Chapter 6


How to

Take Tests



How to Take Tests

How to Take Tests

Background of Testing

Teachers are taught to prepare instructional objectives for

each subject they teach. Their instructional objectives

are essentially what they hope to teach. To ensure that

their objectives are met, the develop tests.

In a test you are asked to demonstrate your proficiency.

A test item calls for a single response or a set of responses.

In general, measurement is on the basis of correct answers.

The measurement is then evaluated.

There are two kinds of evaluation processes: norm-

referenced and criterion-referenced. Norm-referenced

is where you are compared to other students. The entire

class measurement is grouped into a bell curve and the

grades depend on where your score is on the curve.

Criterion-referenced is grading a student to an objective

standard. For example: 90% and above is an A, 80% to

90% is a B, etc.

In trying to determine that the instructional objectives

were met, teachers use criterion item questions designed

to test your proficiency. If the class doesnít seem to be

learning (usually discovered by poor test grades), teachers

may develop a diagnostic test. A diagnostic test is designed

to see why a certain criterion has not been achieved.

The diagnostic test determines what material the teacher

needs to concentrate on. Some teachers combine both

criterion-based and diagnostic questions in a single test.

When taking a test, it may help to be able to tell which

questions are criterion based and which are diagnostic.

Diagnostic questions would usually have answers which

represent a fragment of the material taught rather than

the whole lesson.



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How to Take Tests

For example, if students have problems determining the perimeter or area of a rectangle on geometry tests, the teacher might make up a diagnostic test. The diagnostic exam might ask for the measurement of a single side of a rectangle. A criterion-based question would have asked for the perimeter or area. In the diagnostic version, the teacher was trying to determine whether the students knew how to find the length of a side. If there was a problem doing this, then the teacher would revise his/her lesson plan to include more measurement activities.

How to Solve Problems

There are basically two kinds of tests. Students are either asked to recall a fact or to solve problems through the utilization of concepts, procedures, and rules. In instructional terminology, these two kinds of tests are called Remember-level or Use-level. For Remember-level tests, the memorization techniques should help.

Use-level testing is essentially problem solving. It is a skill that is difficult to teach and also difficult to create good tests for. However, it is important to be able tot do well on problem solving tests. To begin to solve a problem, you need to think with concepts.

A concept is an imaginary mental tool. Concepts are powerful words which either symbolize an interaction or relate an entity or group of entities to other entities. They exist only in the mind. Websterís defines concept as a generality: the quality or state of being general; total applicability.

Because concepts are so general, most concepts are individualized and not completely communicable as to what they represent. For example, to some people, a "good student" would be anyone who can get Aís. To others, a good student would also have to be active in school affairs. To still other people, they might be those students who do not disrupt the classroom. These are often called fuzzy concepts as compared to a clear concept such as the concept of "mammal."



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Fuzzy concepts are not very useful and most us would

like them to be better defined. Yet many concepts remain

fuzzy either because of their changing nature, because

you do not completely understand them, or because you

cannot communicate clearly what you mean by it. Nonetheless,

there would be no means of understanding the world without

the ability to conceptualize.

To teach us to conceptualize, instruction starts with facts

and then develops concepts. Concepts utilize procedures

and rules to help understand the world situation or subject studied.

A procedure is a series of steps to solve

a specific kind of problem, for instance,

the procedure for changing a flat tire.

Usually, procedures are just taught. For example, the procedure to find the area

of a square is to measure he length of

one side and multiply it by itself. Test taking becomes a matter or

identifying the correct procedure for the question and then applying it.

Procedures rely on rules. For example, in the procedure to

determine the area of a square, the length times length

formula is a rule.


Using Concepts, Procedures, and Rules

In actually taking a test, it is useful to identify a group of

problems which require similar or the same procedure(s).

Solve the entire group before going on to other questions. This

allows your mind to concentrate and get into a pattern of

applying the procedure.

In taking Remember-level tests, try to answer the questions

that relate to a single subject as a group. Remember-level testing

is created by producing a question (called a stem) which has an

answer (called a root). It usually covers material taught during

the last three months.

Teachers try to avoid using direct quotes from the material

studied, as this would reward short term memory. Instead,

they paraphrase the material.




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How to Take Tests

The stem or question is usually a direct question without negatives or hidden meaning. The answer should also be straight and direct. Frequently, the teacher will reuse stems (questions) and roots (answers) in a single test. Sometimes they will actually give you the answer if they have switched the root and stem in two different questions.

In taking Use-level tests, your biggest problem is to identify what kind of questions of category of problem is being asked so the appropriate procedure can be applied. Of course, you need to have memorized all the procedures to be tested. If you are aware of a procedure you havenít fully mastered, it is often a good idea to review it just before the test starts. Then write down the procedure on the test itself once the test has started.

Remember, you should consider the answer as something appropriate to the question. You should be suspicious of easy answers to difficult questions. Take particular care when evaluating answers to consider what your teacher considers important.

Here are five questions most teachers ask themselves before writing a test.

    1. What is the purpose of this test?
    2. What time constraints have to be considered?
    3. What learning processes are to be evaluated?
    4. What emphasis should each topic and level of learning be given?
    5. What types of items are best for this testing situation?


How to Take a True/False Test

True-False tests are usually very easy or very hard. They are poor indicators of a studentís actual knowledge. Yet, they are easy to make up and grade, so you will probably always have them.

Always start by examining the entire test. If the overall test looks hard,





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How to Take Tests

be suspicious of the questions that seem very easy.

They are probably the reverse of your first thought.

If the test seems easy, then go with your first answer

throughout the exam.

Some words will tip off the answer. Any question

using ALL, ALWAYS, NEVER, NONE and ONLY is usually false.


tend to be true.

How to Take a Multiple Choice Test

Standardized tests are used for evaluating large groups

of students. This discussion of standardized tests Is not

necessarily related to a multiple-choice test that a single

teacher writes. It is meant to reflect a large database

exam, such as the SAT, ELM, GRE etc. Your score can make

the difference between getting a scholarship or university

acceptance or rejection. Unfortunately, standardized

tests are usually multiple-choice tests. As the recent

controversy over SAT scores has demonstrated, multiple

choice tests do not measure a studentís actual knowledge

or ability. Rather a multiple choice test evaluates a

studentsí ability to take multiple choice tests.

There are some techniques that can help you improve

your ability to take standardized tests.

Be aware that all of the answers provided to a question

are considered the correct student by some student. For

instance, in the California Entrance Level Mathematics Exam

for college, if an answer is not chosen by at least 5% of the

students taking the exam, the question is either rewritten

or a better distracter (wrong answer) is developed.

This means all of the possible answers look right to some

students. Test makers accomplish this in one of two ways.

Either the question is manipulated into frequently chosen

wrong answers, or the answers are all true with only one

being the best.

The question asked is the single largest clue to work with.

The correct understanding of what is asked is crucial.

Always try to answer questions that are in the same



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How to Take Tests

subject at the same time. Often they will be grouped together, as when a short article is given and then questions are asked.

Underline any negatives whether in the article, question, or answer, as they will be key indicators. Underline keywords in the answers that are repeated from the article or the question to the answers. Examine the answers for completeness. If the question asks for name, place, and date, and some answers give only two of the three, eliminate those answers.

Remember the rules presented in the chapter on "How to Solve Problems." Pace yourself so you can finish the entire exam. Find out if you are penalized for guessing. If you are, remember to still guess if you can eliminate three of the five possible answers.

If you are taking an exam which utilizes a Scantron (a computer-read answer sheet) for grading, make your pencil marks carefully so they do not smudge or overlap. Multiple marks are counted as wrong answers. Research has shown it is better to transfer your answers to the Scantron form at the end of the exam than to mark it as you answer each question. It saves time and reduces the possibility of mismarking.


How to Take a Blue Book Exam

Read the instructions. Determine how the grading will be done. Are all the questions weighted the same? Often teachers will require some questions to be answered and give more points for certain questions. Do all the questions need to be answered or just one or two from each category? Most tests will state these objectives at the top prior to any questions. If you are not sure Ė ASK. Even if no one else seems to be having a problem, you are being graded on your work and need to


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understand what is required.

Second, read the questions. As you read each one, write

margin notes about the answer as ideas occur to you. Do not

write extensively. Just jot down key ideas. If nothing

occurs to you (you draw a complete black), go on to the

next question. Do not spend more than a couple of minutes

studying any one question. Continue making margin notes

next to each question until you have complete all the questions.

Examine the entire test. For example, a one-hour test has

12 questions and 100 points possible. One question is worth

20 points, five questions are worth ten points, and six

questions are worth 5 points. Where should you start?

Here are four suggestions you can use to proceed:

  1. Decide what your strongest areas are based on your

    margin notes. Wherever your notes appear to be the best

    is a good place to start.

  2. Start with the five-point answers. Remember the time

    limit as you write. Do as many of the five-point questions

    that you feel good about answering. Do not spend time on weak

    answers. Go on to the ten-point questions and work the same

    way. Continue with the ten-point questions until only

    fifteen minutes remain in the exam time, then go to the

    20-point question.

  3. Base the length of your answers on their point value,

    so if you wrote one page for a five-point question, write two

    pages for the ten-point questions, and four pages for the

    20-point question.

  4. Consider whether the instructions limit you to one blue book,

two blue books, or leave it up to you. Most instructors do not

want to read really long answers. They have to read all the

exams, not just yours. If a length is set, do not exceed it. If

the number of pages for the entire exam is restricted, then

use the same kind of ratio as above. Try to utilize as much of

the allowed length as you can without rambling.

When you start the 20-point question, take some time and

reexamine it is terms of all your other answers. Do you still

feel comfortable with your margin notes? You should




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How to Take Tests

have fifteen minutes, so start with an outline of what you intend to write. Use headings. (Remember the outline will part of your blue book and therefore turned in.) Then write sentences for each idea.

If you have time after finishing the biggest question, go back to any questions worth ten points that you left black and write a short answer. Then go to any five-point questions remaining. If you still have a little time, go back to your short answers and try to add to them.

Now, letís look at a one-hour exam where all the questions have the same value. You spend eight minutes reading the instructions and questions. 52 minutes remain to answer the 12 questions which means you have four and one-third minutes to answer each question. Pace yourself on this basis.


Tips for Essay Answers

Remember, as with all essay questions, your answers must be complete sentences with correct grammar and spelling. If you are unsure of a spelling, try and write the answer with words you know. Use more rather than fewer paragraphs, making sure each expresses an idea and contains at least three sentences.

Start with an introduction that restates the question in your terms. This makes sure that you are actually stating something about the question. This should get you at least partial credit. By using words from the question you also have the advantage of being sure of the spelling. Then answer the question in a body consisting of at least three paragraphs. The conclusion should restate the answer in a short definitive style.

It is likely that there will be some questions for which you have no idea what the answer might be, even though you are well prepared. This happens to all students sooner or later. Obviously, first answer all the questions you know as well as you can. If time remains, here is a strategy for the question(s) remaining.

Take the question and turn it around or inside out until



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How to Take Tests

you have a question which you can answer. In other

words, deliberately restate the question, changing it from

what it was asking into a question you can answer. Many

instructors will assume you gave it your best shot and give

you partial credit for you answer.

Test Anxiety

Believe it or not, most of you work better under pressure.

The pressure of a testing environment usually produces your

best effort. However, you have all either frozen or know

someone who has during an important test. The most common

example of this is stage fright. The worst cases of stage fright

produce a paralysis of thought and body which, if continued,

can result in life-changing embarrassment.

Severe test anxiety is like stage fright and can limit you ability

not only to pass the test, but even to attempt the subject again.

There are some special classes which help people with severe

anxiety. Here we will deal with anxiety that is not disabling.

It really helps if you come into the test prepared. Confidence

is the best cure for anxiety. Second, if you feel your heartbeat

increasing and anxiety rising, try to take three deep, slow

breaths. Remind yourself it is only a test, that there are more

important things in life.

Try to go to a different part of the test and start over. It helps

to look over the entire test and start with the are you consider

easy or known. This builds confidence and reduces anxiety.

Sometime during the test, stop and take a minute to relax and

consider where you are and what time remains. Prepare a

strategy to deal with the rest of the test. If the test is divided

into sections, use each break as your strategy session. Otherwise,

create your own.

Very few people can concentrate well for even a single hour.

So probably sometime during the test you will find your thoughts

wandering. When this happens your test taking ability is greatly

reduced. So stop and deal with your wandering thoughts. One of

the techniques is to speed the thoughts along to their normal end

and then get back to the test.




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How to Take Tests

For example, if you are thinking about a baseball game or a date or just what you have to do after school, take the thought through the entire process Ė hitting a home run, having a nice date or whatever. Usually it is better to have a happy ending Ė why have a nightmare? Itís your daydream, after all.




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Some advise for dealing with Stress from Dartmouth.