While you are in college, you will come across many types of tests. Some may be used in particular subjects such as English or math; others can be used in any class you might take. This section discusses the different test types and presents helpful tips for each one.

Problem-Solving Tests

In science, mathematics, engineering, and statistics courses, some tests will require you to solve problems showing all the steps. Even if you know a shortcut, it is important to document how you got from step A to step B. For these tests, you must also be careful to avoid errors in your scientific notation. A misplaced sign, parenthesis, or bracket can make all the difference.

If you are allowed to use a calculator during the exam, it is important to check that your input is accurate. The calculator does what you tell it to, and if you miss a zero or a negative sign, the calculator will not give you the correct answer to the problem.

Read all directions carefully. Whenever possible, after you complete the problem, work it in reverse to check your solution. Also check to make sure that your solution makes sense. You can’t have negative bushels of apples, for example, or a fraction of a person, or a correlation less than negative 1 or greater than 1.

Machine-Scored Tests

For some tests you may have to enter your answers on a Scantron form (see Figure 8.3). The instructor will feed those forms into a machine that scans the answers and prints out your score. When taking any test, especially a machine-scored test, carefully follow the directions. In addition to your name, be sure to provide all other necessary information on the answer sheet. Each time you fill in an answer, make sure that the number on the answer sheet corresponds to the number of the item on the test.

Figure 8.3: Figure 8.3 > Example of a Scantron Answer Sheet
Each time you fill in a Scantron answer sheet, make sure that the number on the answer sheet corresponds to the number of the item on the test. And make sure that all bubbles are filled in completely.

Although scoring machines have become more sophisticated over time, they might still misread additional marks or incomplete bubbles on your answer sheet. When a machine-scored test is returned to you, check your answer sheet against the scoring key, if one is provided, to make sure that you receive credit for all the questions you answered correctly.

Computerized Tests


Computerized tests are often taken in a computer lab or testing center and are usually not administered online (this chapter’s Tech Tip will help you prepare for online tests, which you’ll encounter more and more). Computerized tests can be significantly different from one another depending on the kind of test, the academic subject, and whether the test was written by the instructor, by a textbook company, or by another source. Be sure to take advantage of any practice test opportunities to get a better sense of what the tests will be like. The more experience you have with computerized tests, the more comfortable you will be taking them (the same is true with the other test types).

Some multiple-choice computerized tests might allow you to scroll through all the questions; others might allow you to see only one question at a time. After you complete each question, you might have to move on to the next question without being able to return to earlier ones.

For computerized tests in math and other subjects that require you to solve each problem, be sure to check each answer before you submit it. Also, know in advance what materials you are allowed to have on hand, such as a calculator and scratch paper, for working the problems.

Laboratory Tests

In many science courses, you will have laboratory tests that require you to move from one lab station to the next to solve problems, identify parts of models or specimens, or explain chemical reactions. To prepare for lab tests, always attend lab, take good notes, and study your lab notebook carefully before the test.


You might also have lab tests in foreign language courses that can include both oral and written sections. Work with a partner or study group to prepare for oral exams. Have group members ask one another questions that require using key vocabulary words.

Open-Book and Open-Notes Tests

Although you may like the idea of being able to refer to your book or notes during an exam, open-book and open-notes tests are usually harder than other tests, not easier. You won’t really have time to read whole passages during an open-book exam.

Study as completely as you would for any other test, and do not be fooled into thinking that you don’t need to know the material. But as you study, you can develop a list of topics and the page numbers where they are covered in your text or in your lecture notes. Type a three-column grid (or use an Excel spreadsheet) with your list of topics in alphabetical order in the first column and corresponding pages from your textbook and lecture notebook in the second and third columns so that you can refer to them quickly when necessary.

During the test, keep up with your time. Don’t waste time looking up information in your text or notes if you are sure of your answers. Instead, wait until you have finished the test, and then, if you have extra time, go back and look up answers and make any necessary changes.

Take-Home Tests

Some instructors may allow you to take tests outside class and refer to your textbook, notes, and other resources. Take-home tests are usually more difficult than in-class tests. Read the directions and questions as soon as you receive the test to estimate how much time you will need to complete it. Remember that your instructor will expect your essay answers to look more like out-of-class papers, proofread and edited, than like the essays you would write during an in-class test.

It is probably no surprise that issues of academic honesty can arise for take-home tests. If you usually work with a study group or in a learning community for the course, check with the instructor in advance to determine if any type of group work is allowed on the test.



Which types of tests described above do you prefer, and why? And do you perform better on your preferred test types? Share with another student the strategies you use when preparing for these tests.