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Taking an objective examination is somewhat different from taking an essay examination. The objective examination may be composed of true-false, multiple-choice, or matching responses. Also included occasionally is a fill-in section. There are certain things that you must remember to do as you take this kind of test.

First, roughly decide how to divide your time. Quickly glance over the pages to see how many kinds of questions are being used and how many there are of each kind. Secondly, carefully read the instructions and make sure that you understand them before you begin to work. Indicate your answers exactly as specified in the instructions. If your instructor has not indicated whether there is a penalty for guessing, ask him or her about it; then, if there is a penalty, do not guess.

Be prepared to find some questions that are easy for you and others that are difficult. Answer those that are relatively easy as soon as you have read them carefully and are sure of the answer. Check those that you find difficult and pass them for the moment. After you have answered all the easy questions, you can properly apportion the remaining time to try to answer the more difficult questions. Remember that in objective examinations all the questions of the same kind usually count the same and you get no more credit for a difficult question than you do for an easier one. Don't waste precious time worrying about the harder questions.

You can improve your objective examination results by learning and practicing the art of reading and deciding on the correct answers on objective tests.

True-False Questions

True-false questions usually state the relation of two things to one another. Because the instructor is interested in knowing whether you know when and under what circumstances something is or is not true, s/he usually includes some qualifiers in the statement. The qualifiers must be carefully considered.

With the following qualifiers, you are wiser to guess "yes" if you don't know the answer because you may stand some chance of getting the answer right: most, some, usually, sometimes, and great.
On the other hand, with these next qualifiers, you should guess "no" unless you are certain that the statement is true: all, no, always, is, never, is not, good, bad, equal, less.

Beware of the false notion that certain words automatically make a statement true or false. Even though it is difficult to construct true statements with such words as: no, never, every, or other sweeping qualifiers, instructors sometimes do without making them giveaways. Such statements will catch the student who isn't judging them on their merits.

Usually the best true-false questions are one-clause statements, but occasionally two clauses are used. When there are two clauses, judge each of the two statements separately. If one of them is false, mark the question false even if the other clause appears to be true. Most of the time both statements are either true or false.
Suppose you read the following statement on a test and want to analyze it to determine whether it is true or false: "All oranges are orange." First of all, note that all is the qualifier. Now, try substituting other qualifiers for all:

"Most oranges are orange."
"No oranges are orange."
"Some oranges are orange."
"All oranges are orange."

If you can find a qualifier that makes a better statement than the one on the test, the test question is false. If your substitution is not better, the question is true.

Even though examination questions are naturally more complicated than these examples, this explanation of analyzing qualifiers should prove helpful. Despite the fact that it doesn't always work, it should help you find the key word or words in a statement. It is important to remember that there is always an adjective, adverb, or word or group of words on which the truth or falsity of the statement hinges.

Multiple-Choice Questions

The first and most important thing to remember in answering multiple-choice questions is that you must read the directions carefully so that you can answer the questions as they are supposed to be answered.

Basically, multiple-choice questions are true-false questions arranged in groups. There is a lead phrase or clause at the beginning of the question and three or more endings to make different statements.

The multiple-choice question differs from the true-false item in that only one item out of the group is to be selected. This item is the one best answer or the one answer that is more nearly true. With multiple-choice questions it is a relative matter, not one of absolute truth or falsity.

Read through the question to eliminate alternatives that are clearly false. Mark through the letter or number that precedes these statements and then concentrate on those that may be true. Read them once more. Find and test the key words as you would in a true-false question. If you don't know the answer to the question, place a check mark in front of the question and leave it until you have finished the easier questions.

Matching Questions

Read all the items to be matched in matching questions in order to get an idea of the range of possibilities. Go back to the first item on the left and read down the items on the right until you find the one best match. If you can't find the correct match, go on to the next item. Proceed in this manner until you have filled in all the answers you know. This will simplify the job by reducing the number of possibilities. Some matching questions consist of words or brief phrases while others contain whole clauses similar to those in true-false or multiple choice statements. These key words must be tested just as they are in true-false or multiple-choice questions.

Completion Questions

Another type of question used is the completion question. This type of question is much like the true-false question except that one word or a phrase is left out. Be very specific in your choice of words because the instructor will be expecting a technical term or key word. Try to think of the answer that fits, but if you cannot think of an answer, write down your best guess. Even though such answers may not be exactly what is wanted, they may get complete or partial credit.


Always remember that you must answer test questions while considering what was said in class or in the textbook. Don't answer the questions according to the latest magazine article, your personal opinion, or some other course you have taken.

Leave some time for a final rereading of your examination just in case you have unintentially left some questions unanswered. If you are tempted to change some of your answers, do not do it hastily or impulsively. Remember that you put some thought into the answers and they should not be changed without good reason. Carefully read the question again and weigh the various alternatives. If you recall something relevant that you didn't recall on the first reading, or if you perceive the meanings of the alternatives more clearly, you may increase your chance of being correct by changing the answer. Avoid last-minute hasty changing of answers, for the first answer is usually the correct one.


The essay examination is one of the most practical and yet one of the most demanding writing situations you will encounter in college. It is demanding because you are required to write under the pressure of a rigid time limit and your ability to read accurately and to write well within that time limit is tested. For this reason, the essay examination is as much a test of thinking and writing ability as it is a test of your knowledge of the subject material of the course.

Many students fail to get good grades on their essay examinations, not because the answers are ungrammatical or awkward, but because they cannot express their knowledge of the subject adequately through their writing. According to instructors, the chief weakness of most essay test answers is that they are not carefully planned and then adequately developed. Many students write without any clear purpose, and assume that as long as they are writing, they are answering the question. Consequently, the results are often answers that are not clear, not adequate, and not relevant.

You can improve your ability to get the better grades you want on essay examinations by pursuing the following practice.

Before the Examination

Obviously, the student who is not prepared in the content of the course cannot hope to get a good grade on an essay-type examination as there is no opportunity to guess the right answer from a group of answers typically provided on an objective examination. The best way to prepare for an essay test is to keep up with the daily assignments so that all you need do just before the test is a general review of lecture notes and the notes you took while reading the textbook. While you are reviewing for the test, remember that you should concentrate on the main ideas or major concepts of the course because the essay test is not designed simply to test your knowledge of details. It is meant to test your thinking as well as your memory by eliciting your understanding of the main concepts as supported by sufficient thinking and use of detail.

An essay test requires more sustained concentration than any other kind of test, so be sure to get plenty of sleep the night before the test. Remember that the mind works more slowly and not as accurately when it is tired.

During the Examination

Read the entire essay examination before you attempt to answer any part of it.
Look at the total number of points allocated to each essay question. Decide which essay questions you know the best and start with them. Do not vacillate between questions; make your decision and stick to it.

Plan the amount of time that should be devoted to each essay question so that you will have enough time on each question; then adhere to your time limits. Remember to allow time at the beginning for the preliminary reading and at the end for rereading, corrections, or additions. Keep in mind that you should not try to write all that could be said about a topic on the essay test. Remember that you must write the best answer possible within the time limitation. No matter how thorough or brilliant the answer, each question receives only a certain number of points.

Read the question thoroughly to see what it asks you to do before you try to answer it. If you do not interpret the question correctly, your entire answer may be wrong. Certain key words in a question require a different approach to the answer. Following are some of these key words with their meanings:

Analyze - This means to separate an idea or thing into its elements or parts. You may simply want to examine the individual parts, or you may want to show how the parts relate to each other and to the whole.

Compare - Tell how two things are alike. In some cases you would also write about their differences.

Contrast - Tell how two things are different.

Criticize - Tell, in your own opinion, about the views mentioned.

Define - Give clear, concise, authoritative meanings but not details. Give the limits of the definition and show how the thing you are defining differs from things in other classes.

Describe - Characterize, recount, relate, or sketch in story form.

Diagram - Use a chart, drawing, plan, or graphic to answer. Label a diagram and sometimes add a brief explanation or description.

Discuss - Examine and analyze carefully, giving the reasons for and against. Give details and be complete.

Enumerate - Give points specifically, one by one, in list or outline form.

Evaluate - Appraise the problem carefully, remembering to cite both advantages and limitations. Emphasize what authorities said and add a little of your own personal evaluation.

Explain - Clarify or interpret the material you present. Give reasons for results or for differences of opinion. Analyze the causes.

Illustrate - Explain or clarify a problem by using a concrete example, diagram, figure, or picture.

Interpret - Translate, give examples of, solve, or comment on a subject in a judgmental way.

Justify - Prove or give reasons for decisions or conclusions. Be convincing!

List - Write a series of concise statements.

Outline - Organize a description under main and subordinate points. Omit minor details and stress the classification of things.

Prove - Cite factual evidence or give logical reasons to establish that something is true.

Relate - Tell how things are related to, or connected with, each other. Show how one causes another, correlates with another, or is like another.

Review - Critically examine a subject. Analyze and comment on the important statements to be made about it.

State - Write the main ideas in brief, clear sequence. Usually the details, illustrations, or examples are omitted.

Summarize - Restate the substance, in condensed or abridged form, a preceding discourse or discussion.

Trace - Use the narrative form to describe from the point of origin through the development, historical events, or progress.

Create a thesis or topic sentence first; then develop it through explanatory or illustrative details. Be sure to relate everything you write in your answer to the controlling idea in the topic sentence. Remember that the question itself will usually suggest the one central idea to be developed in the answer to the essay question. Understanding something about outlines is most helpful in this kind of writing. If you fail to organize your answer, you may find yourself merely listing or recounting the facts without a plan, therefore, you end up rambling all around the subject without really answering the question or making your answer clear. Keep in mind that careful organization leads to unity, logic, and correct emphasis. With these things in your essay examination answer, you won't need to worry about your grades.

Keep in mind that your instructor expects concrete, precise, and specific terms. Nothing is more irritating than a succession of unexplained and unsupported generalizations; yet, this is one of the chief faults of examination answers.

You are naïve if you think that an instructor will accept obvious padding as a contribution to an essay examination answer. This merely draws attention to the fact that the student is trying to conceal his/her ignorance.

Critically read your essay examination answer again to be sure that you did what you intended to do. Even though there is little time for a complete revision of an answer, you may need to make a few specific changes or insert a comment between the lines or in the margin. Also, you may be able to correct obvious errors in spelling, punctuation, or grammar. Instructors rarely expect perfection in mechanics and style, but a lot of mistakes may make a bad impression and thus influence the instructor while s/he is grading your examination.

Recommendations To Follow During An Essay Examination

1. Remember the reader. Write legibly in ink unless you are requested to use pencil. Leave a margin on the left and right sides of the paper for the instructor's comments. Use the same numbers that the instructor used to number the questions.

2. When technical terms are involved, use them correctly and be sure that they are spelled correctly.

3. When you do not know the answer, admit it; trying to bluff your way through an examination makes a very bad impression upon your instructor.

4. Forget introductions; they waste both your time and your instructor's time.

5. Remember to emphasize the difference between theory and fact.

6. When you write about a controversial subject, be sure to cite what "authorities" have said about the subject and name these "authorities."

7. When you cannot remember the answer to a question, use your own background of knowledge and common sense to try to recall the answer.


To insure the best results when you take an essay examination, practice the following:

1. Read the question before you begin to write so that you are sure about what is requested and expected.

2. Write an outline of your intended answer to assure a logical structure.

3. Note the time and points allotted to the questions; then plan and write accordingly.

4. Be as precise as possible in your answers.
These suggestions for taking an essay examination will only be helpful if they are read early enough to be assimilated before the testing period.


1. Plan your arrival so that you have plenty of time. Be sure to check your test taking material prior to leaving for the exam. (Showing up for an exam late or without a pencil is a sure way to focus unfavorable attention on yourself.)

2. Read all directions. Underline key words in the directions that give indication as to how your answers are to be recorded and how they should be worded.

3. Budget your time. Survey the test to determine the type and number of questions to be answered. Determine where you will start on the test. Check yourself at 15 or 20 minute intervals to determine if you are progressing at an acceptable rate.

4. Be aware that you may have problems remembering from time to time. If you find yourself blocking, move on to the next question.

5. Ask for help in interpreting test questions that you do not understand.

6. Be aware of any negative statements you are telling yourself about the test. Such statements as "I am failing, I didn't study for this, and the test is too hard for me" are sure ways of increasing anxiety.

7. Do not be concerned with what the other students are doing. (Another sure way of increasing anxiety is to tell yourself you are the only one having trouble.)

8. If you are distractible, invest in some earplugs and chose a desk you can turn to the wall or a corner.

9. As a general rule answer the easy questions first.


1. Answer the questions in order.

2. Leave check marks by the questions that are doubtful.

3. Read the questions carefully. Be especially careful of questions containing negative words such as "not, no, least," etc.

4. Check for wording such as "all, most, some, none; always, usually, seldom, never; best, worst; highest, lowest; smallest, largest."

5. Watch for limiting phrases in true-false statements. Names, dates, places are often used as the key to make a statement false.

6. Watch for extraneous information that may confuse or mislead.

7. In multiple choice questions look for grammatical inconsistency between the stem and response. In most case the alternative is not correct if you find an inconsistency.

8. Change your answers only if you are sure you made an error.

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