10 Test-Taking Tips to Set You Up for Success

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Feel prepared for an exam and learn strategies to keep you calm during a test with these test-taking tips to help you perform at your best.

[Featured Image]:  Degree candidate, working on a laptop computer, preparing for a test.

Taking tests or exams may be required at many stages of life. You have to take tests in school and college, to get jobs, get into graduate programs, earn certifications, be able to drive, and for countless other reasons. Everyone reacts to the pressures of an upcoming test differently, but it's normal to feel a bit nervous or anxious. Whether you experience test anxiety or not, everyone can benefit from some strategic test-taking tips to maximize success.  

With that in mind, we've put together some helpful tips for the days leading up to the big test, as well as the day of the test. We also have tips for taking different types of tests and a little bit of an explanation about why people get test anxiety.  

Test-taking tips: Test preparation 

Preparing for a test can begin days, weeks, and even months in advance. When you know you have a test ahead, prepare yourself mentally and physically well in advance. Here are some tips to help get you through the days leading up to your test. 

1. Take detailed notes. 

Whether you're in a classroom, taking a class online, or simply studying a book or other materials, you may retain more knowledge by taking detailed notes. Note taking helps focus your attention on what you're reading or hearing. Taking notes helps you engage with your material, and it gives you something else to reference when you study later. If your notes are detailed enough, you can read over them to study. You can also use them to make flashcards and other study aids. 

2. Find a comfortable place to study. 

Where you study can be just as important as how you study. Choose a place that's comfortable, whether that's your bedroom, a quiet table at the library, or a bench at the local park. Make sure the area has good lighting so you aren't straining your eyes, and ensure it's quiet and free from distractions. Consider turning off your phone and any other electronic devices. 

Read more: 11 Good Study Habits to Develop

3. Study early and often.

Don’t try to cram all of your material into your brain the night before the big test. Cramming can cause stress and anxiety. Instead, it's best to study a little bit each day. For example, if you know the test is in two weeks, divide the material into 10 to 14 parts and spend a set amount of time each day to review one part.

4. Form a study group. 

If you work well with groups, consider forming or joining a study group with others who are serious about acing the test. Try to keep the group small so that everyone has a chance to engage. Agree on a schedule and location to meet each week, and consider making someone the leader of the group to help keep everyone on track. 

5. Prioritize sleep. 

It's tempting to stay up late studying on the nights leading up to your test, but this can actually do more harm than good. If you've been following Tip 3, there's no need to stay up cramming. Instead, make sure you're getting enough sleep each night, especially the night before your test. By getting enough sleep, you can: 

  • Stay alert during and after the test

  • Improve your long-term memory

  • Enhance your mood

  • Decrease your stress levels 

Try sticking to your normal sleep schedule; sleeping in a cool, dark room; and turning your phone off at least 30 minutes before you go to bed to ensure you get quality sleep that night. 

Test-taking tips: The day of the test 

For some people, test anxiety creeps in on the big day of the test. These test-taking tips are designed to help you overcome any test anxiety and perform at your best during the exam.  

6. Arrive early to the test site.  

Arrive at the testing site at least 10 minutes early. This gives you time to fix any issues that may arise. If there are no problems, you can sit and relax or meditate before the test begins. Arriving early may also mean getting to choose the best seat in the room. Maybe you like to sit up front so you can keep up with what's going on, or perhaps you do your best work in a quiet corner near a window. Once you find a seat, get organized and prepare yourself both mentally and physically. 

If you're taking a test online, sign in at least 10 minutes early to ensure that you have what you need and that the technology is working properly.

7. Wear a watch. 

In today's world of smartphones, many of us have stopped wearing watches. In some circumstances, you may not be allowed to access your phone during a test, even if it's just to check the time. Instead, wear a watch so that you can keep up with the time and pace yourself. 

8. Read over the exam first. 

Once you have the test in hand, take some time to look it over. You can verify how many questions there are so that you can give yourself enough time to answer them all. You'll also see the types of questions, such as essays, short answers, and multiple choice, which allows you to mentally prepare yourself. For example, if there are 30 multiple-choice questions and two essay questions at the end, you can start thinking about what you want to write while you focus on the multiple-choice questions. Take time to carefully read all instructions.  

9. Review before turning in the test. 

Once you're finished with the test, look it over one more time. Ensure you’ve answered those questions you may have initially skipped. Depending on how much time you have left, you may want to double-check your work. Ensure you did those math problems correctly, and check any written answers for typos or misspelled words. Finally, remember to write your name or any other important identifying information. 

10. Think positively. 

On the day of the test, try out positive affirmations like "I can do this" and "I am smart and capable." Even after you complete the test, don't worry. If you did well, that's great. If you don't think you did so well, consider it a learning opportunity and think about what you'll do differently next time.

What is test anxiety? 

Everyone who takes a test usually has some form of nervousness, but for some people, it can be more debilitating. Test anxiety is essentially the physical, mental, and emotional symptoms you experience in the moments and days leading up to a test. In some cases, symptoms can be severe enough to interfere with your ability to take a test. Symptoms might include headaches, digestive issues, nausea, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, and panic attacks. Mentally, you may feel stressed, fearful, helpless, and disappointed, and you may think negatively, or your mind may go blank. 


If you suffer from test anxiety, studying and preparing yourself as much as possible for the test is the best thing you can do to overcome it. Other tips include: 

  • Stay healthy by getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and staying hydrated.

  • Focus on positive thoughts rather than negative ones.

  • Take time for self-care before and after your test. 

  • Meditate or practice breathing exercises before and during the test.

  • Listen to calming music before the test.

  • Arrive early and come prepared with all the tools you need. 

  • Realize that one test will not ruin your life—even if you don't do well, there will be more opportunities.

  • Talk to someone like a professor, counselor, parent, or trusted friend about your fears and anxiety. 

Strategies for short-answer tests 

Sometimes, the type of test can impact your ability to perform. These test-taking tips can help you more with tests and quizzes that ask for you to provide short answers:  

  • Try to predict the questions that could be on the test based on the material. 

  • Answer every question, even if you don't know the full answer; you may get credit for a partial one. 

  • Start with the easier questions and go back to the harder ones; you may find context in other questions that will remind you of the answers for the harder ones. 

  • Read every word of the question carefully. 

  • Answer every question directly rather than making them longer than they need to be.

Strategies for multiple-choice tests 

While multiple-choice tests don't require you to come up with answers on your own, that doesn't necessarily make them easier. You'll typically have around four answers to choose from, and one (or more or none) of them is correct. Here are some tips for multiple-choice tests: 

  • Read each answer carefully, as two may be slightly different.

  • Before you read the answers, try to think of the answer to the question off the top of your head to add to your confidence about choosing the right one. 

  • Skip questions that you don't know the answers to, and come back to them in the end. 

  • Don't rely on patterns, such as assuming that because there have already been three "A" answers, there won't be any more.

  • When you're not sure, narrow the answers down to two answers that are the direct opposite of each other; in many cases, one of them may be correct. 

  • Underline familiar words in the question that may help you recall answers from your notes.

 Next steps 

Become a better learner by practicing techniques used by experts across multiple disciplines withLearning How to Learn from Deep Teaching Solutions. Get ideas for becoming a more successful learner, including tips on how to deal with procrastination, improve your memory, prep for tests, and tap into motivation.

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