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home > services > study skills resources > test taking


I’ve worked so hard to learn the material, but it doesn’t show. How do I “ace” tests?

Do you ever feel like you’ve spent so much time and energy studying, preparing projects, and writing papers, but your grades don’t reflect that effort? Good study habits and skills can help make study time more efficient and effective.

Study Skills

time management
lectures and readings
essay writing
theses and dissertations
campus resources

  • Plan ahead and know expectations for your tests. Tests evaluate your proficiency with course content. Tests can be daunting because they are such an important part of your course grade, and knowing your faculty’s expectations can be difficult.

    • One week before the exam, spend an hour reading through your notes.

    • Five days before the exam, start to create a master study sheet with all of the major topics that will be on the test. This might be a list, outline, study guide chart or a set of flash cards with pictures.

    • From your master study sheet, identify the concepts that are the least clear or most difficult for you. Start your study with these topics. Plan to review them several times, review your text, or get clarity during office hours.

  • Write and respond to practice exam questions as practice for the real exam. You can even try writing questions at different “levels” of understanding (Bloom’s taxonomy).

  • Study for objective tests by practicing and reviewing material in different formats. Objective tests include multiple choice, matching, fill-in-the-blank, and true/false questions. If you can write on the test, cover up the supplied answers and write what you know. Use educated guessing strategies if you are unsure of the material

  • Study for essay questions differently than for objective questions. A well-written essay exam answers the question with a clear thesis, is rich in content/evidence to support the thesis, and has a logical progression of ideas that flow smoothly. Taking time to set up the structure and think about the question (not just everything you know) before starting to write can make a big difference in these three areas.

  • Learn how to access your long-term memory. Even with good preparation you must store and retrieve some information from your short-term memory. How do you remember songs from junior high? You’ve repeated the information so frequently that they are stored in your long-term memory. Storing class content information in your long-term memory can also help you retrieve it during an exam.

  • Calm Down! Test anxiety is the feeling of nervousness that students feel before and during an exam. Quality preparation and relaxation before the exam can help reduce test anxiety.

  • Use last-minute study time strategically. Sometimes even the best plans fall through, and you may be faced with having to cram for a test.

  • Put all of these strategies together when you plan and prepare for your final exams.

  • Need more help? Visit drop-in study skills support, make an appointment with TLC faculty, take a credit course, visit the TLC math and writing labs, or attend one of our workshop.


Plan ahead

Plan ahead for exams [pdf]
This document can help you plan ahead for upcoming exams by providing a place to document when your next exams are scheduled, what material will be covered, and how you want to study.

From this link click guest entry, then continue, then choose Test Preparation online workshop. The Louisiana Sate University Center for Academic Success has put together general advice for exam preparation.


Master study sheet

How to Study for an Exam [pdf]
Creating a master study sheet is one of the important steps in planning your study time for an exam. This handout offers suggestions for exam study, including how to create a study sheet.



Study guide chart

Sample Study Guide Chart for study skills [pdf]
This sample study guide chart is filled out with content learned by students in ALS 101. This format is applicable to many different disciplines and provides a good structure for documenting information to be studied for a class.

Study Guide Chart American Literature and Political Movements 1910 to 1919 [pdf]

Study Guide Chart Lab Quiz for Arthropoda [pdf]

Sample Chart for Math and Science [pdf]

Sample Chart for Art and Literature [pdf]

Sample Chart for Theory [pdf]

Sample Chart for Pathology [pdf]


Practice exam questions

Practice Exam Questions [pdf]
ou can write and answer practice exam questions to see if you know (and not simply recognize) course material. These practice exam questions use the six levels of Blooms Taxonomy in questions related to the Cornell style of notes. The "level" for each question is indicated.


Bloom’s taxonomy

Bloom's Taxonomy Ladder [pdf]
You can write and answer practice exam questions to see if you know (and not simply recognize) course material. These practice exam questions use the six levels of Blooms Taxonomy in questions related to the Cornell style of notes. The "level" for each question is indicated. Also see Practice Exam Questions.

Bloom's Taxonomy Ladder on YouTube


Objective Tests

Objective Tests [pdf]
The Cal Poly Academic Skills Center has strategies for different types of objective tests (true/false, matching, fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice) and educated guessing strategies for these tests.

From this testing link click guest entry, continue, resources by topic handout, test preparation and test taking strategies, and strategies for objective tests. The Louisiana State University handout recommends strategies to improve your experience taking objective tests.


Essay Exams

Essay Exam Matrix [pdf]
Using a matrix to prepare for an essay exam can help you write a carefully constructed and clear essay in the short amount of time you have during a test. This document outlines the steps involved in creating a matrix.

Blank Essay Exam Matrix [pdf]
This matrix can be used to organize ideas before writing an essay exam. The format will help you write answers that are clear and well organized (important components of an essay exam grade).

This University of Washington website has nice suggestions for how to prepare, which strategies to use, and what to avoid when writing essay exams.



The Florida Institute of Technology Counseling and Psychological Services handout outlines 20 memory tips that can help you improve your recall of material.

This Cuesta College website lists memory strategies and describes how these apply to test taking skills.

Want to test your memory? Try the Face Memory Test on the BBC Science & Nature page.

One way to improve your memory is to practice. Here's an online game for practice.


Text Anxiety

This Pima Community College website illustrates 17 tips for “Overcoming Text Anxiety” and includes resources for overcoming math and science anxiety as well.

This website is directed to high school students, but the strategies for reducing test anxiety are applicable for students at any level.

The University of Illinois article consists of six parts: preparation, attitude, basic needs, the day of the test, basic strategies during the test, and anxiety control during the test. It emphases preparation and maintenance of an on-going healthy life style in reducing test anxiety.

Stress: How to Drive without Overheating the Engine The UO Counseling and Testing Center article discusses different types of stress and how to balance them in your life. 

The Counseling Services website at the University of Buffalo describes causes, signs, and effects of test anxiety. This site also includes a self quiz with a list of verbalizations students may have around tests to begin the process of reducing/eliminating these concerns.


Cram for a test

How to Cram (even though you shouldn't) This article title from the University of South Carolina Upstate says it all.

How to avoid cramming for a test [pdf]
Scroll to the bottom of the screen and open "Basic Principles of Review." The Academic Skills Center at Dartmouth College has created this "How to avoid cramming for tests" handout.


Final exams

The MIT Learning Strategies website contains information about planning and studying for finals exams. The term assessment is a good place to start planning to clearly define expectations for finals week.









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