How to Manage Time for Tests

Three Parts:Taking the TestPreparing for the TestMaking a Game Plan

Successful test taking is a skill that usually requires a bit of practice. Earning a high score on a test isn’t just about the ability to recall everything you’ve learned throughout the course. Equally important is learning to pace yourself adequately so that you leave ample time to work on each part of the examination. Effective time management can help ensure that you do well on the test.

Part 1
Taking the Test

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    Answer the easy questions first. A sound time-management strategy during tests is to answer the easy questions first. The idea is that you will quickly work through these questions, probably quicker than you had budgeted for, allowing you extra time to work on the more difficult sections.[1]
    • The issue with this strategy, versus working through every section as budgeted, is that you might skip a question thinking that it’s more difficult than it is. You also run the risk of not returning to questions that you’ve skipped.
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    Focus on a question’s worth. After you’ve answered the easy questions, focus your time on the questions that are worth the most points. It makes more sense to spend 10 minutes on 1 question worth 20 points than to spend 10 minutes on 10 questions worth only 1 point each. In other words, 20 points for one question is worth more time than 10 points for 10 questions.[2]
    • Your exam should clearly state the value or percentage of each question or section. If you’re unsure, ask your proctor.
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    Keep an eye on the clock. Make sure that you wear a watch so that you can stick to your time budget. You won’t be able to bring a cell phone in the test with you, and there may not be a clock on the wall, so you’ll need to remember your own time piece.[3]
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    Don’t rush yourself. You’ve studied, you’ve practiced, you’ve read through the test, you’ve budgeted your time, and there is no reason to rush yourself. You might be feeling a little anxious or want to hurry up and get the test over with, but time management is about pacing yourself. So, pace yourself. Don’t rush, as you’ll run the risk of making a critical mistake, and stick to your game plan.[4]
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    Take a breath or two. After you complete a section, give yourself a few seconds to pause and breathe before you move on. This helps you pace yourself, allows you to make sure that you’re managing your time effectively, and helps you mentally move from one task to another.[5]
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    Prepare for the unexpected. No matter how prepared you are for this test and how well you’ve planned to manage your time, something can go wrong. This isn’t the end of the world, though, and shouldn’t derail your schedule at all. Plan for some problems, and be ready for any issues.[6]
    • Bring at least two pens or pencils with you.
    • If you’re allowed to use a calculator, bring spare batteries.
    • Bring an extra blue book or paper.
    • You might even pack a little emergency kit with throat lozenges, gum, a bandage, and lip balm.

Part 2
Preparing for the Test

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    Find out the test’s format. Whether you’re taking a standardized test or a classroom examination, you will likely be able to find out the format of the test beforehand. Knowing the test’s format will help you study, as well as give you ideas about how to approach the materials.[7]
    • If you’re told that there will be three essay questions, for example, that will ask you to connect the larger theme of the course to specific texts that you’ve read in the class, you know to begin thinking about thesis statements.
    • Or if your instructor says that there will be 15 multiple choice questions and 15 true/false questions, you understand that your focus should be much more specific, probably focusing on facts and dates.
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    Get a study guide. If you’re taking a standardized test such as the GRE or the SAT, there are plenty of study guides available. Almost every current study guide will have practice tests, study materials, and approaches to taking the test. Typically these guides offer simulated exams as well, so that you can simulate the examination and your performance.[8]
    • Your school or local library may have study guides available for use within the library.
    • You might find used copies of these guides online for a dramatically reduced price.
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    Practice your essays. Practice answering essay questions well before your test if you have a good source of feedback available, such as a writing center or your professor has agreed to look over your essays for you. Doing so will show you what part of your essay writing you need to develop, as well as help you get comfortable answering a question in prose. The more you practice, the more efficient and quick you will become.[9]
    • Your instructor might give you example essay questions if you ask for them. These might include questions from previous exams or simply questions that they think would serve as good practice.
    • Do no assume that your institution’s writing center or your professor will look over practice essays for you. Instead, respectfully ask if they are willing to review your practice essays and offer feedback.
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    Review your weakest points. Devote extra study time to working on your weakest areas. This will help you out in a few ways. You’ll be better prepared for material that isn’t your strong suit, and you’ll also spend much less time worrying about the information when you encounter it on the exam. Additionally, by studying your weakest areas, you’ll develop strategies for handling the material efficiently and quickly.[10]
    • A good example is the GRE’s verbal portion of the examination. Many people find this component especially challenging and devote extra time to studying flash cards, as well as developing strategies for word meanings, antonyms, and synonyms.
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    Develop a study schedule. Create a study schedule that is realistic and is one to which you will commit. This ensures that you’re devoting enough time to studying, and also establishes a pattern for you, which will help you manage your time when you get into the actual examination.[11]
    • There are free study calendar templates available for download from the internet.
    • Some printed student calendars also have a study schedule feature built in to the calendar itself.

Part 3
Making a Game Plan

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    Read every question. When you receive the test, carefully read through every question before you even pick up your pen. Reading through the test allows you to find important information that might be tucked away in the exam, as well as figure out which questions you want to answer if you’re given a choice (choose one of the following three questions, for example).[12]
    • Reading through the test also shows you the exact format of the exam, which allows you to solidify your game plan.
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    Create a budget. You’ve read through the test and now know how the test is organized. Give yourself a minute to divide the test into its smaller parts, and decide how much time you’ll allow yourself on each section. Generally speaking, you want to allow more time for essay questions than anything else.[13]
    • True/false and multiple choice questions will take the least time to answer. At the most give yourself one minute per question, although 30 seconds is probably more realistic. Allow at least half of the allotted test time for any essay questions.
    • Budget a few minutes to review your answers before submitting the test. You’d hate to turn in the test only to find out that your were one slot off on your Scan-tron sheet.
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    Strategize your approach. You’ve read every question and come up with a realistic budget on how you’ll spend your time. Now you need to decide how you’ll tackle the test. You might want to begin with any essay questions first, as writing answers out by hand tends to take longer than simply circling a correct answer. On the other hand, you might want to handle the fill-in-the blank portion first because they require the most recall skills.[14]
    • Because you have been practicing, you should generally have an idea of your strategy before you arrive to take the exam.
    • If you’re taking a standardized test, the study guides that you use will guide you through the exact strategy that you should use to maximize your time management.


  • Give yourself time for daily basic needs along with study time.
  • Write up the schedule with colored ink to give it a fresh look.
  • Remain as calm as possible during the test.


  • Rushing right before a test can actually make you lose your concentration and lead to forgetting material.
  • Cramming for a test is rarely useful.
  • Don't study the same subject for a long time as you may mentally fatigue yourself.

Article Info

Categories: Tests and Exams