Taking a Test


When your test is in essay form, read all of the questions quickly, then answer the one with the highest point value first. Next, do the question about which you know the most. Work from an outline for all questions. Look for key words: “list,” “discuss,” “fact” and “opinion,” “compare” and “contrast,” “describe”.


Look for specific determinants in objective test questions. “Always,” “never,” and “all” are usually false. “Usually” and “sometimes” are typically true.

Multiple Choice

For multiple choice questions, there are generally four possible answers listed. Work from negative to positive; that is: First choice isn’t right; third choice isn’t right; therefore, correct answer must be second or fourth choice.
Narrow your decision to one correct answer. Read the statement given plus one answer at a time, covering all positive choices. This helps eliminate confusion and errors.


When the test involves matching items, decide whether extras are given. Ask yourself whether any answers can be used more than once.

Terms You’ll See

  • Compare: Usually stated as “compare with,” this implies that you should emphasize similarities, although you can mention differences. Examine qualities or characteristics to discover resemblances.
  • Contrast: Asks you to stress dissimilarities between associated things, qualities, events, or problems.
  • Criticize: Requests your judgment on the correctness or merit of the factors under consideration. You are expected to give results of your personal analysis and to discuss limitations and strengths of the work in question.
  • Define: Calls for concise, authoritative meanings. You need not give details but should cite briefly the boundaries or restrictions of the definition. Keep in mind what differentiates the defined term from all others in its class.
  • Describe: Wants you to recount, characterize, sketch, or relate in narrative form.
  • Discuss: Directs you to examine, analyze, and state the pros and cons of specific problems or items. You will find this term appears frequently in essay questions. It calls for a complete, detailed answer.
  • Evaluate: Asks you to appraise a problem carefully, stressing advantages and drawbacks. The term implies expert and—to a lesser degree—personal assessment of positive and negative aspects.
  • Explain: Requires that you clarify and interpret what you present. It is best to state the “how” and “why,” reconcile any difference of opinion or experimental results, and give causes where possible. Your aim is to make plain the conditions that lead to what you’re examining.
  • Outline: Wants you to formulate an organized description, giving main points and essential supplementary ones, omitting minor details. You should set up the information systematically.
  • Relate: Asks you to describe relationships in your answer, emphasizing connections and associations.
  • Review: Specifies critical examination. You should analyze and comment briefly in a planned order on the major aspects of the problem.
  • Summarize: Requests that you state main points or facts in condensed form, leaving out all details, illustrations, and elaboration.
  • Trace: Asks that you describe historical sequence, progress, or development from points of origin and may call for probing or for deduction.