Test Taking 8/19/22

Tips from Richard Bleil

Soon, I will be taking my Real Estate Licensing Exam.  And, because classes are beginning soon, there’s a good chance that many of you will be taking exams as well.  There are tricks that can help you to be successful when taking multi-guess exams, and I thought I’d share a few.

The very best trick to doing well on an exam is by knowing the material.  When I was in Boston, the middle-school student I watched had a routine.  He would take two cookies, no more and no less, a glass of milk, bring it to the dining room table, and do his homework immediately after getting home.  There were no excuses, no arguing, and no distractions.  It was a habit he got in, and when he was done, he had the rest of the day to do anything that he wanted, which usually included PBS educational programming such as Reading Rainbow and a delightful mathematical program the name of which I’ve forgotten.  In class, one day, another student complained about him, saying that he was cheating by watching educational television, which is why he did so well on exams.  Well, learning is learning.  The teacher of course laughed it off, because it doesn’t matter the venue of learning as long as you get the concepts, and these shows were available to anybody who cared to tune in. 

Okay, doing your homework and learning the material should go without saying, but sometimes it is worth repeating.  As a professor, I really didn’t care what grades the students earned.  No, that doesn’t mean that I gave out A’s like candy; the students would get the grades they earned, but it was more important to me that students learn the concepts than get the grades.  My exams were always designed to test knowledge, not to assign grades.  My heart would only go out to the students who suffered from test anxiety.

With test anxiety, knowledge isn’t always enough.  It’s caused when a little voice in the back of your head would tell you that you’ll fail, you’re not good enough, and you can’t pass.  Research indicated that this happens because, in taking exams, people only use a portion of their brain power.  The rest of their brain is where these negative thoughts reside.  Research has demonstrated that if you hold something in your off hand while taking exams (something that won’t make noise and distract those around you, please), subconsciously the student will start to play with it.  I used to give my students shiny flat garden rocks to hold.  The studies indicate that when a student holds such objects in their off hand, it distracts enough of their mind to quiet that voice, and typically the students make higher marks.  I had a student thank me profusely for giving him a dice saying that it saved his math grade.  When I taught, this trick was picked up by another professor in the liberal arts who started handing out stones to her entire class.  I wonder if she got the idea from one of my students.

There are some other tricks you can use.  Obviously, if you have absolutely no idea about a multiple-guess question, you can eliminate all answers that you know are wrong. The fewer answers to choose from, the more likely you’ll choose the correct one.  But there are other things you can do.  For example, if you are completely bewildered to the point that you just have no idea, look for proper English.  Eliminate any that aren’t proper English.  Then, choose the longest answer.  People, all of us, are inherently averse to work.  That means that your professor won’t want to spend a lot of time on the wrong answers, so they tend to be shorter than the correct one.  Not always, but often.  I knew of this trick, so as a professor I would try to make all of the choices about the same length, or at least make the longest answer incorrect.

Here’s a trick I learned just recently.  Look for the answer that doesn’t belong.  In the example I say, the choices to a math problem were 540, 220, 683, and 700.  Do you see it?  Only one of these choices doesn’t end in a “zero”.  Statistically speaking, in any given mathematical problem, the chances that it will end in a zero is only one in ten (do you see why?), so three choices that end in zero and only one that doesn’t is kind of a flag. 

Again, these are TRICKS.  Don’t hold it against me if they fail, as some faculty are fully aware of them and will play to them like I did.  Ultimately, they may help to boost your average grade a bit, but the best way to cheat on an exam is to outsmart the professor when you LEARN THE MATERIAL.


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