The best test-takers usually embark on their examination with a plan firmly rooted in a philosophy based on their prior successes with tests. Here it is:
Overview the entire test. The idea here is to get a feel for the exam: how long it is, what type of questions are being posed (e.g., essay, multiple choice, matching) and which questions seem easy or hard.
Sometimes in this preliminary phase, you may even stop and jot in an easy answer on a short-answer question. But generally, the idea at this stage is just to get the big picture or gestalt of the test, as you would during the overview of a book.
Read all the directions on the test closely. Too often, an intelligent, well-prepared student will do poorly on a test because he misses or misreads some key instruction. To give you an idea about how important it is to read directions, try doing the following exercise, which has been used in a number of our classes. (You can do any necessary writing on a separate sheet of paper.)
Directions: Do exactly as instructed. Under no circumstances are you to speak or ask a question. Be sure to keep your eyes on your own paper. When you have finished, sit quietly until everyone has finished this drill.
1. Read everything before you do anything.
2. Proceed carefully and cautiously.
3. Put your name in the upper right-hand corner of this paper.
4. Circle the word "Name" in sentence three.
5. Draw five small squares in the upper left-hand corner of this paper.
7. Put a circle around each square.
8. Sign your name in the lower right-hand corner of this paper.
9. After your name, write yes, yes, yes!
10. Put a circle around each word in sentence number 8.
11. Put an X in the lower left-hand corner of this page.
12. Draw a triangle around the X you put down.
13. On the reverse side of this paper, multiply 703 by 1,850.
14. Draw a rectangle around the word "paper" in sentence number 3.
15. When you get to this point in the test, snap the fingers of your left hand.
16. If you think you have followed directions up to this point, write "I have" in the space provided below.
17. On the reverse side of this paper, add 8,950 and 9,850.
18. Put a circle around your answer. Put a square around the circle.
19. Shut your eyes for just a few seconds. Then proceed to line 20.
20. Now that you have finished reading carefully, do only sentence three.
It's amazing to watch the people in our classes dealing with this test of discernment. Usually, only one or two will actually read through, get to number 20, and only write their name in the upper right-hand corner of the paper. Most become engaged busily in drawing squares, Xs and circles, snapping their fingers and doing the arithmetic problems.
Unfortunately, too many people take school tests the same way. They never really read the directions closely, and as a result, they make all sorts of unnecessary mistakes on their exams. Yet as this test clearly demonstrates, reading those directions and following them to the letter is absolutely essential for those who hope to become superior test-takers.
Allocate and organize your time. The third thing that most top students know as they enter the test room is that it's necessary to set aside a few moments for time management. To achieve the best time management on a test, however, it's important to focus in more detail on the kinds of questions that the test maker has given you.
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