Quizzes, midterms, and final exams are often the basis on which grades are awarded. But they are also valuable thinking and learning experiences. Quizzes force you to keep up with reading assignments, while longer exams require you to consolidate and integrate concepts and information. Exam questions fall into two general categories: objectives (multiple-choice or true/false) and essay exams.

Multiple-Choice and True/False Questions

Here are some tips for answering multiple-choice and true/false questions on exams.

  • Read the directions thoroughly. The directions may contain crucial information you need to answer the questions correctly.
  • Leave nothing blank. Even if you guess at the answer, you have nothing to lose.
  • Watch for absolute words such as all, none, always, and never. Absolute statements tend to be false or incorrect.
  • Read two-part statements carefully in True/False questions. If both parts are not correct, then the answer must be “False”.
  • Read all choices before choosing your answer, even if you think you have found the correct one. In multiple-choice tests, remember that your job is to choose the best answer.
  • Avoid selecting answers that are unfamiliar or that you do not understand.
  • When you have to guess at an answer, pick the one that seems complete and contains the most information. Instructors are usually careful to make the best answer completely correct and recognizable. Such a choice often becomes long or detailed.
  • Play the odds. In a multiple-choice test, if you can eliminate a couple of choices that are absolutely incorrect, you greatly increase your chances of getting the answer right.
  • If two of the answer choices are opposites, it is likely that one of them is the correct answer.
  • If two similar answer choices are presented, one is likely to be correct.
  • Don’t change answers without a good reason. When reviewing your answers before you turn in your exam, don’t make a change unless you have a good reason for doing so. Very often your first impression or instinct is correct.
  • Mark any item that contains unfamiliar terminology as false. If you have studied the material thoroughly, trust that you would recognize as true anything that was part of the course content.
  • When all else fails, it is usually better to guess true rather than false. It is more difficult for instructors to write plausible false statements than true statements. As a result, many exams have more true items than false.
  • Choose a midrange number. When a question asks you to select a number, such as a percentage or other statistic, choose a midrange number. Test writers often include choices that are both higher and lower than the correct answer.

Essay Exams

Here are some tips for preparing for and taking essay exams.

  • Determine the likely questions on the exam. You can do this by reviewing your lecture notes, thinking about the topics your instructor emphasized in class, rereading parts of your textbook, or talking with your classmates about possible questions. Write up the possible questions and practice answering them.
  • Remember that an essay exam requires an essay with a good topic sentence and adequate support. Before you start writing, quickly outline your answer so that your essay has form and structure.
  • Keep your eye on the time. Bring a watch to class, and plan how much time you will spend on each question. You must answer each question to get a good grade.
  • Read the directions carefully before you start the exam, looking for clues that will tell you what the instructor is looking for.
  • If you have a choice of questions, select carefully. Read all the questions first, and then choose the questions on which you will be able to score the most points.
  • If you don’t know the answer, do not leave the page blank; write something. In attempting to answer the question, you may hit upon some partially correct information. However, the main reason for writing something is to give the instructor an opportunity to give you at least a few points for trying. If you leave a blank page, your instructor has no choice but to give you zero points.

Be sure to begin studying for each major exam a least a week before the test. Research has shown that early preparation leads to higher grades than an all-night cram session the day before the test. Show up for the exam a few minutes early, sit at the front of the room (to minimize distractions and be one of the first to get the exam), and bring the necessary materials (including pens, pencils, and erasers).