Taking tests is hard! But with these simple tips, you can be a pro in no time.

Familiarize yourself with the exam and the instructions

With all tests, the age-old rule applies: Practice! The more practice tests you take, the better prepared you will be to take the real thing. Practicing also means that you become familiar with what is expected of you in every part of the test. Those instructional paragraphs on each test are pretty long, but if you already know what to expect, and know the instructions inside and out, that’s one less thing you have to worry about when it comes to budgeting your reading time.

Use the process of elimination

Ideally, when answering a question, you should have a rough idea of what the answer could be before looking at the multiple-choice answers. Then you can choose the answer that aligns most with your prediction. However, if the answer doesn’t come to you immediately, you can still use the answers given to you to help narrow down your options. You might see one, or even several of the answers that you know to be incorrect, and can then rule them out. That’s a lot better than guessing blindly when you don’t know the answer.

Leave no blanks

Let’s all take a moment to celebrate the fact that the SAT®, ACT®, and AP® Exams have no penalties for wrong answers. For any exam with no guessing penalties, you should always try to answer every question in a multiple-choice section. Even if you aren’t sure of the correct answer, your chances of getting a point are much higher with a random guess than if you leave a question blank.

If you are stuck on a question and decide it’s time to guess and continue on, first see if there are any answers you KNOW are wrong. Once again, process of elimination is a super useful tool when it comes to smart test-taking. After you’ve eliminated any glaringly wrong answers, choose one of the remaining answer choices to mark on your answer sheet, and MOVE ON to the next. Don’t linger. Don’t look back. Physically and mentally leave that question behind.  When taking a test, your time is precious and can’t afford to be wasted on a question you don’t know the answer to.

Plan your “random” guesses

The trick to guessing “randomly” isn’t actually random. If you want to pick up extra points on hopeless questions, you’ll want to guess with a plan, not arbitrarily. This means assigning one letter choice that you can default to when you don’t know the answer, or if you need to quickly answer a string of questions you haven’t had time to complete. Not only will this save you a little thinking time, but it is also statistically the safest way to increase your chances of guessing the correct answer.

Take note: This might not always apply! Say, for example, (B) is your chosen default letter. If you get to a question you’re unsure about, but you KNOW that answer choice (B) is definitely NOT correct…. DO NOT MARK (B) ON YOUR ANSWER SHEET! Pick another letter for that question.

Use your sheet smarts

There’s another reason it’s wise to fill out every single bubble on your answer sheet. It will help you to keep track of the questions you’re answering. All it takes is answering ONE question on the wrong line, and it will throw all of your following answers out of whack. In high-pressure testing environments, simple mistakes like these are more common than you’d think and can happen to even the most prepared test takers.

If you do want to skip a question, but plan to come back to it later, make sure you mark it up nice and bold on your test paper AND put a little erasable mark in the margin next to the question number on your answer sheet. This will help you remember to come back to it and to leave it blank for the next question.

A great way to streamline your bubbling process is to ‘bubble by batch’. Catchy, right? By that we mean marking all your answers on your test book and then ‘batch bubble’ them onto your answer sheet before turning to the next page. Doing this reduces all the back-and-forth between test book and answer sheet (a neat little time-saver) AND helps you to catch any numbering errors that might have been made before getting too far along.

It doesn’t matter if you are taking the SAT®, an AP® Exam, or a surprise multiple-choice test in your history class—applying these easy strategies could help make you a better, smarter test taker.

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