Winning Strategies for Each Test Type
Episode #8 of the course How to boost your studying and test-taking skills by Valeria Shvediuk
Tests and exams vary greatly, so it’s crucial that you know the format of your upcoming test. Each test type requires a different strategy and has several classic pitfalls to avoid. This is what we’ll discuss today. Now, let us look at the most common test types.
Multiple choice tests. The success strategy for this common test type depends on whether you’re penalized for the wrong answers. If not, never leave a single question unanswered, and take an educated guess by eliminating what you know is incorrect. When guessing, consider going for the “All of the above” or “None of the above” options, which tend to be correct about half the time. Always read the questions twice, paying special attention to any negative forms (“Which one of the following is NOT …”) and identifying distractors/red herrings (i.e., the alternatives that may seem right at first sight but are only there to mislead you).
Problem-solving tests. In the beginning of the test, familiarize yourself with all the problems and identify those that are easier and harder. Read the harder ones in detail, and then proceed to solving the easier ones. Your brain has a great quality that we mentioned in one of the previous lessons: It continues working in the background on the tasks you set for it earlier. While you’re solving the easier problems, your brain is processing the harder ones too, so when you go back to them later, you’ll have a better chance at tackling them. It will also prevent you from getting stuck and losing time. This technique is described in Barbara Oakley’s book, A Mind for Numbers.
Essay-type tests. Plan out the structure of your answer before writing it, and always leave extra space in case you want to add something later on. (This way, you don’t run out of paper and have to attach a part of the answer to the back of your booklet—these tend to get lost or overlooked by the graders.) Test your writing speed beforehand and practice writing legibly, even when your hand is tired. It’s not uncommon for professors to lower the grade if they can’t understand what the student wrote.
Take-home exams. A common misconception about take-home exams is that they don’t require preparation. Another mistake that many students make (usually the same ones who didn’t prepare earlier) is to spend every allotted minute, day and night, on the test. In fact, some downtime gives you distance to spot errors or opportunities for improvement in your responses.
Oral tests. When preparing for oral tests (and especially if you’re not used to them), practice by recording yourself answering aloud, just like you would in an exam. You might discover that your responses lack cohesiveness or that you ramble or make pauses that are too long. If you’re given time to prepare, write down only the keywords and concepts. This is more effective than a word-by-word answer that might only confuse you.
Professional qualification tests. Never assume your prior knowledge is enough to successfully pass the professional test, even if you have a great deal of experience in your field. Use the official study materials and guides (or at least those from a reputable provider).
Online tests. Usually, you know ahead of time which provider your test will be from, so find their sample tests online to practice with. A simple Google request like, “SHL sample test,” results in free examples from several companies using it in their recruitment processes. Be careful when choosing the language of the test (if you’re given the option), as your mother tongue (if different from English) might not be the best if you’re not used to studying in this language. Lastly, don’t ask your friend for “help” with your online test; some companies request you to retake a supervised test later—you will only be cheating yourself.
Daily task: Find out everything you can about the format of your upcoming exam, and amend your preparation strategy using the tips from this lesson.
See you tomorrow, when we’ll discuss how to make your test day run smoothly without stress.
A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra) by Barbara Oakley
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