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Preparing for Exams

Exam Success: Taking Exams

Right before the exam:

  • Review summaries and outlines rather than trying to cram at the last minute.
  • Make sure you’ve packed everything you need to take to the exam, including pens, colored pencils, and calculator.
  • Avoid contact with anyone who might cause you stress.
  • Arrive a few minutes early to the exam.

Read the entire test first.

  • Confirm that you have the whole exam.
  • Note point distributions and special instructions.

Plan and apportion your time.

  • Allocate the amount of time you spend on a question based on the credit you’ll receive for answering it correctly.
  • Answer easy questions first and then move to harder ones.
  • Mark any question in the margin that you need to come back to.

Problem-solving sections:

  • Highlight, circle, or otherwise indicate what your final answer is, but don’t obliterate any work that you’ve done. It may be the source of partial credit.
  • Make diagrams and graphs big and easy to read.
  • If you get stuck, make a note to yourself in the margin about what you need to do and come back to the problem later.
  • If you’re worried that your answer is wrong, explain the process by which you arrived at that answer. This can be a good source of partial credit.

Essay sections:

  • Underline key terms in the questions.
  • Make sure that your essay does what the instructions call for (common verbs in instructions are: analyze, trace, explain, discuss, compare, contrast).
  • Write an outline at the beginning of your answer or in the margins. This will help you structure your response and may be a source of partial credit if you run out of time.
  • Answer every part of the question.
  • Provide textual examples, references, data, graphs, etc.

Multiple-choice sections:

  • Don’t overthink questions.
  • Read every answer.
  • Eliminate answers that you know to be wrong or that are highly unlikely.
  • Trust your first instincts and change an answer only if you actually remember the correct one.

Short answer and identification sections:

  • Be clear and precise.
  • Cite significance of thing, person, place being identified.
  • Define key terms.
  • Don’t spend too much time on any one question.

If you get stuck...

  • Mark that question in the margin and come back to it later.
  • Answer what you do know first. This might help you think of more information.
  • Write down what you do know. It may help you remember more.

Retrieved from Princeton: Exam Success