marble divider
Taking Exams

Why work on test-taking skills?


You must perform adequately on tests to receive credit for your coursework.

To receive financial aid, your test scores must be appropriate.

Admission to graduate school depends on your test scores.

Many professions require tests for promotion. Some require your passing tests even to remain employed (CPA’s for instance, and medical librarians).


"The research literature supports the idea that special instruction in preparing for and taking a test can lead to higher scores" (Wark & Flippo 1991, 295). Some of the findings are:


Instruction in test-taking improves retention (Marshall, 1981)

Chicano students’ grades improve if taught better study and test taking skills (Arroyo, 1981)

Black students’ grades improve with instruction on test taking (Evans, 1977)

Scores on SAT improve with test practice and training (Slack & Porter, 1980)

Scores on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) are improved with test-taking instruction (Evans, 1977; Swinton & Powers, 1983).




You can improve your scores significantly by studying test-taking and preparation methods.

Following directions correctly is critical

Making good use of time is a key to good scores

Using answer sheets correctly is also critical


Study Skills (Wark & Flippo 1991, 328-9)




Setting personal priorities in planning study time

Setting aside time for review and practice




Massed sessions are better for reading and integration

Spaced sessions are better for new material and motor learning




Imagery and association techniques

Mnemonic systems

Effects of recitation on retention




Sleep loss


Test anxiety



Summary of test-taking Techniques (Wark & Flippo 1991, 330)




Read all directions carefully

Plan time for review at the end

Skip difficult items and go back to them later

Change any answer if it seems appropriate to do so




If there is no penalty for wrong answers, guess

Even if there is a penalty, if one or more alternatives can be eliminated, guess



Suggestions for relieving test anxiety (Wark & Flippo 1991, 331-2; see especially Hembree, 1988)


Use deep muscle relaxation. Use tapes. Once you are relaxed, imagine preparing for the test, going to the test, and taking the test in a calm, confident state of mind.


Cognitive self-instruction… Learn to be aware of negative internal self-talk. Practice a self-support script.


Behavioral self-control techniques… Schedule time for studying and then follow your schedule.


Improve study skills. As you improve your confidence will increase and your anxiety will decrease.


Practice test wiseness… Focus on instruction. KNOW what you are doing. Learn methods of guessing and noting clues.


Test Wisdom


"Test wiseness is a collection of skills and possibly traits that enable certain students to score well, more or less independent of their knowledge of the information being tested. How can that happen? Test wise students develop test taking strategies which they transfer to similar tests. They know how to take advantage of clues left in questions by some item writers. They know that if they change their answers after some reflection, they will generally improve their scores. They never leave questions blank when there is no penalty for guessing" (Wark & Flippo 1991, 302).


Strategies of high-scoring students (Wark & Flippo 1991, 303):


Know the material well enough to go through the test quickly

Go back through the test slowly, checking, changing, and verifying each answer (subsequent questions may have triggered a memory or given you a clue which you can now use)

Consider all alternative answers

Analyze and eliminate incorrect alternatives to help determine the correct answer

Skip questions you are unsure of—return to them later.

In multiple choice, evaluate each alternative answer as true or false

In essay questions, re-phrase the question, quote books and articles, express opinions similar to those of the instructor

The correct answer is apt to be more complete and therefore longer than the alternatives. So look hard at any answers which are longer

Be sensitive to cues in the question (technical words, length of answer, etc.)

The myth that your first answer is likely to be correct is false. "Research indicates that changing answers produces higher test scores" (Wark & Flippo 1991, 310; Edwards & Marshall, 1977; Lych & Smith, 1975; McMorris & Leonard, 1976; Mueller & Schwedel, 1975; Smith, Coop, & Kinnard, 1979). Subsequent questions on the test may help you develop better answers.






If you are reading the Orientation for LBRA 1375,
This is where you go back to Orientation


NEXT: Finding Information



Allen, GJ. (1971). Effectiveness of study counseling and desensitization in alleviating test anxiety in college students. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 77, 282-289.


Allen, GJ. (1973). Teatment of test anxiety by group-adtninistered and self-administered relaxation and study counseling. Behavior Therapy, 4, 349-360.


Allen, G.J., Elias, MJ., & Ziotlow, S.F. (1980). Behavioral interventions for alleviating test anxiety: A methodological overview of current therapeutic practices. In I.G. Sarason (Ed.), Test anxiety: Theory, research, and application. Hillsdale, NJ:



Anastasi, A. (1981). Diverse effects of training on tests of academic intelligence. In W.B. Schrader (Ed.), New directions for testing and measurement. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


Aponte, J.F., & Aponte, C.F. (1971). Group preprogrammed systematic desensitization without the simultaneous presentation of aversive scenes with relaxation training. Behaviors Research and Therapy, 9, 337-346.


Arroyo, S.G. (1981). Effects of a multifaceted study skills program on class performance of Chicano college students. Hispanic Journal of Behavior Sciences, 3(2), 161-175.


Bangert-Drowns, R.L., Kulik, J.K., & Kulik, C.C. (1983). Effects of coaching programs on achievement test performance. Review of Educational Research, 53, 571-585.


Bergman, I. (1980). The effects of providing test-taking instruction for various types of examinations to a selected sample of junior college students. (ED 180-566).


Blanton, WE., & Wood, K.D. (1984). Direct instructions in reading comprehension test-taking skill. Reading World, 24, 10-19.


Bondy, A.S. (1978). Effects of reviewing multiple-choice tests on specific versus general learning. Teaching of Psychology, 5(3), 144-146.


Boyd, R.T.C. (1988). Improving your test-taking skllls. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research.


Brown, S., & Nelson, T.L. (1983). Beyond the uniformity myth: A comparison of academically successful and unsuccessful test-anxious students.Journal of Counseling Psychology, 30(3), 367-374.


Bushnell, D.D. (1978). Altering test environments for reducing test anxiety and for improving academic performance. (ED 161 946).


Cait, N. (1980). The implications of coaching for ahility testing. (ED 131 598).


Cates, W.M. (1982). The efficacy of retesting in relation to improved test performance of college undergraduates.Journal of Educational Research, 75(4), 230-236.


Catron, D., & Thompson, C. (1979, April). Test-retest gains in WAIS scores after four retest intervals.Journal of Clinical Psychology, 8(3), 174-175.


Chang, T. (1979). Test wiseness and passage-dependency in standardized reading comprehension test items. Dissertation Abstracts International 39(4-12), 7-8.


Chase, C.I. (1983). Essay test scores and reading difficulty. Journal of Educational Measurement, 20(3), 293-297.


Cheek, E.H., Flippo, R.F., & Lindsey, J.D. (1989). Reading for success in elementary schools. Fort Worth, TX: Holt, lunehart & Winston.


Cirino-Grena, G. (1981, February). Strategies in answering essay tests. Teaching of Psychology, 8(1), 53-54.


Coffman, WE. (1980). The Scholastic Aptitude Test: A historical perspective. College Board Review 117, A8-AlI.


Cornish, R.D., & Dllley,J.S. (1973). Comparison of three methods of reducing test anxiety: Systematic desensitization, implosive therapy, and study counseling. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 20, 499-503.


Covington, M.V., & Omelich, C.L. (1987). I knew it cold before the exam: A test of the anxiety-blockage hypothesis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 79(4), 393-400.


Dawley, H.H., & Wenrich, W.W. (1973). Massed groups desensitization in reduction of test anxiety. Psychological Reports, 33, 359-363.


Decker, T.W., & Russell, R.K. (1981). Comparison of cue-controlled relaxation and cognitive restructuring versus study skills counseling in treatment of test-anxious college underachievers. Psychological Reports, 49, 459-469.


Deffenbacher; J.L., Mathis, J., & Michaels, A.C. (1979). Two self-control procedures in the reduction of targeted and nontargeted anxieties. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 26, 120-127.


Deiprato, DJ., & DeKraker, T. (1976). Metronome-conditioned hypnotic-relaxation in the treatment of test anxiety. Behavior Therapy 7, 379-381.


Denny D.R. (1980). Self-control approaches to the treatment of test anxiety. In I.G. Sarason (Ed.), Test anxiety: Theory research, and applications (p. 209-243). Hillsdale, NJ: Enbaum.


Denny, D.R., & Rupert, PA. (1977). Desensitization and self-control in the treatment of test anxiety. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 45, 272-280.


Edwards, K.A., & Marshall, C. (1977, December). First impressions on tests: Some new findings. Teaching of Psychology, 4(4), 193-195.


Ellis, D.B. (1985). Becoming a master student (5th ed). Rapid City, SD: College Survival.


Evans, FR. (1977). The GRE-Q coaching/instruction study. (ED 179 859).


Flippo, R.F. (1988). Test Wise: Strategies for success in taking tests. Carthage, IL: Fearon Teacher Aids/Simon & Schuster.


Flippo, R.F. (1984). A test bank for your secondary/college reading lab. Journal of Reading 27(8), 732-733.


Flippo, R.F., & Borthwick, P (1982). Should testwiseness curriculum be a part of undergraduate teacher education? In G.H. McNinch (Ed.), Reading In the disciplines (p. 117-120). Athens, GA: American Reading Forum.


Flynn, J., & Anderson, B. (1977, Summer). The effects of test item cue sensitivity on IQ and achievement test performance. Educational Research Quarterly 2(2), 32-39.


Gaudry, E., & Spielberget, C.D. (1971). Anxiety and educational achievement. Sidney, Australia: John Wiley & Sons.


Green, B.F. (1981). Issues in testing: Coaching, disclosure, and ethnic bias. In W.B. Schrader (Ed.), New directions for testing and measurement. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


Hembree, R. (1988). Correlates, causes, effects, and treatment of test anxiety. Review of Educational Research, 58(1), 47-77.


Hess, A., & Neville, D. (1977, April). Test wiseness: Some evidence for the effect of personality testing on subsequent test results. Journal of Personality Assessment, 41(2), 170-177.


Hoffman, B. (1962). The tyranny of testing. New York: Collier.


Hollandsworth, J.G., Galazeski, R.C., Kirkland, K.,Jones, G.E. & Van Norman, L.R. (1979). An analysis of the nature and effects of test anxiety: Cognitive, behavior, and physiological components. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 3(2), 165-180.


Holroyd, K.A. (1976). Cognition and desensitization in group treatment of test anxiety. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 44, 991-1001.


HorDe, A.M., & Matson, J.L. (1977). A comparison of modeling, desensitization, flooding, study skills, and control groups for reducing test anxiety. Behavior Therapy 8, 1-8.


Huck, 5. (1978, Spring). Test performance under the condition of known item difficulty. Journal of Educational Measurement, 15(1), 53-58.


Huntley, R., & Plake, B. (1981). An investigation of study sensitivity to cues in a grammatically consistent stem and set of alternatives. (ED 218-310).


Jacobson, E. (1938). Progressive relaxation. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.


Jones, P., & Kaufman, G. (1975, Winter). The differential formation of response sets by specific determiners. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 35(4), 821-833.


Kirkland, K., & Hollandsworth, J.G.,Jr. (1980). Effective test taking: Skills-acquisition versus anxiety-reduction techniques.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 48, 431-439.


Leary, L., & Smith, J.K. (1981). The susceptibility of standardlzed tests to the convergence strategy of test wiseness. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Eastern Educational Research Association, Philadelphia, PA.


Lent, R. (1984). The treatment of test anxiety: An updated review. Unpublished research. Minneapolis, MN: University Counseling Services.


Liebert, R.M., & Morris, L.W. (1967). Cognitive and emotional components of test anxiety: A distinction and some initial data. Psychological Reports, 20, 975-978.


Lynch, D., & Smith, B. (1975, January). Item response changes: Effects on test scores. Measurement and Evaluation in Guidance, 7(4), 220-224.


Mandler, G., & Sarason, S.B. (1952). A study of anxiety of learning. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 47, 166-173.


Marshall, J.C., & Powers, J.M. (1969). Writing neatness, composition errors, and essay grades. Journal of Educational Measurement, 6, 97-101.


Marshall, J.S. (1981). A model for improving the retention and academic achievement of nontraditional students at Livingston College, Rutgers University. (ED 203 831).


McClain, L. (1983, April). Behavior during examinations: A comparison of A, C, and F students. Teaching of Psychology, 10(2), 69-71.


McCordick, S.M., Kaplan, R.M., Finn, M.E., & Smith, S.H. (1979). Cognitive behavior modification and modeling for test anxiety. Journal of Consulting and Clinkal Psychology, 47(2), 419-420.


McKeachie, J.J., Pollie, D., & Speisman, J. (1955). Relieving anxiety in classroom examination. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 51, 93-98.


McMorris, R., & Leonard, G. (1976). Item response changes and cognitive style. (ED 129918).


Mcphail, I.P. (1977). A psycholinguistic approach to training urban high school students in test taking strategies. Dissertation Abstracts International, 37, 5667A.


Miechenbaum, D.H. (1972). Cognitive modification of test-anxious college students. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 39, 370-380.


Messick, 5. (1981). The controversy over coaching: Issues of effectiveness and equity. In WB. Schrader (Ed.), New directions for testing and measurement. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


Miliman, J.C., Bishop, C.H., & Ebel, R. (1965). An analysis of test wiseness. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 25, 707-727.


Miliman, J., & Pauk, W. (1 969). How to take tests. New York: McGraw-Hill.


Mitchell, K.R., Hall, R.F., & Piatkowska, O.E. (1975). A program for the treatment of failing college students. Behavior Therapy 6, 324-336.


Mitchell, K.R., & Ng, K.T. (1972). Effects of group counseling and behavior therapy on the academic achievement of test-anxious students. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 19, 491-497.


Morris, L.W., & Liebert, R.M. (1970). Relationship of cognitive and emotional components of test anxiety to physiological arousal and academic performance. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 35, 332-337.


Mueller D., & Schwedel, A. (1975, Winter). Some correlates of net gain resulting from answer changing on objective achievement test items. Journal of Educational Measurement, 12(4), 251-254.


Nairn, A. (1980). The reign of ETS: The corporation that makes up minds. Washington, DC: Learning Research Project.


Naugle, H., & McGuire, P. (1978). The preparatory workshop: A partial solution to an English compulsory exam failure rate. (ED 163 489).


Naveh-Benjamin, M., McKeachie, W., & Lin, Y. (1987). Two types of test anxious Students: Support for an information processing model. Journal of Educational Psychology, 79(2), 131-136.


Pauk, W. (1984). How to study In college (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.


Paul, C., & Rosenkoetter, J. (1980, Spring). Relationship between completion time and test score. Southern Journal of Educational Research, 12(2), 151-157.


Penfield, D., & Mercer, M. (1980, Spring). Answer changing and statistics. Educational Research Quarterly 5(5)50-57.


Raygor, A.L., & Wark, D.M. (1980). Systems for study (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.


Rickards, J.P., & August, J.G. (1975). Generative underlining strategies in prose recall. Journal of Educational Psychology, 67(8), 860-865.


Robinson, F.P, (1946). Effective study New York: Harper & Row.


Russell, R.K., & Sippich, J.F. (1974). Treatment of test anxiety by cue controlled relaxation. Behavior Therapy 5, 673-676.


Samson, G.E. (1985). Effects of training in test-taking skills on achievement test performance. Journal of Educational Research, 78, 261-266.


Sarason, I. (1978). The test anxiety scale: Concept and research. In C.D. Spielberger & I.G. Sarason (Eds.), Stress and anxiety (//'ol. 5). Washington, DC: Hemisphere.


Sarason, I.G. (Ed.). (1980). Test anxiety: Theory research, and applications. Hillsdale, NJ: Eribaum.


Sarason, I.G., & Ganzer, Vj.(1962). Anxiety, reinforcement, and experimental instruction in a free verbal situation. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 65,



Sarnacki, R. (1979). An examination of test wiseness in the cognitive test domain. Review of Educational Research, 49(2), 252-279.


Sarnacki, R. (1981, June). The effects of test wiseness in medical education. Evaluation and the Health Professions, 4(2), 207-221.


Scannell, D.P, & Marshall, J.C. (1966). The effect of selected composition errors on grades assigned to essay examinations. American Educational Research Journal 3, 125~l30.


Scott, C., Paimisano, P., Cunningham, R., Cannon, N., & Brown, 5. (1980). The effects of commercial coaching for the NEME Part 1 examination. Journal of Medical Education, 55(9), 733-742.


Sherman, TM., & Wudman, T.M. (1982). Proven strategies for successful test taking. Columbus, OH: Merrill.


Slack, W.V. & Porter, D. (1980). The Scholastic Aptitude Test: A critical appraisal. Harvard Educational Review 50, 154-175.


Slakter, MJ., Koehler, R.A., & Hampton, S.H. (1970). Grade level, sex, and selected aspects of test wiseness.Journal of Educational Measurement, 7, 119-122.


Smith, J. (1982, Fall). Converging on correct answers: A peculiarity of multiple-choice items .Journal of Educational Measurement, 19(3), 211-220.


Smith, M., Coop, R., & Kinnard, P.W. (1979, Fall). The effect of item type on the consequences of changing answers on multiple-choice tests. Journal of Educational Measurement, 16(3), 203-208.


Smith, W.F., & Rockett, F.C. (1958). Test performance as a function of anxiety, instructor, and instructions. Journal of Educational Research, 52, 138-141.


Strang, H. (1977, Fall). The effects of technical and unfamiliar options on guessing on multiple-choice test items. Journal of Educational Measurement, 14(3), 253-260.


Strang, H. (1980, May-June). The effects of technically worded options on multiple-choice test performance. Journal of Educational Research, 73(5), 262-265.


Swinton, S.S., & Powers, D.E. (1983). A study of the effects of special preparation of GRE analytical scores and item types. Journal of Educational Psychology, 75(1), 104-115.


Tips, M., & Others (1978). The effects of instruction in verbal reasoning strategies (analogies) in a college reading improvement course. (ED 173 763).


Tryon, G.S. (1980). The measurement and treatment of test anxiety. Review of Educational Research, 2, 343-372.


Wark, D.M. (1965). Survey Q3R; System or superstition? In D. Wark (Ed.), College and adult reading 3-4. Minneapolis, MN: North Central Reading Association.


Wark, David M., & Flippo, Rona F. (1991). In Rona F. Flippo & David C. Caverly (eds.), Teaching Reading and Study Strategies At the College Level. Newark, Delaware: International Reading Association.


Wark, D.M. & Bennett, J.M. (1981). The measurement of test anxiety in a reading center. Reading world, 20, 215-222.


Wark, D.M., Bennett, J.M., Emerson, N.M., & Ottenheimet, H. (1981). Reducing test anxiety effects on reading comprehension of college students. In G. H. McNinch (Ed.), Comprehension: Process and product (pp. 60-62). Athens, GA: American Reading Forum.


Weber, D.J., & Hamer, R.M. (1982). The effects of review courses upon student performance on a standardized medical college examination. Evaluation and the Health Professions, 5(3), 35-43.


Weinstein, C.E., & Others (1980). The effects of selected instructional variables on the acquisition of cognitive learning strategies. (ED 206 929).


Wildemouth, B. (1977). Test anxiety: An extensive bibliography Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.


Wilson, P (1979). Answer-changing behavior on objective tests: What is our responsibility? (ed 199 638).


Wine,J. (1971). Test anxiety and direction of attention. Psychological Bulletin, 76, 92-



Wing, H. (1980, September). Age, sex, and repetition effects with an abilities test battery. Applied Psychological Measurement, 4(2), 141-155. (ED 194 582).


Wolpe, J. (1969). Practice of behavior therapy New York: Pergamon.

line of books

Colby Glass, MLIS