Working Smart—Strategies for Difficult Exams

Most students give away a half a letter grade by not showing all that they know on tests, particularly those requiring problem solving skills.  It’s worth a few minutes to improve the strategy to do well.  Here are some suggestions.

Just pick one or two that is appropriate for you to keep in mind.

Take a deep breath before beginning in order to calm your mind. Racing forward in the first few minutes can lead to careless errors that are difficult to identify and correct.

Preview the test before you answer anything. This gets you thinking about the material. Make sure to note the point value of each question. Quickly estimate how much time you should allow for each section according to the point value. This preview should only take a minute or two.

Read the directions Never assume that you know what the directions say.

Underline with a pencil what you are asked to do. This will force you to focus on the answer.

Keep track of the time and progress during the test.

Answer the easy questions first. This will give you the confidence and momentum to get through the rest of the test. You are sure these answers are correct.

Go back to the difficult questions. While looking over the test and doing the easy questions, your subconscious mind will have been working on the answers to the harder ones. For problems with multiple parts (i.e. a, b,c,d), and use the earlier sections for hints to solve the later parts.

Answer all questions.  

Avoid careless errorsThink before you start writing.  When the writing starts on the wrong track, it is very difficult and time consuming to rethink the problem and start over.

Review the test carefully, especially the easy questions.

Use all of the time allotted for the test.

Show all your work (especially when partial credit is awarded) and write as legibly as possible.

Strategies for working on quantitative problems are outlined in Effective Quantitative Problem Solving Methods

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