Effective—and Proven—Test-Taking Strategies

hands with pencil taking test w/ text: Effective and Proven Test Taking Strategies

Having recently written a piece for teachers regarding my take on assessment, this blog post provides test-writing advice to students, based on my lengthy experience as a Chemistry teacher.

Typically, assessments—tests and exams—have two parts: multiple choice and some kind of questions that require a written answer.

Here is a version of what I say to students:

1. As counterintuitive as this may seem, do not begin with the multiple-choice (MC) questions, even though these usually appear first. Go straight to the written answer questions. Read these questions slowly and carefully to see what is asked. This allows your subconscious to begin to formulate answers. As you read these questions, label each as “easy” (E), “medium” (M), or “difficult” (D). After this, you can answer “Easy” questions; this “puts money in the bank”—and will boost your confidence.  Further, once you know the questions that are asked, it is common that one or more MC question(s) may jog your brain for an answer to a written answer question. Students report that this occurs frequently, in spite of teachers’ best efforts.

2. Next, start the MC. The strategy for answering MC questions is NOT to look for the correct answer, but to eliminate incorrect choices. Think of this as “taking out the trash”. Teachers typically plant decent-looking distractors as choice (a) or (b) or even (c) and (d). Think of these as “bait”. Don’t bite. If a MC question is difficult, skip it for now. (Don’t forget to leave a blank space on the answer card.)

3. Now you will be better prepared to answer the “medium” difficulty written answer questions. Do these now.

4. After this, answer the MC questions that you initially skipped, followed by the “difficult” written answer questions—in the order that suits you.


  • You may think that initially—and slowly—reading the test paper is a waste of time, especially when you hear your classmates scribbling away. It isn’t. This is a thoughtful, purposeful method, proven to benefit students.
  • Since you have worked slowly and methodically, there will be no need to “check your answers”. Frequently—especially with MC questions—this results in erasing a correct answer and replacing it with a seemingly correct alternate. DO NOT SECOND GUESS YOURSELF. This likely flies in the face of what you’ve been taught by your teachers over the course of many years. Not to worry . . . they meant well.

I urge you to ask your students to try this method of test-writing. I invite your comments . . .