Tips for Test Takers
(written by Richard M. Felder, Dept. of Chemical Engineering, NCSU;
adapted by Matthias Stallmann, Dept. of Computer Science, NCSU)
Throughout the Semester
- If you're confused by something in class, speak up. Odds are good
you're not alone. It's frustrating for an instructor to have a vague
feeling that students are confused, but no idea why. If you can't
formulate a coherent question, it often helps just to say, "I lost you
when you said ..."
- Spend time each week reconstructing lecture notes from memory. Use
the book and actual notes to fill in details only when necessary. If
something doesn't connect, ask the instructor for help (email is an
excellent way to do this).
- When graded homework is returned and/or solutions are posted, make
sure you understand all the mistakes you made and all differences between
your solutions and any posted ones. Test questions are often based on
- Study in small groups.
- Make sure your group contains only students who are serious about
studying, at least some of whom are of your ability or better.
- Go over as many different questions and problems as you can (e.g.
old homework problems, problems from the text, tests from
previous semesters). Don't quit on a problem until you're
convinced you could do it yourself.
- Brainstorm possible things you could be asked and the answers you
- Make up a crib sheet as though you were going to cheat on a
closed-book exam. For an open book exam, bring the sheet with you.
In any case, know what's on the sheet.
- Get plenty of sleep the night before the test.
- Think about a backup system for your alarm clock on the
morning of the test, e.g. a second alarm clock or a wakeup call from a
- Arrange backup transportation in case your usual
- Be sure you have a backup pen or pencil.
Taking the Test
- Read the whole test first. Then start with the problem that
looks easiest to you and progress to the more difficult ones.
- STAY IN MOTION! Work on a problem until you are not sure what
to do next. Think about it for a minute or two and if nothing comes then
drop it and go on to another problem.
- Budget your time. Don't spend 30 minutes sweating out an
additional 5 points on a problem and run out of time leaving a 40-point
- Think partial credit. Make sure you get something down
for each part of every problem. If you don't have enough time to solve a
problem, say something about what you would do if you had more time.
- Show your work. Even if you're able to figure out a short
in your head and write it down, don't.
If you're wrong you'll get zero credit, and even if you're right, the
instructor may want to see evidence that you understand the concepts.
- Keep it legible. If an instructor can't read what you wrote
he/she is unlikely to assume what you did is correct.
- If you don't understand what a question is getting at, ask the test
proctor for help. You will often get help, and it never hurts to try.
- Don't panic. If you feel yourself sweating, hyperventilating,
etc., put down your pencil, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and
consciously relax any muscles that you're clenching (e.g. jaw and stomach
muscles). When you're calmer, go back to the test.
If stress during tests is a problem, try
- Check your answers if you have time at the end. Have you
answered each part of every question or did you overlook something? Do
your solutions look reasonable? Can you reproduce the details? (Save that
matt_stallmann AT ncsu.edu)
Last modified: Thu Feb 17 13:34:41 EST 2005