The art of effective test taking
Test-taking ability can be divided into three categories: Mastery of basic knowledge and information, awareness of test-taking techniques and strategies, and finally, freedom from anxiety that, if present at a high level, will interfere will application of both of the other categories.
Understanding the question
The question is called the stem , and the answer choices are called distracters. The purpose of a distracter is to distract you from identifying and choosing the correct answer. Thus, in the process of taking a multiple-choice test, all of your knowledge, expertise, and judgment are utilized.
In effective test construction, the stem is direct and to the point. This means that the question is asking for one particular response and that you should not read other information into the question. Often, you will find questions that are asking for "common sense" answers.
Reading into these questions or searching for subtle hidden meanings is not advised. Principle: Do not read extra meaning into the question; assume it is direct and to the point. Your first action then, upon being presented with the question, is to ask yourself " What is this question asking?" Look for key words or phrases to help you understand. It is important to have the central point clearly in your mind before going on to consider the distractors.
Make very sure you read the stem correctly. Notice particularly the way the question is phrased. Is it asking for the right or wrong response? One of the most important principles in test taking is understanding what the question is asking. Principle: Understand exactly what the stem is asking before considering the distractors.
Another technique for assessing the stem and interpreting the question correctly is to rephrase the question so that it is very clear in your own mind. For example, consider the following statement: "The one treatment that is not required in cardiogenic shock is..." Rephrase it to read: "They are asking me to identify a treatment that is not required in cardiogenic shock, but may be required in other shock conditions." Rephrasing in your own language can assist you to read the question correctly and, in turn, choose the appropriate response.
This is particularly important when you are faced with a difficult and/or confusing question. Principle: Rephrase the question in your own words so that it is clear in your mind. If possible, think of the correct answer before considering the distractors. If you do not know the answer, the following cues to working with distractors may prove helpful.
Distractors are various alternatives chosen to be as close as possible to the right answer. In good test construction, all distractors should be feasible and reasonable and should apply directly to the stem. There should be a commonality in all of the distractors. If one distractor is off base and not plausible, then you can safely assume the person writing the test question ran out of reasonable distractors. Principle: When analyzing the distractors, isolate what is important in the answer alternatives from what is not important, relative to the question.
In other words, all distractors may be correct but not the right choice for the specific question that is asked. One method of helping you choose the correct answer is to ask yourself whether each possible alternative is true or false in relation to the stem.
Asking yourself which distractor is true or false is a shortcut method of answering the question. It forces you to keep looking at the stem. Otherwise, you are trying to judge all of the choices at once. After you have completed the true-false process, remember to go back to the stem and ask yourself if your choice is, in fact, answering the question.
An answer alternative may be correct as it stands by itself, but wrong in terms of what the question is asking. Many, many students fail to recheck the answer with the stem, and they answer the question incorrectly. An effective strategy in assessing test questions is to judge all four alternative choices against the stem, not against each other.
Read the stem, then check Alternative A against the stem, then check Alternative B against the stem, and so on. This process will eliminate choosing an alternative that does not fit the question. Principle: After choosing the correct answer alternative and separating it from the distracters, go back to the stem and make sure your choice does, in fact, answer the question.
If you are answering a test question in which one distracter is considerably different from the others, it is probably not the correct choice. Often, students tend to pick this alternative just because it is different. Principle: Look for similarities in two or three of the choices remembering that the purpose of distracters is to divert you from the one right answer.
The multiple-variable question is one in which each possible answer to the question includes several variables. An effective technique for handling multiple variables is to use the process of elimination. First, study the question and ask yourself what variable fits with this condition, or, after examining the distracters, underline the variable that you know is correct.
Now ask yourself what variable is not present with this condition. Again, examine the distractors and cross out those variables which are incorrect. By the end of this process, you probably will have eliminated at least two distracters even without taking the time to consider the other two. Principle: When a question contains multiple variables as alternative choices, use the elimination-of-variable technique.
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