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Student Toolkit: How to Take a Test

Guest Editor - Bradford A. Rogers

Test-taking can be an extremely stressful part of college or online education programs, but it doesn't have to be. Follow the simple steps below to ace that upcoming mid-term or final exam with ease.

Study, Study, Study

Of course, the most helpful thing you can do to prepare for any exam is to study, study, study. Properly and efficiently covering all the necessary material for an exam will help reduce stress and anxiety, as you will be confident that you can tackle the material. To learn more about effective study skills, you can read more here.

Before the Exam

Beyond studying for the exam, however, there is plenty you can do to set yourself up for success a couple of days in advance of the exam. Most important of which is to get plenty of sleep and to take extra care of your health. The sleep you get the night before the exam is critical, but don't forget to get plenty of sleep two nights before the exam as well. A deficiency of sleep two nights previous will often come back to haunt you, so make sure you are getting plenty of sleep at least two nights in advance of the exam. Along with making sure you are well rested, make sure you also eating well and staying hydrated. The correlation between your daily health habits and your exam performance may not seem immediately apparent, but if your body is taken care of and running happily it's one less thing you have to worry about when dealing with pre-exam anxiety. The day of the exam, it is critical that you get in at least one good meal to fuel your body and your brain so that you may tackle whatever comes at you on the exam.

Of course, also be sure to study as much as necessary the day or two before the exam. If you have studied properly up to this point, you should have a decent command over the exam material and you should only need an additional glance over to solidify your understanding. Avoid cramming at all costs, as cramming greatly increases pre-exam anxiety and will prevent effective preparation.

During the Exam

While taking the exam, the most important thing you can do is to stay calm. Your preparation up to this point should ensure your confidence with the material, so take some deep breaths and remind yourself that you have studied well and that you are ready to put your best foot forward on the exam.

Get a good idea of what sort of questions will be asked of you on the exam by skimming through it before answering anything. In many cases, material required of one question may help you answer another question elsewhere on the exam.

Don't feel the need to answer every question in order. Tackle the questions in the order with which you feel most comfortable. Pace yourself, but also be wary of the time limitations of the test – nothing is worse than missing questions that you could easily answer because you ran out of time. Also, it may be helpful to take on the hardest questions first, as your mind will be freshest at the beginning of the exam.

Finally, if you have extra time after completing the exam, be sure to double or triple-check your answers. This is the easiest way to avoid making silly mistakes, so be sure to always use as much time as you are allotted.

After the Exam

After turning in the exam, your success is effectively out of your hands. You may want to go back to your study material to go over what you may or may not have missed, but for many this can only increase test anxiety. Go over your notes if you really feel the need to, but try not to worry too much about what you may have missed as, at this point, there is little you can do to make up for mistakes. Wait until you get your grade back, go over what you missed, and tweak your study strategies accordingly to ensure you are well-prepared for the next exam.