14 Universal Rules for Improving Your Test Scores

These rules will serve you well and reduce your stress level if you suffer from any degree of testing anxiety. Review them well before any testing and again shortly before your test.

  1. General rule: Dissect the question
    Break each question into the stem and the alternatives, understanding the stem first. Underline key terms and clue words in the stem.
  2. If you don’t have the directions, how will you know where you’re going?
    Read ALL the directions carefully. Some questions may be partly correct in themselves, but not when joined to the stem question.
  3. Eliminate your doubts
    When faced with vague terminology, define them in your own words.  Think of the correct answer and then look for it among the alternatives.
  4. Pause for thought (and breath deeply!)
    Don’t guess too soon. You must select not only a technically correct answer, but the most completely correct answer.
  5. Watch out for absolutes
    Be wary of unqualified absolutes such as “never,” “always,” “is,” “are,” “guarantees,” “insures.”  These words make the questions highly restrictive and very difficult to defend.
  6. Watch out for BS
    Be wary of the extra-long or “jargon-y option.” These are often decoys.
  7. Remember: You know more than you think you think you know
    Use knowledge of common prefixes, suffixes, and word roots to make intelligent guesses about terminology you don’t know, e.g., hypertension has root word “hyper,” referring to high, not low, blood pressure.
  8. Make use of success to breed success
    Use information and insights acquired in doing the exam to go back and answer earlier items that you weren’t sure of.
  9. If you’re going to guess, guess good
    If you are not certain of an answer, guess . . . but do so methodically.  Use deductive reasoning. Eliminate some choices you know are incorrect and relate each alternative back to the stem of the question to see if it fits. Narrow the choices, compare them, and make an informed guess.
  10. When you haven’t got a good guess, pass on A
    If you have absolutely no idea what the answer is, and there is no scoring penalty for guessing, choose option B or C. Studies indicate that these are correct slightly more often than predicted by chance alone.
  11. Your first guess was probably the closest
    Think the answer is wrong? Maybe you should change it? Studies indicate that when we change an answer, we usually change it to the wrong answer. If you were fairly certain you were correct the first time, leave the answer as it is.

  12. Manage the clock
    Watch your time. Answer easy questions or sections first. This will help calm your nerves and focus your concentration. When you begin, mark where you should be after one hour or two hours to ensure you don’t fall behind. Keep on pace by working through the easy questions quickly, answering only if you are 100% certain of the answer, then coming back to the ones requiring more thought.
  13. Wear braces and a belt
    Read the question twice. Careless mistakes are often made by rushing through the “stem” or first part of the question, missing important information or instructions. Read the question carefully, underlining key terms. Watch for negative or positive phrasing, or qualifying words like “always” or “never”, which can drastically change the meaning of a statement.
  14. Think first, and make notes
    Before looking at possible answers, try to recall the answer on your own.  Then look at the alternatives to see which one best matches your answer.  As you review the answers, mark off the ones you know are wrong to reduce your reading time if you come back to the question later. If none of the selections seems close, reread the question to see what you missed.  If you still can’t get it, go on. Something in another question may trigger your memory so you can recall the answer later.
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