wikiHow to Pass Exams

Three Parts:Studying Before the TestTaking the TestStaying Focused After

Exam time can be a stressful time for many students. We all want to pass and get scores that'll get us into the best colleges and universities, win us scholarships and get our names on the honor roll. It takes work to pass exams, but with some planning ahead of time, you can make the most of your study time to make it as painless as possible. Study before the test, budget your time appropriately on test day, and learn to move on after the results come back. See Step 1 for more information.

Part 1
Studying Before the Test

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    Start studying early. It's never too early to start a regular test preparation routine that'll keep you ahead of the curve. Take good notes over the course of your classes to make sure you'll have a good resource to study when it comes time for the exams. Highlight important material for the books to make it easier to find at a glance.
    • During lectures, learn to recognize digressions your teacher might go on and important information that seems central to the topics. Teachers like to talk. Don't confuse their enthusiastic details for something you'll be tested over later.[1]
    • Look back over lectures and notes the night after your classes to make sure the information is lodged in your mind. If you get it in the first time, you won't have to worry about playing catch up in the few hours you've got before test time.
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    Learn as much as you can about the test(s) you'll be taking. Will it be multiple choice? Essay? Short answer? A mixture of many different types? If you know what sort of activity you'll be required to perform, you can prepare appropriately.
    • Ask your instructor about the possibility of sample tests or for a list of concepts that will be covered on the test. If you can get hold of an older version to use for practice, time yourself taking it to make sure you'll be able to finish your work in the amount of time allotted.
    • Look in your textbook for sample quizzes or tests that you might use for practice. Even if the format isn't the same, you'll be testing yourself on the content, which is the most important thing.
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    Focus on the main points and concepts that you'll be tested over. Instead of focusing on memorizing every tiny detail, date, and formula you might need for the test, study the broad concepts and the ideas to make sure you have an understanding of the material. Tests are usually designed to test this kind of knowledge, rather than tiny details.
    • In your textbook, focus on bolded vocabulary and subject headings. You don't need to waste a lot of study-time reading over the chapters word-for-word. Learn the basic concepts and skim the rest.[2]
    • Look back over your lecture notes. What themes or ideas repeat? What did your teacher focus on talking about?
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    Read and write to study. A common mistake some students make is in reading endlessly, usually while television or music blares in the background, or right before bed when your brain is worn out and less useful. Take a more active approach to your study and treat it like an activity. Make lists, write notes about what you're reading, and look for the connections between ideas. 30 minutes of studying in this way will be worth 2 hours of passive reading.
    • Also know that there's no magic to writing. Recopying a classmate's notes because you think it'll be more active than reading them won't help you retain the information any more than reading it. Read and write, actively thinking about the concepts and forming your own ideas. If you do copy a classmate's notes, put them in your own words to force yourself to digest the information.
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    Study the book. If you're being tested over things you studied in a particular book, whether it be a textbook, novel, or other kind of reading, familiarize yourself with the main ideas. It's not a great idea to try to cram in a word-for-word reading the night before the test, so focus on the big ideas.
    • If you're studying for a broader range of subjects, get a study book appropriate to the test you'll be taking. SAT, ACT, and other entrance examinations regularly provide materials for you to study before taking the test, so you can prepare for the vocabulary and themes that you'll be tested over.
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    Study in different places. Studies have shown that studying the same material in different locations makes it easier to remember. Even walking around your house and studying in different rooms can have a helpful effect on your ability to recall the information when you need it. During the test, you might find yourself remembering "I read about that at the library," which will help you recall information.[3]
    • Try chewing gum when you study and then chewing the same gum during the test (if this is allowed). Sometimes repeating a similar activity helps your brain find the same avenue that you were in during study sessions.
    • If you'll be tested over vocabulary, hang words and their definitions around your house. Change them out regularly when you become familiar with them so you can work your way through a vocabulary list without much extra effort on your own part.

Part 2
Taking the Test

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    Show up early and stop cramming. The day of the test, stop studying. If you don't know it by now, trying to memorize a few extra words right before the test is only going to push out what you've already put in, stress you out, and make it worse.
    • Prepare enough before the test so you can relax on the day of the exam and focus on taking the test itself. Eat a good breakfast, get enough sleep the night before, and relax. Settle in for a long test.
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    Look through the entire test quickly before you begin. As soon as you get the test, flip through it and briefly examine all the questions. Look for the different types of information you'll need to use and the different tasks you'll have to perform. Get a sense of how long it'll take you to perform the different parts of the test and then get started quickly.
    • You don't need to take a bunch of time reading every question without answering them, just scan through the test to see what's there. This should take no more than a minute or two at the most.
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    Budget your time. Consider starting with the most time-consuming aspects of the test to make sure you'll have enough time to complete them. Start with the most difficult parts, or the parts you want to do the least. Get them out of the way and settle in for the easier sections that you'll be able to do more quickly.
    • When you look over the test, do a quick calculation of how long each part should take. Say you're taking a test and there's an essay component worth 25 points and multiple choice questions worth 50 points. You've got 45 minutes to complete it. You might take 5 minutes to plan for the essay and 10-15 minutes to write it, using the rest of the time on the multiple choice components. If you're writing and 20 minutes have passed, you know it's time to wrap up and move on quickly.
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    Learn as much as you can from the test. Sometimes, in one part of the test, the test will teach you things you need to know in another part of the test. Look for context clues that will help make sure you're on the right track and you're not making an obvious mistake.
    • If a multiple choice question is "Who was the first person to walk on the moon?" and an essay question is "Describe the impact of Neil Armstrong's moonwalk" you won't have to think very hard about the question.
    • There probably won't be obvious answers, but you can at least use the wording of the questions to help jog your memory and recall the information you studied.
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    Eliminate obvious wrong answers on a multiple choice test. Teachers aren't that different than students. Writing a test isn't much fun. To try to spice things up and make it more entertaining, some teachers will throw in obviously-wrong answers and things that are completely unrelated to the subject to try to throw you off. Eliminate these to give yourself fewer choices and make the test simpler.
    • Only consider vocabulary, ideas, and names that you recognize as possible answers. Don't worry about "trick" questions. If it feels like you remember it in your gut but you're not sure, go with it.
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    Skip around. Don't spend 10 minutes wracking your brain over a single multiple choice question. Move on to other questions and use that time effectively. Go back through and answer the questions again when they come back to you.
    • If an answer doesn't come to you after a few seconds of looking at it, put a check mark beside it and move on to the next question. When you look back through the test, look for your check marks and make educated guesses, or see if you remember them after a second look.
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    Take the time to do a brief outline for an essay test. It can be tempting to jump straight into the writing phase, especially if you're a slower writer. It's a much better idea, though, to spend a few minutes planning out what you'll say and doing a brief outline of the main concepts you'll need to write about to get a good score on the essay.
    • Don't make a formal outline (no roman numerals!). try to think of the main points you need to hit in the essay and write them in an ordered list.
    • Don't waste time trying to "sound smart" in an essay test. They won't be grading your mellifluous prose, they'll be checking to see if you've understood the content and can say something complicated about it. They'll be willing to overlook spelling and punctuation errors at the expense of content.
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    try to answer every question. An educated guess is better than a blank space. Look at the questions you're not sure of and try to eliminate obviously wrong answers, trying to fill it in with something that'll be at least in the ballpark. You don't need to spend a whole mess of time thinking about questions you don't know the answer to. If you know you don't know it, make a guess and move on. Don't dwell on it. Study more next time.
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    Go back over it before you turn it in. If you've budgeted your time well, try to save yourself enough time at the end to check back over the test and make sure you haven't made any obviously-wrong choices, that you've answered every question, and that you've done the best you can possibly do. If you finish and still have 15 or 20 minutes to go, don't turn it in right away and sit like a bump on a log. Check over it, think about your answers, and use the time you've got.
    • Don't be afraid to go back and change your answers. If you second-guess yourself, make changes when they occur to you.

Part 3
Staying Focused After

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    Relax. You're done! Don't worry about your score or that pesky equation you weren't sure you got right. Put the exam to the back of your mind and worry about other things. If you've got another essay to take, start focusing in on preparing for the new set of tasks you'll have to perform. Reset the clock and chill out. You're almost there!
    • It's common to experience a "test hangover," continually going back over the test and remembering points that you should have made, better ways to have written, etc. Don't go look up the right answers or spend more time dwelling on it. It's over. Move on.
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    Isolate good and bad scores. When you get your score back and it's an A+, great! Keep doing what you're doing. If you get your score back and it's something less than great, learn from it and study next time. Dwell on neither good nor bad scores. It's common for students who get good scores on exams to slack off as the year progresses, getting a worse score the next time. Don't let that happen. You're not a genius.
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    Only compare your work to your own work. If the girl who sits next to you got an A+, don't let yourself feel rotten because your highest grade all semester has been a B. try to improve. You don't have to be her. Don't get caught up in a comparison that'll stress you out and make you feel inadequate. As long as you're doing your best and improving your own scores and skills, that's all you can do.
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    Talk to your teacher about your score. If you get a test back and it's not as good as you hoped it would be, make an appointment to talk to your teacher about it. Meet calmly and rationally to ask how you might improve for the next exam. Ask "I was hoping for a better score this time around. What do you think I could do better next time?" This both shows your teacher that you're committed to improvement and concerned about your own success.
    • This is especially smart and effective for essay tests. Ask the instructor to explain any comments you don't understand and accept their explanations. Don't argue.
    • Never ask your teacher to change your grade. Whining about a bad score and coming up with excuses for why it should be better is immature and undignified. No teacher gives a score because they don't like you personally or have some stake in your failure. A score is something you earn, not something that is given arbitrarily.


  • Be serious when taking the exams, but don't be tense.
  • Take your time. Don't rush what you're doing, use all the time you have and make it worthwhile.

Article Info

Categories: Tests and Exams