Test Taking Strategies

I’m sure you’ve heard people say, “I’m a terrible test taker”. Maybe you’ve even said that about yourself. It can be true. There are a couple of reasons this may be happening. The first and most obvious is that you weren’t properly prepared. If you don’t know the material being tested, then obviously you won’t do well.

If, however, you know the information inside and out and you still struggle to pass exams, then there is a good chance that you may not be very good at taking tests.

Doing well on tests is a learned skill. There are verified strategies that will increase your success on even the most difficult tests. I teach a course that helps people pass one of the most difficult professional exams in the industry, the Customs Broker Exam. This test is so hard that the pass rates fluctuate between 10% and 20%. In fact, there have been exams where the pass rate was as low as 3%. My students regularly enjoy a 70% or higher pass rate on this test. The strategies I’m about to recommend work. Try them out. You’ll be surprised.

Strategy 1: Know what will be on the exam
This can be difficult depending on the test you are taking, but most of the time with a little research or asking some pointed questions you can find out what content to focus on. Think about it, why would you want to waste time learning material that won’t be on the test? You will be far more successful if you focus on what will be tested. This is the guiding principle of our Customs Broker Geek course.

Strategy 2: Use your time wisely
Do a quick calculation so you know how many minutes on average you have for each question. For example, if you have 1 hour to answer 60 questions the average time to answer each question and complete in time is 1 minute per question. You know if you are 20 minutes in, and have only answered 10 questions then you are behind schedule and will need to pick up the pace to finish in time.

Now that you understand how many minutes you have on average to answer you can effectively budget your time to finish the test on time. You now know if a question is going to take you 5 minutes to answer, you will want to move on to the next question. Is it better to get 1 question right in 5 minutes and only answer 55 out of 60 questions, or would it be better to skip the 5 minute question and answer 59 out of 60 questions? It’s pretty simple when you look at it that way. And, you don’t have to skip the question. After a minute you simply make your best guess and move on. This is a very important concept to understand.

Strategy 3: Start with easy questions first
It is common to be nervous when you start a difficult test. A great way to calm your nerves is to start with sections you are most confident on. This will help you relax and settle in. You will feel more positive about the exam and will in turn do better when you get to the more difficult questions on the exam.

Strategy 4: Arrive early
This is the first step on test day. Get there early. There is nothing worse than being rushed and stressed out at the outset of the test because you are late. Arrive early. Take you seat. Organize your materials. Collect your thoughts, and get in the right frame of mind. This few minutes will make a huge different in your state of mind at the start of the test.

Strategy 5: Practice test taking strategies
We mentioned earlier that test taking is a skill. As a skill it can be improved. The way you improve on any skill is to practice, evaluate, and adjust. The Customs Broker Exam is easy to practice for because CBP provides copies of past exams. This means you can take past tests to see how you do. See where you do poorly and focus time and effort into improving on your weaknesses. Now I understand that not every test or topic will have past exams available to take. I’m reasonably confident if you take your topic and search for “topic + practice exams” in Google that you will find plenty of practice questions.

Strategy 6: Plan to finish early
We already discussed budgeting your time wisely. Plan to finish before time is up so that you have time to review those difficult questions you had to guess at. You may have enough time at the end to work out the answer. It is better to do this at the end though when you have ensured you have answered as many questions correctly as possible in the allotted time.

There you have it. Six easy to implement strategies that will improve your test taking strategies. Remember, if you struggle taking tests you can improve. Test taking is a skill and as a skill it can be improved with a proper strategy and practice. Good Luck!