A student’s mastery of the concepts and skills measured by a test is by far the most important factor in how well the student does on the test. Nevertheless, two students who both know the same concepts and skills equally well might earn different test scores, perhaps one or two letter-grades apart, simply because one is more skilled in test-taking. This unit describes some general test-taking skills as well as skills specific to answering different kinds of test questions: multiple-choice, true/false, essay, short-answer, and fill-in-the-blank. Chief among the general test-taking skills important for all academic tests are the following:

  • reading test questions and instructions attentively;
  • using time wisely by budgeting and working on the test for the entire allotted period;
  • responding fully to the test even when unsure of the answer.

As a paraprofessional, you can help students learn these and other related skills for answering test questions. These questions can be broadly categorized as closed-ended and open-ended. Closed-ended questions require recognition and selection of the correct answer from at least two options. In contrast, open-ended questions require at least a brief narrative going beyond rote recall of lesson content. Answers to open-ended questions often involve explaining, analyzing, or integrating concepts. With your help, students can distinguish between the demands of closed-ended questions, such as multiple-choice and true/false questions, which require reasoning about the probabilities of eliminating choices, and open-ended questions, which often require more interpretation.

With closed-ended questions, there’s a chance of selecting the correct answer even without knowing it’s correct. Good test-takers, therefore, learn to make educated guesses on multiple-choice and true/false questions unless there’s a penalty for guessing. Knowing the correct answer is far superior to guessing, of course, but being willing to take your best guess is important to doing well on closed-ended questions.

Open-ended questions, such as short-answer and essay questions, often require students to elaborate on what they do know even if they’re uncertain about its correctness. In responding to open-ended questions—essay and short-answer questions—the students who do best are those who understand that approximations of correctness often earn partial credit. Essay questions used on open-book tests can be especially demanding because teachers expect more thoughtful and lengthy responses on such tests. In preparing for these tests, students need to master not only the content on which they will be tested but how to write, organize, and familiarize themselves with their notes so they can quickly find key terms, dates, and other information to support their answers.

As a paraprofessional working with students individually or in small groups, you can readily target discussion and review of test-taking skills to student needs.  For example, if students have a big test coming up, familiarize yourself, if possible, with the type of questions that will be asked.  You can then help the students learn the test-taking skills most pertinent to their immediate needs.  After a test, you may also be able to help students who are disappointed in their test performance.  This situation provides an opportunity to talk with students about how long they studied for the test, what study techniques they used, and their use of test-taking skills. Giving them some pointers about how to improve studying and test-taking can help them perform better on the next test.