Different Types of Tests

Tests are structured in several distinct ways. Each type requires a different strategy, so here are some tips on how to approach several common test types:

Multiple Choice/Objective Tests

  • Read the directions very carefully. You might be asked to select the one incorrect option, or to choose more than one answer.
  • Be sensitive to the wording of the question and answers. Is the wording extreme or moderate?
  • Eliminate first any answers that are obviously wrong.
  • Choose the best answer. Try not to second guess yourself.
  • If you are stuck, select "all of the above", if that is an option. The purpose of the exam is to teach and to test, so "all of the above" is correct slightly more often than you might expect.


  • On True/False tests the statement must be 100% true. A difference of just one word could make a difference in the answer, so read carefully.
  • Key words in answers that are usually false: no, never, none, always, every, entirely, only.
  • Key words in answers that are usually true: sometimes, often, frequently, ordinarily, generally.
  • When in doubt, guess "true". You have a 50% chance of being right, and since the purpose of the exam is to impart accurate information, tests tend to be weighted slightly toward true answers.

Math and Science Problems

  • Read the problem carefully to discern precisely what the question is asking. Be able to state the problem in your own words.
  • List the "knowns," implied "unknowns," and the parameters of the problem using your own notation. What relationship do the assembled facts have? Do any formulae jump to mind? If so, write them down. Even if you do not ultimately use them, having a reference page can help as you decide how to proceed.
  • Draw any appropriate diagrams or illustrations.
  • Does the problem remind you of something from your text or lecture notes? If so, what was the case then? Does it apply to this problem?
  • Mentally round the numbers in the problem so that they are friendlier to work with. A relationship between two numbers might suggest itself if you view .00000199 and .00000398 as simply 2 and 4.
  • A problem can often be broken down into several smaller problems done in sequence. Rather than asking, "How can I get from A to D in one move?", outline the steps between A and D. Even if you can only work out how to get from A to B, you have still solved one third of the total problem..
  • Sometimes you can solve a problem by working backwards. Using the previous example, if you have solved for B, but still cannot find C, see if you can solve another part of the problem by working backwards from D to C.
  • If you get stuck, move along and go back to the problem after attempting the others. Never erase your work. You don't know what might be useful to you later, and you may get partial credit for some work.
  • If you go back to a problem and still cannot solve it, circle the work that you want the instructor to grade (assuming you have more than one approach on the page). Cross out the superfluous work, leaving it still readable.
  • Check your work. Be certain your answer is in the proper form. Ask yourself, "Does the solution make sense? Is it reasonable?"

Short Answer

  • Use your initial survey of the test to determine how much time to spend on each response.
  • Consider how much space is provided and how many points the question is worth.
  • Short answer responses require no introduction and should be brief and to the point.
  • Do not fall into the trap of elaborating on a short answer question because you feel confident of your response. Answer succinctly and continue onward.


  • Consider exactly what the question is asking. Are you asked to analyze, interpret, or describe? Be certain that your response is framed appropriately.
  • Think before you write. Take a moment to construct a brief outline of your response. This will save you time in the long run and help you to keep your essay on task.
  • If the essay asks you to answer multiple questions, be certain to address each systematically. Weigh your responses evenly unless the question specifically requests otherwise. If you answer one half of the essay in three pages and the other half in one paragraph, you might only receive 60% credit for the entire essay.
  • Get to the point. Avoid wordy, rambling sentences by using brief transition words (e.g. accordingly, similarly, finally).
  • Avoid personal opinions. Your answers should be factual and cite supporting evidence unless otherwise requested.
  • If you are running out of time and haven't already made an outline, list the remaining points you wish to make in your essay. You might get partial credit for these concepts even if they are not presented in essay form.
  • Check your spelling and grammar when you are done.
  • As you proofread your essay, ask yourself whether you have answered the question(s). If you have not, what points might you briefly insert or elaborate upon to bring the essay into focus?

Open Book Exams

Open book exams are sometimes given when a student needs to refer to charts or other materials in the text. You must prepare for an open book exam as thoroughly as you would for a closed book exam. You won't have time to reread and look for formulas during the test. Number and index your textbook so that the parts to which you may need to refer are easy to find.