How to Get Your Best Score on Every Test

Dahlia Miller
November 2003

“Success is a journey, not a destination.”

Taking a test is like running a race. Someone else is there grading your performance, while you work to show your best effort. The runners who do well in races are the ones who practise. Likewise, the people who do well on tests are the ones who put in the hours practising what they’ve been learning.

If you want to do your best on every test, you can’t wait until a day or two before the test to begin to study. You’ve got to put in the hours each night to keep yourself up to speed with your classes. Good test performance is dependent on good study habits.

Study Habits that are Essential to Good Test Performance:

  • Organization
  • Time management
  • Reading for comprehension
  • Note-taking
  • Memory development
  • Ability to express newly learned information in your own words
  • Ability to cope with test stress

Tips for How to Spend Your Time Leading up to a Test

Before You Even Look at the Material
Ask your teacher what information/ knowledge they are testing…this can give many clues into what will actually be on the test. You may be surprised at the information your teachers are willing to share about upcoming tests if they see you preparing ahead of time.

For every test, be sure that you know all of the details. When is the test? How long will the test be? What is the format for the test (will it be multiple choice, essay, short answer, true/false)? How much is the test worth?

Set a goal for yourself for the test. Picture yourself getting your marks, looking at your test, and seeing the score you wanted. Keep your goal in mind and know that you can achieve it.

Set a schedule for your time leading up to the test. Include time for continued study of your other subjects/homework, time for eating, sleeping, exercise, and fun. It is important to maintain a healthy routine. Exhausting yourself in the last few days before a test with too much study or worry will only drain your energy.

Looking at the Material
Gather all the information pertinent to your test – textbooks, notes, hand outs, past tests (if relevant), feedback from past assignments or tests (feedback is great for helping to fine-tune your approach).

Create a “table of contents” for all of the information that is going to be covered in the test. Use as many pages as you need to make a list of all the key points that will be covered. Note any specific areas of concern – either that you know you are weak on or that the teacher suggested may be central to the test. This should take you about 30 to 60 minutes.

Flesh out your table of contents with details. This should take 2-3 hours depending on how comprehensive the test is. What you are doing is creating a “summary sheet” of all of the information that is potentially going to appear on the test.

Review. Check items off of your summary sheet as you review them. Spend more time on points that are more difficult for you, but pay attention not to get bogged down in one section. The idea is to make it all the way through all of the topics before the test. If you work for 30-50 minutes with 10 minute breaks, you’ll help to boost your memory retention since our brains find beginnings and endings easiest to remember.

Practice. To beat test stress, you need to get comfortable with producing information under pressure. Practise in a timed setting. Knowing how long your test will be and how many questions will be on it, you can try to reproduce the actual timing of the test.

Practise output (especially written output). Make up questions and answer them, fill in practice worksheets, talk with someone about what you know, make flash cards, write stories or poems about the information, mind map, write practice essays or paragraphs.

Tips to Remember at the Test:

  • Your test is your performance. Maintain a positive, self-confident attitude. Focus on yourself; remember your goals; ignore what everyone else is doing.
  • Review the entire test when it is first handed out.
  • Budget your time. How long is the test? How many questions are there? Which ones are worth the most? Which ones are the easiest? Take a minute after your first read through of the test to orient yourself, make a quick plan, note the time, and begin.
  • Begin with the easiest questions first. This will boost your confidence and get you some easy marks at the same time.
  • Be sure to read all questions and directions carefully! Read them twice. Read them five times if you need to! You must understand what is being asked before you can give the best answer!
  • While you’re writing the test, focus your attention on answering the questions well.
  • Even if you finish early, stay to the end of the test. Kick back and relax. Feeling relaxed in a test setting can help reduce stress in future tests. And, if you’re lucky, an answer that had earlier escaped you might bubble up.
  • One last quick trick that used to help me to get through those grueling batteries of university tests: plan something to do after the test. Life goes on, and a plan for fun can help to take the pressure off.