Improving Your Performance On Tests
[Handout Written for Students]
By Dr. James Bell. 1/98  jbell@howardcc.edu

I didn't score as high on that last test as I wanted to. But where do I start? Maybe I should list possible reasons why I might have done poorly and then focus on the ones which were true for me. Then I can think of solutions to try next time.

In what ways can I improve my studying and taking of tests to improve my learning and test scores?

  1.     Reasons I ruled out
    1. I am not smart enough to be in college.
    2.  I can't read.
    3.  I didn't want to do well.
    4.  I didn't know that a test would take place.
    5.  I didn't know what the test would cover.
    6.  I am not interested in this course.
    7.  I was not interested in the topic of the test.
    8.  It was impossible to do better on the test.

    9.  
  2. Was I clear on what would be covered and how it would be covered?
    1.  Was it clear what the test was going to be over in terms of readings and class activities?
    2. Was it clear what type of questions would be asked?
    3.  In what ways can I be better prepared next time to know what will be on the test?

    4.  
  3. Do I know about good study skills and habits? How to take tests?
    1.  Did I read the booklet on study skills on reserve in the library for PY 101?
    2.  Did I read the handout Ideas On Becoming a Self-Directed Student?
    3.  Did I pick up any hints from students or the teacher on studying and test taking?

    4.  
  4. Did I study the right things? Did I study thoroughly?
    1.     Did I read the assigned material?
    2.     Did I reread and study the materials?
    3.     Did I fill out any study manuals or materials?
    4.     Did I review notes taken in class?
    5.     Did I use other study helps?
    6.     Did I pull together all of the above information?
    7.     Did I try to form questions and then write practice answers?

    8.  
  5. Did I put in enough time to do well?
    1. Did I budget enough time for reading, making notes, outlining, and studying?
    2. Did I leave enough time to review and put the information into long term memory?
    3. Did I plan ahead so that time was available to handle unexpected events in my life?
    4. Do I need to learn how to better manage my time?

    5.  
  6. Were there things about the test or testing situation that pushed my performance

  7.     down? (I have to be very careful here not to put blame on factors outside myself
        that I have little control over and that could leave me with no ideas for improving.)
     
    1. Was the test unfair?
      1. Was the test over minor points?
      2. Were the questions unclear?
      3. Were the questions tricky?
      4. Were the questions unexpected?
      5. Was the format of the test strange?

      6.  
    2. Was the test situation itself a problem?
      1. Was the test too long?
      2. Were there distractions during the test?
      3. Was there no clock or comments from the teacher to alert me to the amount of time left so I could better budget my time?
      4. Were there too many people in the room to concentrate?
      5. Was the room too hot? cold?

      6.  
  8. Did I not handle the test well?
    1. Did I scan over the test to see what was asked and then budget my time?
    2. Did I freeze? Did I panic?
    3. Did I give up when I saw I would not do well?
    4. Did I let personal problems or concerns distract me during the test?
    5. Did I let what others were doing distract me?
    6. Do I get too anxious each test and so not do well?
    7. Did I get over anxious for this test because it counted so much? was new?  was unusual? was so specific? was so long? was so comprehensive?
    8. Did I write too much for some items and too little for other?

    9.  
  9. Did I use all of the help available to me?
    1. Was I prepared for class so that I brought things to class I was unclear about?
    2. Did I seek help from classmates? Do I have the phone numbers of class members?
    3. Did I ask questions of the teacher before or after class?
    4. Did I go to an office hour for help?

    5.  
  10. What are my goals?
    1. Am I satisfied with just sliding by?
    2. Do I want to put in the effort to do very well on tests?
    3. Do I want to put in the effort to learn more than is expected?
    4. Do I want to become a self-directed learner?
    5. Do I want to become very competent?
    6. Did I call or talk to the teacher and ask for help?

Ideas on Taking Tests

Irving McPhail in an article Why teach test wiseness? In the Journal of Reading, October, 1981, pp. 32-38, has listed a number of ideas to use when taking tests. Not all of the ideas apply for each kind of test but I thought the list would be useful. Ideas are quoted.
  1. Time-using strategy
    1. Begin to work as rapidly as possible with reasonable assurance of accuracy.
    2. Set up a schedule for progress through the test.
    3. Omit or guess at items which resist a quick response.
    4. Mark omitted items, or items which could use further consideration, to assure easy relocation.
    5. Use time remaining after completion of the test to reconsider answers.
  2. Error-avoidance strategy
    1. Pay careful attention to the directions, determining clearly the nature of the task and the intended basis for response.
    2. Pay careful attention to the items, determining clearly the nature of the question.
    3. Ask examiner for clarification when necessary, if it is permitted.
    4. Check all answers.
  3. Guessing strategy
    1. Always guess if right answers only are scored.
    2. Always guess if the correction for guessing is less severe than a `correction for guessing' formula that gives an expected score of zero for random responding.
    3. Always guess even if the usual correction or a more severe penalty for guessing is employed, whenever elimination of options provides sufficient change of profiting.
  4. . Deductive reasoning strategy
    1. Eliminate options which are known to be incorrect and choose from among the remaining options.
    2. Choose neither or both of two options which imply the correctness of each other.
    3. Choose neither or one (but not both) of two statements, one of which, if correct, would imply the incorrectness of the other.
    4. Restrict choice to those options which encompass all of two or more given statements known to be correct.
    5. Utilize relevant content information in other tests items and options. (As you go through a test there are answers to later items often from other questions and answers.)
  5. Intent consideration strategy
    1. Interpret and answer questions in view of previous idiosyncratic emphases of the test constructor or in view of the test purpose.
    2. Answer items as the test constructor intended.
    3. Adopt the level of sophistication that is expected.
    4. Consider the relevance of specific detail.
  6. . Cue-using strategy (I only cited some of the ideas here.) (Summarized.)
    1. Often correct answers are longer than wrong answers.
    2. Sometimes the grammar of the sentence gives away the answer.
    3. Often the correct answer is the second item.

    4. Watch for key words: always, all, most, never, none--Usually not the answer.


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