By far the most important thing for students’ test scores is what they know. But two students with equal knowledge can earn different scores. Sometimes it can be a big difference! One is just more skilled in test-taking. Taking tests involves skills that can be learned. And learning those skills can make a difference in grades and test scores. So it’s worth the effort to learn the skills. They are easy to teach and to learn.

This unit describes some general test-taking skills as well as specific skills for different types of questions. Students should approach each type a little differently. Here are the types: multiple-choice, true/false, essay, short-answer, and fill-in-the-blank. Parapros can help students learn all these skills. Here are the most important general test-taking skills:

  • Read test questions and instructions very carefully.
  • Work for the entire test period.
  • Use well-known tactics to budget testing time.
  • Answer questions fully, even when unsure the answer is right.

There are two general types of test questions: (1) closed-ended and (2) open-ended. Closed-ended questions ask students to select an answer from at least two choices. Open-ended questions ask students to write their answers in phrases, sentences, or paragraphs. Answers to open-ended questions often involve explaining, analyzing, or integrating concepts.

With your help, students can get a lot better at dealing with the challenges of answering these two different types of questions.

  • Closed-ended questions give students both false information and true information. Students have to identify the true information. Such questions can be made very difficult—especially when they use a multiple-choice format. To do their best on close-ended questions, students need to think about their odds of getting a right or wrong answer. It’s a kind of gaming situation! With closed-ended questions, students have a chance to get the right answer even without knowing it’s right. Good test-takers understand the odds, and they get better and better at calculating the odds to their benefit. Sure, knowing the correct answer is better than pure guessing. But taking a good guess makes sense.
  • Open-ended questions ask students to give the teacher something from their own thinking. Open-ended questions are often more difficult than closed-ended ones. That’s because some open-ended questions, especially essay questions, require a lot more than recall of information. These closed-ended questions require students to recall information, think about the information, and write down their thoughts. Students sometimes aren’t 100% certain about the information, and they may be afraid to take a stab at providing an answer. The students who do best with open-ended questions, however, are those who are willing to approximate correctness from what they do know for sure. Even if they are not 100% accurate, they can earn partial credit.

As a parapro working with individual students or small groups, you can review test-taking skills as needed.  For example, if students have a big test coming up, preview it so you know what it will be like. Find out what type of questions will be asked. Then you can give students practice with those types of questions. After a test, you can also help students, especially those who are disappointed with their scores or grades. This situation gives you a chance to ask the students what they did to prepare for the test. You can then talk with them about both study skills and test-taking skills. Giving them some pointers at this time can help them do better on the next test.