Mayo's Clinics

Aug 17, 2022, 18:46
Mayo’s Clinic: Part 2 in the Art of Testing – Test-Taking Skills

Mayo’s Clinic: Part 2 in the Art of Testing – Test-Taking Skills

27 April 2016

Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT, directly addresses students about sound test-taking strategies to help build their confidence and reduce test-taking anxieties.

By Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT

Test taking often triggers anxiety and sometimes fear in students; yet we can help them learn how to address these challenges. Last month, we talked about reducing test anxiety. This month, we will discuss test-taking skills, part of a four-month series on testing, test taking, test making, and helping students review for testing. 

Test-Taking Strategies
There are a few common strategies for taking tests regardless of their format. They are listed and written as if directly talking to students so that you can share this document – or parts of it – with students, if that is helpful to you. 

  1. Review the test quickly. Diving into a test without scanning its structure can lead to spending a lot of time on questions that carry little weight. It can also get you bogged down in parts of the examination that slow your pace or diminish your confidence. By reviewing the structure of a test, you have a chance to look over what the teacher is asking and recognize what questions you feel confident about answering and where you are less sure.

    Assessing the test for the point values of various sections or for each test question will help you organize the time you have – whether one hour or three – to answer the questions. It also enables you to start answering questions from your strength, which will decrease some test anxiety. Separating the sections, according to their point values and your sense of confidence and competence, are powerful tools.
  2. Read the directions slowly and carefully. Many students do not do well on tests because they fail to carefully read the directions. Good tests will provide information about what the teacher is looking for in answers. Then you can distinguish between a short answer question that does not need a lot of detail and a general essay question, which involves introductory paragraphs, a conclusion and a logical structure. Noticing the difference will help you answer the question correctly and spend time appropriately.
  3. Start by answering questions you know best or where you feel most confident. You will answer them quickly and easily and your confidence will increase while any anxiety you might have will diminish. In addition, the feeling of confidence increases your ability to think clearly about the test’s material. When you can think clearly, you remember more and don’t confuse yourself. 
  4. Consider answering the questions that are worth the most points first. Since they play a larger part in the final test score, answering them when your mind is fresh typically improves the answer’s quality. And knowing that you have answered the bigger questions – often essay questions or complex problem sets – can give you confidence about finishing the rest of the test. It also helps if you have less time to finish since you can often answer multiple choice or identification questions more quickly. 

Types of Tests
The skills needed to succeed in different test formats vary widely. When taking multiple choice, matching, identification, and fill-in-the-blank tests, answer the questions you know clearly and keep moving through the test. Then come back to the unanswered questions. This strategy will give you more time for questions that you are not sure about or where your mind is confusing you. Then go back and guess some answers since you can often produce an answer even if you are not sure of the correct answer. And since your score is only the points for the correct answers, it is often better to guess than to leave a question blank.

In addition, the language of the stem – the part of the question that precedes the five options – may indicate the correct answer because of the grammar. For example, even though all the words make no sense, the correct answer is b) because of the last word – the “an” – in the stem.

The most important aspect of culinary preparation involves an
Cranizitier pannery

In other situations, the length of the answer often indicates the correct response. Even if you cannot remember 165 degrees, the answer is "Cranizitier pannery" because of the detail provided.

Chicken must be heated to what temperature before being served?
Between 160 and 170 degrees
145 degrees
160 degrees
165 degrees Fahrenheit using a food thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat
Chicken breasts should be cooked for 20 minutes

If you have short answer or essay questions, write out some of the key concepts you want to make in points or bullets on scratch paper or even on the exam. It will help you focus on what needs to be in the answer and the notes will trigger other thoughts. Then you can form a coherent answer from the key points you listed.

Always remember, if a question scares you, avoid answering it in the early part of the testing period and come back to it later.

I hope these thoughts will help you work with your students on test taking skills. If you have comments, feel free to send them to me and I will discuss them in future Mayo Clinics. Next month, we will move on to another aspect of teaching – making fair and interesting tests.

If you have suggestions for other topics or teaching practices you want to share, send them to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and I will include them in future Mayo Clinics. 

Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT, is retired as a clinical professor of hotel and tourism management at New York University. As principal of Mayo Consulting Services, he continues to teach around the globe and is a regular presenter at CAFÉ events nationwide. 


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