How to Be a Better Test Taker

Four Parts:StudyingPreparing for the TestTaking the TestScoring Well on Specific Subjects

Oh no. A test is coming up, and you know you're a terrible test-taker! Forget about that fear. Anyone can do well on a test with good study habits, enough rest, and deep breaths. You've got this one in the bag.

Part 1

  1. Image titled Be a Better Test Taker Step 1
    Smell a strong scent while studying. Rub on some cream or lotion with a fruit, vegetable, or flower scent in it. Study while the scent is strong. Right before taking the test, rub on the same scent. Smell is closely linked to memory, and this trick can help you remember what you learned earlier.
    • Different scents may have additional effects besides reminding you of your studying. One series of studies showed that rosemary improved memory and test performance, while lavender had a negative effect.[1]
  2. Image titled Be a Better Test Taker Step 2
    Work in a quiet place. Music, television, or even traffic noise can make it more difficult to study. If your house is noisy, find a quiet place to study after school. Libraries are a good option. If you can't find a quiet place, listen to some baroque music or even a constant sound source. The constant noise "numbs" you to the other noises.
  3. Image titled Be a Better Test Taker Step 3
    Study a little bit of the material each day. Your brain needs time to work through the information, and can do this even while you're asleep. 30 minutes each day for a week will give you more time to learn the material than a last-minute cram session.
    • If you have a question that you can't answer for yourself, write it down to ask your teacher. Make sure you have all your questions answered at least three days before a regular test, and at least two weeks before a major exam.
    • At the end of each study session, reward yourself for your focus and determination. Treat yourself to a video game session, a bubble bath, or something else you enjoy.
  4. Image titled Be a Better Test Taker Step 4
    Repeat the material aloud and in writing. Reading and listening in the classroom is a good start, but you can go further. Involve other parts of your brain, and you'll learn the material faster:
    • Write down the important facts to help yourself remember them.
    • Explain the subject aloud to a friend or family member, or even to a dog or hairbrush. "Teaching" the subject this way is a great way to find the gaps in your knowledge, and force yourself to fill them.
    • Make flash cards with questions on one side and answers on the other. Test yourself with these regularly.
  5. Image titled Be a Better Test Taker Step 5
    Practice math problems. If you're studying for a math test, a big stack of problems is the best way to learn. Set aside your calculator and do the problems by hand. Keep these tips in mind:
    • Do all the problems in your textbook that were not assigned for homework. These are often the problems that show up on the test.
    • If you're learning addition and multiplication, practice these in your head while you're on the bus or waiting in line somewhere.
  6. Image titled Be a Better Test Taker Step 6
    Practice essay questions. In preparing for essays, don't take the time to write out entire papers unless you know the test topic in advance. Instead, outline answers for some of the major themes of the class. Include the thesis statement, introduction, and conclusion, but just write bullet points for the major points in between.
  7. Image titled Be a Better Test Taker Step 7
    Take breaks. A short break once in a while will keep you refreshed and focused. Take a 2 minute break every 15 minutes, or a 10 minute break every hour, whichever keeps you most focused.

Part 2
Preparing for the Test

  1. Image titled Be a Better Test Taker Step 8
    Choose your pencils and pens. The right tools on test day help keep everything running smooth. Stash these in your backpack the day before:
    • Two sturdy #2 pencils made of real wood. A stressful test will make you push harder while writing, which can break mechanical pencils or other weak pencils.
    • A pencil sharpener. If you're filling out machine-read bubble forms, keep one pencil to a dull point. This fills in the ovals much faster.
    • If you like writing in pen, choose a pen that writes freely without leaving ink splotches. Avoid click pens, which can irritate other test takers. Pens with clips can be irritating to hold.
    • A bottle of water, if allowed in the test room.
  2. Image titled Be a Better Test Taker Step 9
    Get plenty of sleep. Last-minute cramming never works, no matter how tempting it is. Your brain, muscles, and eyes all need proper rest. You'll have a much harder time at the test if you're exhausted. Eight or nine hours are ideal, but treat 6 hours as an absolute minimum.
  3. Image titled Be a Better Test Taker Step 10
    Eat a healthy meal. Students who eat breakfast on the day of the test get higher scores on average than students who don't, especially on math tests.[2] Pasta, oatmeal, or whole grain bread will all give you enough energy to get through the test. Round out the meal with vitamins and protein, such as fruits, yogurt, and/or eggs.
    • Overeating just before the test can make you sleepy or uncomfortable. Stick to an ordinary meal.
    • Avoid sugary foods, which quickly burn out and cause you to "crash." Potatoes can cause this as well in some people.
  4. Image titled Be a Better Test Taker Step 11
    Treat caffeine and nicotine with caution. These stimulants temporarily make you more alert, but too much can make you jittery, unfocused, or nauseous. Take these only if you are used to them as part of your regular routine, and even then only in moderate quantities.
    • Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning you might need to pee during the test. Don't take more than a small amount if you aren't allowed bathroom breaks.
  5. Image titled Be a Better Test Taker Step 12
    Listen to a positive song. Choose a song that has a special meaning for you, or that make you feel empowered and happy. This can take the edge off nerves and worries.
    • Although studies disagree, background music probably doesn't have a major effect on test scores.[3] Listen to a song (or think in silence) because it relaxes you, not because you think it's required.
  6. Image titled Be a Better Test Taker Step 13
    Warm up right before the test. Five minutes of studying before the test begins can make you more confident. Instead of waiting around getting anxious, take out your flash cards.
    • If possible, have another student quiz you.
    • If you're too nervous to concentrate, don't do this. Instead, take deep breaths and stretch your arms and legs.
  7. 7
    Reduce stress. Some people find it's best not to study or review the day before the exam (or the week if possible) because the excess information can blur your memory of the content you studied. The best thing to the day before any important exam is to relax and avoid any stressful situations that can produce cortisol in the body. Cortisol makes it more difficult to recall information.
    • Consider aerobic exercise. It might help relieve stress, make you more alert, and improve circulation before the test.

Part 3
Taking the Test

  1. Image titled Be a Better Test Taker Step 14
    Choose a comfortable seat. If you can choose your own seats, look for one away from classmates that like to distract you or goof off. A seat next to an open window can calm your nerves, assuming the breeze is a comfortable temperature.
  2. Image titled Be a Better Test Taker Step 15
    Read each question several times. Make sure you know exactly what you need to do before you answer the question.
    • Multiple choice questions can be especially tricky. Read each option carefully.
  3. Image titled Be a Better Test Taker Step 16
    Pre-read the test and start answering the easiest questions first to build confidence. Make a note of skipped questions. It's fine to skip a question if you're not sure how to answer it. Write down the number of that question in a corner of your paper. After you're done answering the questions you know, check your list of skipped questions and try to answer as many as you can.
  4. Image titled Be a Better Test Taker Step 17
    Eliminate wrong answers. For a multiple-choice question, think about each option one by one. Cross out the ones you know are wrong. If there are still two or more possible answers, just guess one. Unless you're told that a wrong answer will lose you points, a guess is better than just leaving the question blank.
  5. Image titled Be a Better Test Taker Step 18
    Calm your nerves. If you feel nervous, sit up tall and take several deep breaths from your stomach. Talk to a calm friend, stretch your arms, or just think about your favorite book or movie. Anything pleasant to occupy your mind will help calm you down.
    • If you feel giddy or dizzy, grab a pencil and hold it very tightly.
  6. Image titled Be a Better Test Taker Step 19
    Go through your answers a final time. If you've finished the test and still have time left, check over each of the questions again. You might remember something new, or realize you've made a mistake. If you wrote essays, check them for punctuation and grammar.
    • Don't second-guess yourself. If you keep switching between two answers and feel yourself panicking, leave it as-is and move on.
    • If you're stuck on a question, reread other questions on the same topic. Sometimes, another question will give away the answer.

Part 4
Scoring Well on Specific Subjects

  1. 1
    Ace tests in humanities and social sciences. When taking a test that involves a lot of writing, use these tips to give the type of answer your teacher is looking for:[4]
    • Before you start writing, look at the number of points each question is worth. An essay question worth 10 points should (usually) get a response twice as long as a question worth 5 points.
    • Read the question carefully. Are you supposed to analyze an argument, or make an argument of your own? Stick to the instructions, and try not to wander off topic.
    • If a question quotes a historical source, consider what you know about the source. If you know something about the writer's perspective or bias, include it in your response.
    • After you're done with the test, read over all your writing to check for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
  2. 2
    Improve your math scores. Math tests are a source of anxiety for many students. Learn these strategies to improve your chances, especially on word problems:
    • Start a word problem by finding the question you need to answer. Cross out any information unrelated to that question, then rewrite the problem in your own words.[5]
    • If you're not sure what a word problem is asking, think about the relationships between numbers. Phrases like "together" or "in all" usually mean the numbers are being added together. The word "per" means two numbers are being divided.
    • For any math problem, check your work after finishing all your problems. One way to do this is to work in reverse, starting with your answer. For example, check a subtraction problem by adding your answer to the second number in the subtraction problem. If your work is correct, you should end up with the first term.
  3. 3
    Boost your science exam grade. A science question that you aren't prepared for can be tough to solve. Here are some tips that will let you tackle them anyway:
    • Read through all the questions first, in full. If you're not confident about some of them, leave them until last.
    • If a question has incomplete information, make a reasonable guess at filling in the situation yourself. Write "For this problem, I assumed that..." at the top of your question.[6]
    • Write chemistry diagrams as clearly as possible. A sloppy diagram can easily derail you halfway through.
    • When you see an unfamiliar term, try to think of words that sound similar. Many biology and medical terms are built from the same parts. If you know that the "pulmonary artery" leads to the lungs, you can guess that another term with "pulmonary" is also related to the lungs.


  • Taking good notes will give you a great head start. Write what the teacher or textbook says in your own words. If you take notes on an electronic device, try switching to pen and paper. It may be slower, but you usually absorb more of the material.
  • If you're confused by a multiple-choice question with the words "all," "except," or "not," mark each answer True or False instead. (This will not work on machine-read tests.)


  • Say no to invitations when you should be studying.
  • Once you know the material completely, more studying can make the test seem larger and more important than it is. Take a break the day before the test if you've been acing the practice problems.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs for 24 hours before a test. These usually lead to restless sleep and poor concentration.

Article Info

Categories: Tests and Exams