Types of Tests

While you are in college, you will encounter many types of tests. Some tend to be used in particular disciplines; others can be used in any class you might take.

Problem-Solving Tests

In the physical and biological sciences, mathematics, engineering, statistics, and symbolic logic, some tests will require you to solve problems showing all the steps. Even if you know a shortcut, it is important to document how you got from step A to step B. For these tests, you must also be very careful that you have made no errors in your scientific notation. A misplaced sign, parenthesis, bracket, or exponent can make all the difference.

If you are allowed to use a calculator during the exam, it is important to check that your input is accurate. The calculator does what you tell it to, and if you miss a zero or a negative sign, the calculator will not give you the correct answer to the problem.

Be sure that you read all directions carefully, and whenever possible, after you complete the problem, work it in reverse to check your solution. Also check to make sure that your solution makes sense. You can’t have negative bushels of apples, for example, or a fraction of a person, or a correlation less than negative 1 or greater than 1.

Machine-Scored Tests

It is important that you carefully follow the directions for machine-scored tests. In addition to your name, be sure to provide all the necessary information on the answer sheet. Each time you fill in an answer, make sure that the number on the answer sheet corresponds to the number of the item on the test.

Although scoring machines have become more sophisticated over time, stray marks on your answer sheet can still be misread and throw off the scoring. When a machine-scored test is returned to you, check your answer sheet against the scoring key, if one is provided, to make sure that you receive credit for all the questions that you answered correctly.

Computerized Tests

Your comfort with taking computerized tests might depend on your experience in taking these tests before. If your instructor provides the opportunity for practice tests, be sure to take advantage of this chance to get a better sense of how the tests will be structured. There can be significant variations depending on the kind of test, the academic subject, and whether the test was constructed by the teacher, a textbook company, or another source.

For multiple-choice and other objective forms of computerized tests, you might be allowed to scroll down and back through the entire test, but that is not always the case. Sometimes you are allowed to see only one question at a time, and after you complete that question, you might not be allowed to go back to it.

For computerized tests in math and other subjects that require you to solve each problem, be sure to check each answer before you submit it. Also, know in advance what materials you are allowed to have on hand, such as a calculator and scratch paper for working out the problems.

Laboratory Tests

In many science courses you will have lab tests that require you to rotate from one lab station to the next and solve problems, identify parts of models or specimens, or explain chemical reactions. At some colleges and universities lab tests are now administered at computer terminals via simulations. To prepare for lab tests always attend lab, take good notes, and be sure to study your lab notebook carefully before the test.

You might also have lab tests in foreign language courses that can include both oral and written components. Work with a partner or study group to prepare for oral exams. Ask one another questions that require using key vocabulary words. You might also have computerized lab tests that require you to identify syllables or words and indicate the order and direction of the strokes required to create them, particularly in a foreign language that uses a different symbol system, such as Chinese. The best way to prepare for these tests is to learn the meanings and parts of the symbols and regularly practice writing them.

Open-Book and Open-Note Tests

If you never had open-book or open-note tests in high school, you might be tempted to study less thoroughly than usual, thinking that you will have access to all the information you need during the test, but that is a common misjudgment on the part of first-year students. Open-book and open-note tests are usually harder than other exams, not easier.

Most students don’t really have time to spend looking things up during an open-book exam. The best way to prepare is to begin the same way you would study for a test in which you cannot refer to your notes or text. As you do so, however, develop a list of topics and the page numbers where they are covered in your textbook or your lecture notes. Type a three-column grid (or use an Excel spreadsheet) with your list of topics in alphabetical order in the first column and corresponding pages from your textbook and lecture notebook in the second and third columns, respectively, so that you can refer to them quickly if necessary. But whatever you do, study as completely as you would for any other test and do not be fooled into thinking that you don’t need to know the material thoroughly.

During the test, monitor your time carefully. Don’t waste time looking up information in your text or notes if you are reasonably confident of your answers. Instead, wait until you have finished the test; then, if you have extra time, go back to look up answers and make any necessary changes.

Take-Home Tests

Like open-book and open-note tests, take-home tests are usually more difficult than in-class tests. Read the directions and questions as soon as you receive the test to help you gauge how much time you will need to complete it. Remember that your teacher will expect your essay answers to look more like assigned out-of-class papers than like the essays you would write during an in-class test.

Unfortunately, issues of academic honesty can arise for take-home tests. If you are accustomed to working with a study group or in a learning community for the course, check with the instructor in advance to determine if any type of collaboration is allowed on the test.