Tips from a Biology Tutor in Cambridge: Taking science tests

Posted by The Standarized Test Insider on 11/12/12 9:23 AM

science testsWe all know that science tests can be challenging.

Not only is the content broad and sometimes difficult to master, but the tests themselves can be tricky and confusing. How many of you have run out of time because you got stuck on one confusing question that was probably low yield? Science tests are also notorious for having poorly articulated questions. I have been taking science tests for a long time now and have developed a set of strategies that have helped me succeed. Learning the information is one thing.

As a biology tutor in Cambridge, I can tell you that being prepared, focused, and ready for the exam conditions is an entirely different skill! Here are some tutor tested strategies for taking a science test, whether it is a biology test, chemistry test, physics test or any test, really.

1)    Know the Format

Make sure to know how your test will be structured. This will allow you to most effectively manage your time, which is often the most important factor in test-taking success. You should know the answers to these questions:

  • How many points are on the test in total?
  • How many questions are on the test?
  • How many different sections are there?
  • Are there multiple-choice questions?
  • Are there short-answer questions?
  • Are there calculations?
  • What is the breakdown of points between sections?

2)    Know the test taking conditions

Once you are clear on the test structure, you should figure out the test taking conditions. This way you will be the most comfortable when you actually sit down for the test. First and foremost, know the location of the test. Too many times have I shown up 2 minutes after a test started because I got lost! And make sure to find out where the bathroom is located. J

3)    Bring a watch or a timer

Time management is crucial. If you take one thing away from this list, it is to bring a watch (with a minute hand) or a timer to the test. Set the watch to 12:00 so the minute hand and the hour hand line up. If you’re using a timer, set it to zero, obviously.

Make sure you know exactly how much time you have for the test. Use the watch or the timer to gauge your progress. Are you halfway done with the test at the halfway time? If you need smaller intervals you can figure out if you are a quarter of the way done when a quarter of time has passed.

I emphasize this strategy because it ensures that you work at a steady pace that allows you to get to each question and actually finish the test. 

4)    Make a plan and triage

Figure out which sections you are going to tackle first. There is no reason to go in order on a science test. Think about a strategy that will allow you to answer the easiest questions that are worth the most points first.

If your test is composed of both multiple-choice and short answer questions, I suggest completing short answer questions first. These are usually worth more points and take a bit longer to complete.

This is the order in which I try to answer questions:

  • Short answer questions that are easy (but worth a lot of points)

Always start with the questions that are worth the most points. If they are difficult or take too much time, mark the question to make sure you will come back to it later. If you are pressed for time, it is much easier to blow through some multiple-choice questions at the end rather than writing out an answer or a calculation for a short-answer question.

  • Multiple choice questions that are easy

This is a good way to start racking up points on your exam. If questions are difficult, mark them and come back to them late 

  • Short answer questions that are difficult (but worth a lot of points)

With the easy short answer and multiple-choice questions behind you, come back to the difficult short answer questions and give them another chance.

  • Multiple choice questions that are difficult

Finish your exam with the difficult multiple-choice questions you have marked. You can always guess if time is running out!

5)    Don’t read the answer – KNOW the answer

Multiple-choice questions are often set up in ways to confuse you. My best advise is to read carefully and think about what the answer is in your head. This way, when you scan the list of possible answers you will quickly see the right one if you have already thought of it. This will save you time!

Any test preparation tutor will tell you that if you don’t see what you were thinking, go through the answer choices and eliminate any that you know are incorrect. Make sure to put a line through that answer so you save yourself time if you come back to it later.

If you are down to two answers and really can’t make a decision, mark the question and triage it for later or take your best guess and move on.

6)    Be relaxed on test day

Take a deep breath, focus, and relax when you sit down for your test. You will think clearly, I promise. When you’re done, make sure to celebrate!

Tags: biology, physics, chemistry