Test-Taking Do's and Don'ts: Key Tips for Academic Success

There is no substitute for test preparation. Read these do's and don'ts to learn how you can best to prepare and study for exams. You will perform better on tests and achieve the academic success you desire. 

If you desire greater academic success, there is no substitute for test preparation. Learning how to best prepare and study for exams will make you feel more relaxed heading into an exam, and the combination of preparation and relaxation will help you achieve greater success. 

So, what are some of the key tips for test preparation and test-taking?

Review These Critical Test-Taking Do's and Don'ts 

Do your best to plan far ahead of the test date so that you can block out plenty of study time. And do read our College Study Do's and Don'ts. 

Don't cram the night before -- or pull an "all-nighter" -- because while studying the night before might have worked in high school, it will not work in college. 

Do consider attending classes and completing your reading assignments well ahead of the test as part of your test-taking preparation. Both attending lectures and completing the reading assignments are essential aspects of test preparation and academic success. 

Don't let outside work -- whether a part-time job or volunteer work -- affect your studying plans. And if work does interfere, do find a way to make up the studying. 

Do use mnemonic devices, mind maps, or other tools for subjects that require remembering large quantities of information and inter-relationships. 

Don't waste too much time preparing to study for the exam; instead, spend the bulk of your time studying for the exam. 

Do get information about all aspects of the test as you can -- including the types of questions (true/false, multiple choice, short answer, and essay are the most common), the chapters/readings the test will cover, the amount of time you'll have to take the test, and any supporting materials you need to bring with you to the test. 

Don't skip any test review sessions the professor schedules. Review sessions are great opportunities to ask questions, listen to the issues the professors think most relevant, and possibly get some clues as to what to expect on the test. 

Do set challenging, but realistic goals for each test. Having a goal will give you the motivation to help you with studying; just don't get a goal that is beyond your reach and sets you up for disappointment. 

Don't let outside influences affect your test-taking preparations. Whenever possible, keep your roommate, family, and significant other relationships free of drama so that you can fully concentrate on preparing and taking the test. 

Do take scheduled (and perhaps a few unscheduled) breaks while studying. Most college students say that studying in smaller chunks with regular breaks helps them retain more information and thus perform better on exams. 

Don't study in a place with lots of distractions, but do find the place that best works for you (such as your dorm room or apartment, the library, an empty classroom, etc.). 

Do review previous tests so that you have a better idea of the types of questions your professor ask (and how s/he asks them). Some professors place old tests on reserve in the library, while others have them in the departmental office or posted on their Website. Finally, some student groups keep files of old tests. 

Don't just review old exams, but do take at least one practice exam. If your professor does not release old exams, check to see if the publisher of your textbook offers practice exams. Finally, if you at least know the types of questions to expect on the exam, you can develop your own practice exam. 

Do pack up everything you need for the exam the night before so that you don't get in a panic for forgetting something (such as pencils, calculators, etc.). 

Don't stay up late the night before an exam. Getting a good night's sleep will greatly enhance your test-taking abilities. And do watch your diet; eating well help your brain function better. 

Do arrive to class a few minutes early so that you can get situated comfortably in your seat and mentally prepare for the exam, but don't get caught up in any last-minute jitters from other students. 

Don't ignore any directions you receive with the exam. Make certain you understand the test's instructions before you start taking it. 

Do review the entire test and consider quickly performing a mind/brain dump -- in which you write down relevant formulas, dates, processes, models, etc., that you are afraid of forgetting as you work your way through the exam. 

Don't allow yourself to get stuck on a question for too long; you must pace yourself so that you can complete the exam in time. When you are stumped by a question, try rewriting it. If that trick does not work, try asking your professor to rephrase the question for you. Finally, move on to the next question, making a mental note to return if you have time at the end of the exam. 

Do try and complete any bonus or supplemental questions. 

Don't get caught up in how fast other classmates complete their tests; take your time and make certain you answer all required sections/questions. 

Do try and save time to complete one final review of your test before you submit it, but don't make too many changes to your answers in haste or doubt. Do reward yourself with a special treat after you have completed the test -- such as indulging in a favorite meal or snack, or perhaps a watching movie or playing a video game. 

And some post-test results/grading do's and don'ts... 

Do take the time to review your test results -- both to make certain there were no errors in the grading, but also to learn where you made mistakes so that you can improve your performance with the next test. 

Don't go to extremes with your test grade. If you scored better than you expected, go celebrate a bit, but don't slack off on the preparations and studying for the next exam -- in fact, challenge yourself to obtain an even higher grade. If you scored worse than you expected, don't beat yourself up but do learn from your mistakes; identify where you went wrong and correct it for the next exam. 

Do schedule an appointment with your professor if you are struggling with his/her tests -- and seek advice, strategies, and suggestions for how you might improve your performance. 

Finally, read also our 10 Tips for Better Test Preparation and the Top 10 Key Words Used in Essay Exam Questions. 

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key academic terms by going to our College Success Glossary

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