Excellent test taking skills go a long way to improving class grades, even when you don’t know the subject matter well.
The first question to ask is the format of the test you will be taking. Is this going to be an essay test or a multiple choice test, a short answer test or a matching test? The type of questions asked will determine the way you will study. For matching, short answer, and multiple choice tests, focus on details and definitions. Things like names, dates, definitions, and specific details of a story plot or science theorem are easy to ask in this sort of format. If the test is multiple choice, you may not have to remember every single word, or just the main ideas and the words that go with them. For multiple choice, matching, true/false questions, and other formats where the answer is printed as part of the question, you don’t usually need to know the spelling of each term, and since the choices are there to remind you of the words, they act as a word bank and memory aid, so you just need to know where each one fits into the big picture. For short answer/fill in tests, definitions are key. For true/false tests, study contrasts and opposites, since the most common way to write a false statement is to write the opposite of a true one.
Essay answers usually require a different sort of strategy. Essay questions lend themselves to broad concepts, and linking major ideas. You still need to know the important vocabulary to go along with the ideas, but more important that vocabulary are big ideas and how they work. Essay questions may ask you to define a term, and then explain how that term is important to an overall idea. They may ask you to describe an incident, a theory, or an idea, and then to give examples of how your chosen subject fits into a major theme topic. While vocabulary is important here, it is usually more important to understand main ideas than to be able to define specific words.
Reading the wording of some questions can often help you answer other questions about the same idea in another part of the test. A test with different kinds of questions often asks about the same idea in more than one way. For instance, a definition question that you think you answered correctly can help you answer a non-definition question about the same topic. If you forget some words you’d like to use in your essay response, don’t be afraid to look through the multiple choice answers to find words to help you. Reading through true/false answers to find statements you think are true can help you to answer questions about that same idea in another part of the test. There are usually a limited number of ideas on any test, and there are hints all over the test that can help you.