3.5 Tests

“Do your best. Forget the rest. Remove all stress when it’s time for a test!”
– R.O. Parikh

Questions to consider:

  • What are the differences between test prep and taking the actual test?
  • How can you take a whole person approach to test taking?
  • What can you do on test day to increase your confidence and success?
  • What should you know about test anxiety?

Learning Objectives

  • Identify common types of tests given in College
  • Describe the purpose of tests and what an instructor might expect to see from your work
  • Define test anxiety
  • Identify sources of test anxiety and techniques for preventing and controlling it
  • Identify strategies for answering typical kinds of test questions (multiple choice, listing, true/false, short answer, essay, and others)
  • Identify test-taking strategies to improve your performance

Academic tests in college maybe different from those you took in other school settings. College professors expect to see much more of you in an exam: your thoughts, your interpretations, your thinking process, your conclusions. Your professors need to know as much as possible about what you know, think, or can do and how you differ from other students. Testing is one way to do that—to gauge how you learn, what you learn, and what you can do with what you’ve learned. By knowing more about these aspects of you as a student, your teachers are better able to serve you. What are your instructors looking for that will yield clues about your individual learning? Mainly, your instructors are seeking, through testing, to confirm that you grasp the concepts, behaviors, or skills they are teaching. They want to know that you are achieving the objectives they set out for you. Their objectives may pertain to cognitive skills such remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. (See the Patterns of Thought section for more information about Bloom’s Taxonomy and the cognitive domain of learning.) In addition, your instructors are always pleased to see good grammar, thoughtfulness, creativity, accuracy, and solid references.

This is why you need to modify your study habits and your strategies for taking test in college. Academic tests are similar to real-life tests in the following ways:

  • They help us measure our progress toward mastery of a particular skill.
  • They are not a representation of how smart, talented, or skilled we are but rather are a measurement only of what we know about a specific subject at a specific point in time.
  • They are extraordinary learning opportunities.

Once you are practicing good study habits, you’ll be better prepared for actual test taking. Since studying and test taking are both part of learning, honing your skills in one will help you in the other.

Probably the most obvious differences between your preparation for an exam and the actual test itself is your level of urgency and the time constraints. A slight elevation in your stress level can actually be OK for testing—it keeps you focused and on your game when you need to bring up all the information, thinking, and studying to show what you’ve learned. Properly executed, test preparation mixed in with a bit of stress can significantly improve your actual test-taking experience.

You may feel as though you’ve already taken enough tests for a lifetime! But, for better or for worse, testing seems to be a fact of life, and it’s certainly a recurring feature of the college experience. So you’ll be in the best position for success if you can learn to take tests in stride and develop good test-taking skills.

As you’ll discover, a big part of doing well on tests is knowing what to expect and gearing up psychologically—that is, learning how to deal with test anxiety.

Test Anxiety

Test anxiety is “the set of phenomenological, physiological, and behavioral responses that accompany concern about possible negative consequences or failure on an exam or similar evaluative situation.” (Zeidner, 1998) Put another way, test anxiety is a combination of over arousal, tension, worry, dread, fear of failure, and “catastrophizing” before or during test situations.

Poor test performance is a significant outcome of test anxiety. Test-anxious students tend to have lower study skills and lower test-taking skills, but research also suggests that high levels of emotional distress correlate with reduced academic performance overall. Highly test-anxious students score about 12 percentile points below their low-anxiety peers. Students with test anxiety also have higher overall dropout rates. And test anxiety can negatively affect a student’s social, emotional, and behavioral development, as well feelings about themselves and school.

Thought Activity: Testing Your Test Anxiety

Consider the following statements as if they were True/False Questions. There are no wrong answers.

T F I have a hard time starting to study for a exam.
T F When studying for an exam, I feel desperate or lost.
T F When studying for an exam, I often feel bored and tired.
T F I don’t sleep well the night before an exam.
T F My appetite changes the day of the exam. (I’m not hungry and skip meals or I overeat—especially high-sugar items like candy or ice cream.)
T F When taking an exam, I am often confused or suffer mental blocks.
T F When taking an exam, I feel panicky and my palms get sweaty.
T F I’m usually in a bad mood after taking an exam.
T F I usually score lower on exams than on papers, assignments, and projects.
T F After an exam, I can remember things I couldn’t recall during the exam.

If you answered true to any of the statements in the table above, you have suffered some of the symptoms of test anxiety. Most of us have experienced this.

Strategies for Preventing and Controlling Test Anxiety

The following video, from the University of British Columbia, provides strategies for coping with any stress and anxiety you may have about an upcoming test or exam. It also provides strategies, such as the following, for acing an exam:

  1. Ask about the exam (materials covered, format, points, level of detail, etc.)
  2. Take inventory of your notes
  3. Set a study schedule
  4. Keep your diet consistent
  5. Don’t stop exercising
  6. Get regular sleep
  7. Make a five-day study plan for each exam
  8. Take care of your health and wellness
  9. An external link on additional resources to overcome test anxiety

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfxIuGf1f50


Leveraging Study Habits for Test Prep

In your mind, you probably know what you need to do to be prepared for tests. Occasionally, something may surprise you—emphasis on a concept you considered unimportant or a different presentation of a familiar problem. But those should be exceptions. You can take all your well-honed study habits to get ready for exams. Here’s a checklist for study and test success for your consideration:

10 steps to leveraging study habits for test prep. See long description for full text.
Chapter 3.5 Image 1. View Long Description. Leveraging Study Habits for Test Prep

Types of Tests

YouTube Playlists

Visit The Learning Portal’s YouTube channel for playlists of videos that can help you develop your study skills.

Strategies for different types of tests: each type has its own peculiar strategies:

Paper tests and tests that use Scantron cards to record answers

Paper tests are still a very common type of test, requiring students to write answers on the test pages, in a separate test booklet, or mark a response on a scantron card. They are typically used for in-class tests. Neatness and good grammar count, even if it’s not an English test. Remember that the professor will be reading dozens of test papers and will not likely spend much time trying to figure out your hieroglyphics, arrows, and cross-outs. if you are recording your answers on a Scantron card, it is important to review your Scantron card before submission. Check to see if the numbers on your test paper and the responses on the card match. Check to see if you haven’t missed a line, this can result in low grade.

Open-book tests

Open-book tests allow the student to consult their notes, textbook, or both while taking the test. Professors often give this type of test when they are more interested in seeing your thoughts and critical thinking than your memory power. Be prepared to expose and defend your own viewpoints. When preparing, know where key material is present in your book and notes. Create an index for your notes and use sticky notes to flag key pages of your textbook before the test. Be careful when copying information or formulas to your test answers, because nothing looks worse in an open-book test than misusing the material at your disposal.

Take-home tests

Take-home tests are like open-book tests except you have the luxury of time on your side. Make sure you submit the test on time. Know what the professor’s expectations are about the content of your answers. The professor will likely expect more detail and more complete work because you are not under a strict time limit and because you have access to reference materials. Be clear about when the test is due. Some professors will ask you to email your test to them by a specific time. Also, find out if the professor allows or expects you to collaborate with classmates. Be sure to type your test and don’t forget to spell check!

Online tests

Online tests are most commonly used for formative assessments, although they are starting to find their way into high-stakes tests, particularly in large lecture classes that fulfill a graduation requirement. The main advantage of online tests is that they can be computer graded, providing fast feedback to the student and allowing the professor to grade hundreds of tests easily. Since these tests are computer graded, be aware that the professor’s judgment is not involved in the grading. Your answers will be either right or wrong; there is no room for partially correct responses. With online tests, be sure you understand the testing software. Are there practice questions? If so, make sure you use them. Find out if you will be allowed to move freely between test sections to go back and check your work or to complete questions you might have skipped. Some testing software does not allow you to return to sections once they are “submitted.” Unless your test needs to be taken at a specific time, don’t wait until the last minute to take the test. Should you have technical problems, you want to have time to resolve the issues. To avoid any conflicts with the testing software, close all other software applications before beginning the testing software.

The Secrets of the Q and A’s

You can gain even more confidence in your test-taking abilities by understanding the different kinds of questions a professor may ask and applying the following proven strategies for answering them. Most professors will likely use various conventional types of questions. Here are some tips for handling the most common types.

Multiple-Choice Questions

Read the instructions carefully to determine if there may be more than one right answer. If there are multiple right answers, does the professor expect you to choose just one, or do you need to mark all correct options?

  • Read each question carefully and try to answer it in your head before reading the answer options. Then consider all the options.
  • Eliminate first the options that are clearly incorrect.
  • Read the questions and one of the options as a sentence and turn it into a True/False question.
  • Look for clue words that hint that certain option answers might be correct or incorrect.
  • Ensure the option you choose best matches what the question is asking.

True-or-False Questions

Answer the questions that are obvious to you first. Then go back to statements that require more thought. If the question is stated in the positive, restate it to yourself in the negative by adding the word “not” or “never.” Does the new statement sound truer or more false?

Short Answer Questions

Short answer questions are designed for you to recall and provide some very specific information: When you read the question, ask yourself what exactly the professor wants to know. Keep your answers short and specific.

Essay Questions

Essay questions are used by professors to evaluate your thinking and reasoning applied to the material covered in a course. Good essay answers are based on your thoughts, supported by examples from classes and reading assignments.

  • Careful planning is critical to answering essay questions effectively. Note how many essay questions you have to answer and how difficult each question seems. Then allocate your time accordingly.
  • Read the question carefully and underline or circle keywords. Watch for words that describe the professor’s expectations for your response.
  • If time allows, organize your thoughts by creating a quick outline for your essay. This helps ensure that you don’t leave out key points, and if you run out of time, it may pick up a few points for your grade. Jot down specific information you might want to use, such as names, dates, and places.
  • Introduce your essay answer, but get right to the point. Remember that the professor will be grading dozens of papers and avoid “filler” text that does not add value to your answer.
  • Write in direct and concise statements.
  • Write neatly and watch your grammar and spelling. Allow time to proofread your essay. You want your professor to want to read your essay, not dread it. Remember that grading essays is largely subjective, and a favorable impression can lead to more favorable grading.
  • Be sure to answer all parts of the question. Essay questions often have more than one part. Remember, too, that essay questions often have multiple acceptable answers.

Go to Unit Activity and participate in Activity # 2 Test yourself for Test Anxiety

Key Takeaways

  • Tests help use measure your progress but are not representations of how smart, talented or skilled you are; rather, they measure what you know as a specific point in time.
  • Paper, open book, take-home and online tests require different study techniques to help you prepare.
  • Multiple choice, true-or-false, short answer and essay questions are common types of questions you will encounter and each can be tackled differently using proven strategies.
  • Test Anxiety can interfere with your ability to recall knowledge as well as use higher level thinking skills. Simple strategies such as being prepared, eating and sleeping well before the text, re-framing negative thoughts, and not paying attention to others can help.
  • Often, relaxation techniques can help you minimized the effects of test anxiety. For significant test anxiety, visit a college counsellor for additional strategies.

Image Long Descriptions

Image 1: A list of 10 study habits for test prep. The items in the list are as follows:

  • Read all assigned Lessons – Prepare to make the most of your class time with instructors and other students.
  • Attend All Classes – You cannot interact with the material and the others in your class if you are not there.
  • Take Notes During Each Class – Even if you are uncertain about the lesson’s topics or importance, take notes so that you remember what was covered.
  • Review And Improve Notes – Do this within 24 hours. Memory studies show that we have to work with information quickly or we’ll start to forget it.
  • Study Regularly – Work at least one hour per week for every hour in class; repetition and frequency are important factors for studying.
  • Re-read Significant Text Passages – This helps build your memory and better prepares you for class and tests.
  • Review with Classmates – You each receive the benefit of the other’s perspective on the material.
  • Take Authentic Practice Tests – Use study guides or sample tests to gauge what you really know and what you need to work on.
  • Practice Timed Writing – Timing is essential in most test situations. Practice can help you manage the pressure and ensure you use the time effectively.
  • Get Enough Sleep Every Night – Sleep impacts memory, performance, energy, and our ability to handle stress and the unexpected (both common in test situations).

Attributions and References

This chapter contains adaptations from:

Bruce, L. (2016). College Success. Provided by: Lumen Learning.
Book URL: https://www.coursehero.com/study-guides/collegesuccess-lumen/
Section URL https://courses.lumenlearning.com/collegesuccess-lumen/chapter/testing-strategies/
License: CC BY: Attribution

Baldwin, A. (2020). College Success. Provided by: Open Stax.
Book URL: Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/college-success/pages/1-introduction
Section URL: https://openstax.org/books/college-success/pages/6-3-test-taking
License: CC BY: Attribution

Stewart, I., & Maisonville, A. (2019). A Guide for Successful Students. St. Clair College.
Book URL: https://ecampusontario.pressbooks.pub/studyprocaff/
Section URL: https://ecampusontario.pressbooks.pub/studyprocaff/chapter/tests/
License: CC BY NC SA: Attribution


Studying and Exam Prep Secrets. Authored by: learningcommons.ubc.ca. LicenseCC BY: Attribution

Prepping for Exams. Provided by: UBC LEAP. LicenseCC BY: Attribution

Exam Strategies: Test Skills. Provided by: UBC LEAP. LicenseCC BY: Attribution


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Fundamentals for Success in College Copyright © 2022 by Priti Parikh, Centennial College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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