Day 1: Learn the material in class. Day 2: Revisit and review. Day 3: Revisit and review.

What is the 2 3 5 7 revision rule? ›

Revise a topic, then revisit it the next day, after three days, and after seven days. This is thought to be the perfect amount of time to help your brain remember information.

How many hours of study do you need before an exam? ›

A general rule is to spend two hours on homework or studying for every hour that your class meets. For example, if your economics class meets for an hour, three times a week, you might expect to spend six hours a week on homework or studying for your upcoming econ exams.

How many days should you give yourself to study for an exam? ›

In general, plan to start about 7-10 days in advance to make sure you maximize your study time. Remember, it is better to space your studying out over a period of days rather than clustering your studying just before the exam. Ten hours of studying over 5 days is better than 10 hours of studying over 2 days!

Does anxiety affect test scores? ›

Unlike a normal amount of stress, test anxiety doesn't lead to better results. As new research shows, under some circ*mstances, it can decrease test scores—sometimes by quite a bit.

Is a 100 good on a test? ›

A - is the highest grade you can receive on an assignment, and it's between 90% and 100% B - is still a pretty good grade! This is an above-average score, between 80% and 89% C - this is a grade that rests right in the middle.

Is test anxiety real? ›

Test anxiety can be a real problem if you're so stressed out over a test that you can't get past the nervousness to focus on the test questions and do your best work. Feeling ready to meet the challenge, though, can keep test anxiety at a manageable level. Use a little stress to your advantage.

Why do I struggle with test taking? ›

Test anxiety may be caused by a number of factors such as poor test performance in the past, lack of confidence, feelings of extreme pressure or fear of failure, nervousness about having to perform or a number of other problems.

What is the fastest way to study for a test? ›

Exam preparation: Ten study tips
  1. Give yourself enough time to study. via GIPHY. ...
  2. Organize your study space. via GIPHY. ...
  3. Use flow charts and diagrams. via GIPHY. ...
  4. Practice on old exams. via GIPHY. ...
  5. Explain your answers to others. via GIPHY. ...
  6. Organize study groups with friends. via GIPHY. ...
  7. Take regular breaks. via GIPHY. ...
  8. Snack on brain food.

Why are some people better at test taking? ›

Research shows that what makes these people so good at taking tests is likely a mix of: Low test-taking anxiety which allows them to perform better in the moment. Well-informed schemas that provide greater context and allow them to make more educated assumptions (guesses) especially when the test is multiple choice.

Why is C always the answer? ›

The idea that C is the best answer to choose when guess-answering a question on a multiple choice test rests on the premise that ACT answer choices are not truly randomized. In other words, the implication is that answer choice C is correct more often than any other answer choice.

Is C usually the correct answer? ›

Myth 2: C is the best guess letter and is right more often than any other letter. C or H are right (and wrong) as often as any other answer choice. The only guess letter you don't want to use when you are completely guessing is E or K because they only show up on the math test.

What to do if you don't know the answer in an exam? ›

Make a vague plan and identify the gaps in your knowledge; try to fill these gaps by extending the stuff you do know to make some really great points. Come up with an argument/thesis for your response (this will really help your marks). Try and refer to what you remember of the mark scheme for a really good answer.

What is test strategy types? ›

Here, we are discussing some of the significant types of test strategies document: Methodical strategy. Reactive strategy. Analytical strategy. Standards compliant or Process compliant strategy.

What is 5 point testing? ›

Five Point Test (5TT) is a neuropsychological test that assesses figural fluency. A participant is asked to generate as many unique designs as possible in a certain time limit. The aim of this study was to create Czech population norms for the Five Point Test.

What is the type of testing strategy? ›

A testing strategy is used to identify the levels of testing which are to be applied along with the methods, techniques, and tools to be used during testing. This strategy also decides test cases, test specifications, test case decisions, and puts them together for execution.

What are the different types of testing strategies explain? ›

Some of the testing methodologies that may be part of an organization's testing strategy are: Analytical strategy. Model based strategy. Methodical strategy.

What is an effective test strategy? ›

It is a strategy plan for defining testing approach, what you want to accomplish and how you are going to achieve it. It helps in evading all unclear and uncertain requirements and creating a basic structure for the testing project.

What should a good test strategy include? ›

The key components of a good test strategy document are as follows:
  • Test objectives and their scope.
  • Key business-led quality requirements.
  • Possible risk factors.
  • Test deliverables.
  • Testing tools.
  • Responsibilities.
  • Tracking and reporting of issues.
  • Configuration and change management.
Jul 13, 2022

What are the three primary types of test plans? ›

A test plan is a comprehensive document that lists the test strategy, goals, timetable, projections, deadlines, and resources needed to complete that specific project. The sorts of test plans are as follows: Master Test Plan, Test phase plan, and Specific test Plan.

What is the user testing rule of 5? ›

After testing up to 5 people, the same usability issues would continue to be mentioned by additional participants with very little significant change. So it's economical and optimal to test just enough participants who can give you sufficient insights at a low cost. Thus, the 5-user rule.

What does the 5 0 5 test measure? ›

The 505 agility test is a test of physical agility and 180-degree turning ability in a distanced capacity, measuring the total speed in seconds to determine the results. The 505 agility test involves a total distance of 15-meters with three marked points, using cones or visible markers.

What is the difference between a 3 point test and a 4 point test? ›

The main difference between 3 point and 4 point bend tests is the area in which the maximum bend stress occurs. In 3 point bend tests it is under the loading nose while for 4 point bend tests it is distributed in a wider area between the loading points.

What are the two components of test strategy? ›

Test strategy is a high-level and comprehensive document describing the software testing approach. It comprises various components like scope, objectives, customer communication strategy, documentation formats, test processes, etc.

What are the key factors to be understood before test strategy? ›

Let's discuss few factors like team skills, objectives, risks, business and product to create a strategy:
  • Skills: It is very important for the resources/team members to have the required skills as per the project's requirement. ...
  • Objectives: Testing objective must be very clear before starting testing on any project.
May 9, 2019


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