Test Taking Strategies – Tips for Exam

In addition to making good preparation for an exam, a student must also know the basic exam-taking strategies to score high in the exam. Exam-taking strategies are important guidelines for attempting an exam. It guides you about how to deal with different types of questions (e.g., MCQs, short and long questions) in an exam and raises your chances of answering questions correctly. It helps you in presenting your answers in an appealing manner. It helps you complete your exam in time.

Many students may prepare themselves very well for an exam but score less in the exam because they don’t know important exam-taking strategies. On the other hand, some students even with comparatively less preparation may perform well in an exam because they consider these strategies for taking the exam. Therefore, along with good preparation for an exam, the student should learn the important exam-taking strategies. This means that in addition to making good preparation for an exam, a student must also know the basic exam-taking strategies to get higher grades in an exam.

Here are some important strategies for exam-taking divided into three categories: 1) The day of the exam, 2) Starting the exam, and 3) Writing the exam (e.g. how to deal with MCQs, short questions and long questions).

  The day of exam

Students should be careful about the following things on the day of the Exam.
  1. Have a good amount of sleep (e.g., 7 or 8 hours).
  2. Take a light physical exercise after you get up in the morning (e.g., a short walk for 20 minutes).
  3. Take a shower to refresh yourself.
  4. Have a proper breakfast but do not each too much.
  5. Make sure you have everything you will need in the exam (e.g. pen, markers, ruler, admit card etc.)
  6. Reach your exam hall at least 30 minutes before the prescribed time.

  Starting your exam

  1. Sit in the chair and wait for the paper to be given to you.
  2. Exam stress is natural and is experienced by all students. Be relax and confident. Let the exam stress not affect your performance.
  3. Read the instructions given on the first page of answer-sheet. Do not simply ignore them because they contain important information with regard to attempting the exam.
  4. Read the questions carefully. If you are given choice in questions, quickly select the questions to be attempted without wasting much time on question selection. Select those questions which you can answer or are comparatively easier than others.
  5. Attempt those questions first, which you can answer in the best way. It would have a first good impression on the examiner (who checks the paper) because, for last questions, most students generally get comparatively less time and thus, are comparatively less well performed.  
  6. Give each answer the correct question number. Some examiners deduct marks for wrongly numbered answers or answers with omitted numbers.
  7. Keep an eye on the clock or wrist-watch to give each answer its due time. The time for each answer should be calculated in advance.


Question papers have different types of questions which should be answered differently, and different strategies may work them. Most exams have the following three common types of questions:

Long questions – that require explanatory and descriptive answers.
Short questions – that requires a few lines answer.
Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) – that requires selecting an answer from the given options.

  Attempting long questions

  1. These questions require detailed explanatory answers and generally have a choice in them. Choose only those questions which you can answer perfectly. Sometimes, the given questions do not include the required number of questions to be answered by you perfectly. For instance, you are required to attempt 5 questions, but you can only answer 4 questions in the given questions. In such a case, you may select one other such question which you can answer at least partially.
  2. Read the question carefully. Most students answer the question differently from what is originally asked.
  3. After reading the question, start generating ideas for its answer in your mind. Think about various possible aspects of the question, it will help you generate many ideas. Recall all the possible points from your memory which you learnt while studying this topic. When you generate many ideas, you can also write them as small notes on one side (that is meant for rough work) of the answer-sheet.
  4. Make a sketch of all the generated ideas in your mind and think about how to present them on the answer sheet. For long questions, the presentation style of ideas counts a lot. Your ideas should not be presented in a haphazard manner. It should be in a proper sequence. A good approach is to group common ideas together as separate parts of your answer by using headings for them. This makes a good structure of your question.
  5. Remember, it is always advisable to divide a long answer into many paragraphs. Each paragraph should be comprehensive.
  6. Use headings and sub-heading to make your answer appealing and easily understandable by the examiner.  
  7. Use diagrams, tables and charts where needed.
  8. Use a formal and professional style of writing your answer by including some impressive pieces of information such as relevant facts and figures, definitions, quotes and so on. For instance, to support some of your ideas, think and use some sentences such as:
    According to some modern Economists, women contribute to two-third of the world’s work but earn only 10%.
    According to Psychology, neglected children develop disorders at a later age.
  9. Avoid unnecessary explanations. Only the most relevant ideas should be reflected in the answer. It is the quality, not the quantity, that matters.
  10. Use the last paragraph as a conclusion to summarize your entire answer. This paragraph may be given a heading ‘conclusion’ or ‘concluding thoughts’.
  11. Use different colors for heading and sub-heading. This way, your answer will look appealing to the eyes. You may also use a highlighter for highlighting some important pieces of information within your answer.

  Attempting Multiple Choice Questions

  1. Remember, the MCQs paper (or as a section of a paper) has a very short time for attempting it. Each MCQ may hardly get one minute for attempting it. Therefore, you should have a good speed at attempting MCQs. You can gain this speed by practicing similar tests before the real exam. However, during the paper, it is better to divide the total time on the total number of MCQs to get an idea of time for each MCQ.
  2. Read the question and think about its answer in your mind before looking at the options. It is good to process the answer in your mind first, because generally when students directly look at the given options for an MCQ, they get confused. This is because they did not give their brain a try to figure out the answer, and now as they have seen the answers, their brain gets confused about the available possible answers. Therefore, it is better to figure out an answer in the brain before looking at the options. Even if this way, you do not figure out the answer, you have given your brain an exercise to recall information, and this is why, when you look at the options, you will seasily get the correct option.
  3. Sometimes, you are totally blank about an MCQ and you cannot figure out its answer by any means. In such a situation, use a reverse strategy. Think which of the options can surely not be the answer, and skip out these options. Then, select one from the remaining options. This increases your likelihood to choose the correct answer.
  4. Remember, MCQs assesses your learning by giving you options which are very closest to one another. You may see an option as the correct answer but that may not be the answer. Never choose one option directly. Due to the close similarity of all options, it is better to select one option but by focusing on all options.
  5. MCQs are sometimes a computer-sensitive sheet, so that they can be read by a computer for marking them. Different answer-sheets requires different styles of filling in the boxes or circles for the correct option, such as using a tick mark, a cross mark, or by completely shading the box or circle. Therefore, use the correct style of filling in the boxes or circles according the instructions given in the question

  Attempting the short question

  1. Short questions generally ask about a definition, a meaning of terminology, or one small step involved in some activity explained in the book.
  2. They require a few lines and a compact answer. Your answer should be very specific and to the point.
  3. They carry a few marks. Therefore, write a very short answer. Avoid details as much as possible. If you would unnecessarily add explanations, you will lose much of your time which could have been spent on long questions.  
  4. It is better not to write headings within the answer or to conclusions, unless when extremely required.