Only 2 weeks of school to go!  But before we dismiss for the winter break, many students must endure and conquer fall final exams.  While final exams are essentially non-existent for elementary students, many middle-school and almost all high-school students must prepare for these major exams.  But preparing is only half the battle.  How can a student effectively take the exam once the preparation is over?  Here are my top test taking tips for final exams.

Make sure you have the correct exam.

This may seem obvious, but I’ve seen students discover they have been taking the wrong final exam after they had already completed part of it.  Don’t be that student!  Check the top of the exam and make sure you are taking the correct test.

Make sure you have all the materials you need.

Nothing is more frustrating than your calculator running out of power in the middle of a test or your only pencil breaking as you begin writing.  Bring backup batteries, pencils, pens, paper, erasers, or any other materials you may need throughout the test.

Quickly scan through the entire exam.

Before you start the test, flip through page-by-page to determine what types of questions you will be answering and the general length of the test.  This will help you pace yourself and ensure you don’t run out of time.

Read each question carefully.

This is true whether it’s multiple choice, essay, or any other kind of question.  You must understand exactly what the question is asking before you try to answer.  Pay close attention to the little words, such as “not,” “and,” “both,” etc. that may influence your answer choice.

Skip difficult questions.

It’s easy to get bogged down on difficult questions, but this is a lose-lose strategy.  Not only do you lose time trying to figure out the answer (and run the risk of not finishing the test), but you also may lose confidence in what you are doing.  Skip the difficult questions in favor of the easier ones.  You can always come back at the end.

Consider your options before answering.

Again, this is true on essay, multiple choice, short answer, and any other test item.  Before you write down anything, consider all possible options.  On an essay question, this means you may want to write a brief outline of your ideas before you start writing the first sentence.  Often times our first inclination isn’t the best one.

Put a star next to any questions you want to revisit.

As you work through a test, you will likely encounter items that you are a little unsure of.  However, you will probably not remember every single one you have questions about.  Just draw a little star next to each item you have questions about.  This will give you a bookmark to reference quickly later on.

Take a break and breathe.

Most exams, particularly final exams, don’t take the entire allotted time.  This allows students the opportunity to take a short break in the middle.  If you are stuck on an item, feel test fatigue setting in, or maybe anxiety starting to creep in, just put your pencil down and take a few deep breaths.  It will help reset your mind and give you a little more energy to finish strongly.

Answer everything.

Unless you are counted off for incorrect answers, you should answer every item on your test.  A guess is better than no answer.  And short answers and essays give you an opportunity to write down anything that even remotely relates to the question.  If you’re not sure what to write, just jot down a few facts that your remember about the topic.

Check all your answers before turning it in.

Once you are finished with your exam, flip back to the first page and go through item by item to ensure you have answered everything.  You may want to review questions and answers more thoroughly, but at the very least you want to make sure there are no blank items.

Ask questions.

If you are confused on an item or on the directions make sure you ask the teacher or proctor.  You may not get the answer you need, but at least you expressed your desire for clarity.  This may help your case in the event you have to appeal your grade down the road.

Make sure your name is on the test.

This is probably more of a “Step 1,” but I do think students should check that their name is on the test before they turn it in.  Write legibly and leave no confusion as to whose test it is.

While these are some of my favorite tips, students will achieve their best when using test-taking strategies that are specific for their individual needs.  Academic mentors specialize in developing test-taking skills, so if your student needs additional support, please let us know.  Good luck to all during this crucial time!