4 Ways To Become a Good Test-Taker

If you have ever said, "I'm not a good test-taker," or "I just don't do well on tests," then you had better pay attention to this article. Of course, you will not do well on a test if you've chosen not to study, but there are some quick and easy ways you can improve your test-taking abilities, even if that test – a state test, the SAT, ACT, GRE, LSAT or just your average run-of-the-mill multiple choice test in school – is coming up tomorrow! Sound like a miracle? It isn't. It's easier than you think to go from being a so-so test-taker to a good test-taker. Take a peek at a the following ways you can improve your testing game.

How to study for any test

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Avoid Labeling Yourself

calling yourself a failure makes you a poor test-taker
Getty Images | Kondoros ava Katalin

First and foremost, you're going to want to drop that whole, "I'm not a good test-taker" schtick. That label, called a cognitive distortion, does more harm than you know! According to a study published in the Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment judging the reading ability during a timed exam between 35 ADHD students who said they were poor testers and 185 students who did not, the only difference was the amount of test-taking anxiety and stress during the reading. The kids who called themselves poor testers demonstrated the same reading comprehension, decoding, speed, vocabulary usage and testing strategies as the ones who didn't label themselves, but showed significantly higher stress before and during the exam. And testing anxiety can ruin a good score!

If you believe yourself to be something, studies suggest that you will be it, even if the statistics prove otherwise. I'm sure the students who labeled themselves as "poor testers" in the study above were surprised to hear that they'd done as well as the "good testers!" If you've told yourself for years that you're a poor tester, then you will certainly live up to those expectations; on the other hand, if you allow yourself to believe that you are able to get a good score, then you will fare better than you would have by beating yourself up. Believe and you can achieve, my friends.

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Keep Track of Time


One of the ways to become a good test-taker is to be vigilant, but not worried, about your time. It's just math. You're going to get a lower score if you have to rush at the end because you were too liberal with your time at the beginning of the test. Before the test, take a few seconds to calculate how much time you have per question. For instance, if you have 45 minutes to answer 60 questions, then 45/60 = .75. 75% of 1 minute is 45 seconds. You have 45 seconds to answer each question. If you notice that you're taking more than 45 seconds each time you answer, then you're going to absolutely lose points at the end of the exam because you won't have enough time to give those final questions your best shot.

If you find yourself struggling between two answer choices and you're already over the question time limit, circle the question and move on to others, some of which may be way easier. Come back to the tough one if you have time at the end.

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Read Long Passages Effectively

places to study: bookstore
Getty Images | Tera Moore

Some of the biggest time drains and score reducers on a test are those long reading passages and the questions that follow them. Knock them out quickly and effectively and you'll be on the road to becoming a good test-taker. Follow this procedure:

  1. Read the title of the passage, so you know what subject you're dealing with.
  2. Go through the questions associated with the passage and answer any that refer to a particular line, paragraph number, or word. Yes, this is before you read the whole thing.
  3. Then, read the passage quickly, underlining important nouns and verbs as you go.
  4. Jot down a brief summary of each paragraph (two-three words) in the margin.
  5. Answer the rest of the reading questions.

Answering the easy questions first – those that refer to a portion of the passage -allows you to gain some quick points right away. Underlining important nouns and verbs as you read not only helps you remember what you've read, it also gives you a specific place to refer to when you're answering the more difficult questions. And summarizing in the margins is key to understanding the passage in its entirety. Plus, it allows you to answer those "What was the main idea of paragraph 2?" types of questions in a flash.

Reading Comprehension Practice

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Use The Answers To Your Advantage

SAT Subject Tests
Getty Images | Michelle Joyce

On a multiple choice test, the correct answer is right there in front of you. The only thing you have to do is differentiate between similar answer choices to select the correct one.

Look for extreme words in answers like "never" or "always." Words like that will often disqualify an answer choice because they eliminate so many correct statements. Watch out for opposites, too. A test writer will often put the exact opposite of the correct answer as one of your choices, using very similar wording to test your ability to read carefully. Plug in answers for math questions or sentence completions to see which answer may fit instead of trying to solve it outright. You may find the solution much more quickly that way!

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Lewandowski, Lawrence, Gathje, Rebecca A., Lovett, Benjamin J., & Gordon, Michael. (2012). Test-Taking Skills in College Students With and Without ADHD. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment 31: 41-52.