Test Taking Strategies To Start Teaching Your Students

by | Mar 22, 2022 | Teaching Strategies, Test Prep | 1 comment

How many times has a test result shocked you? 

Before the test, you knew the student knew the material – and yet their test results say otherwise. 

This often happened to me at the beginning of my teaching career, and it puzzled me. If my students truly understood the material, why didn’t their scores reflect that? 

I quickly learned that there is a difference between knowing the material and knowing how to take a test

There is a lot of anxiety that comes with test-taking, and that anxiety can completely overrule any knowledge we have. 

As teachers help students prepare for testing, we need to make sure that they not only feel comfortable with the material but also with taking a test. 

Let’s take a look at a few of my favorite test-taking strategies to teach my students. 

Teach Your Students The Importance Of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is the ability to clearly and systematically solve problems or make choices. There are many skills involved in critical thinking, but a few examples include analysis, inference, and problem-solving. 

Here’s a quick example of how you use critical thinking during a test. You find a multiple-choice question that includes “all of the following except.” Usually, this means all the possible answers are viable choices, but one doesn’t fit the question exactly. Students need to use critical thinking to figure out which “good” choice doesn’t fit the scenario asked. 

Since the majority of test questions are usually multiple-choice, teachers should show ways students can think through figuring out a correct answer. 

In this post, we will look at ten clues students can use to help narrow down the possible answers on multiple-choice questions. 

A note: There are certainly more than ten strategies to use here. I narrowed them down to the types of questions elementary and middle school students are most likely to find on their tests. 

10 Test Taking Strategies For Your Students

Word Frequency 

The first clue students can look at is word frequency. If the answer choices repeat words, those words are more likely to be part of the correct answer. Look at the example below. 

Which colors can be mixed to form the color purple?

  1. Red and Yellow
  2. Yellow and Blue
  3. Red and Green
  4. Red and Blue

By reading the possible answers, students can see that red is used more frequently than any other color, making it more likely that red is part of the correct answer.


Roots, Prefixes, and Suffixes

Students should use what they know about root words to help them determine the answers. For example, the Greek root photo means light, which, if students know, can make it easier to identify which answer in the example below is the most correct. 

What is photosynthesis?

  1. How plants decompose into nutrients
  2. How plants use sunlight to make food
  3. How plants reproduce using pollen
  4. How plants protect themselves

Similar Choices

In a similar vein to word frequency, if a question has two similar answers, one of them is most likely the correct answer. In the example below, both astrology and astronomy include the root astro, so one of those is most likely correct. 

What is the study of celestial objects and phenomena? 

  1. Astrology
  2. Physics
  3. Zoology
  4. Astronomy

Umbrella Choices

Sometimes one answer choice can include the other possible answers. Shown in the example below.

Astronomy is the study of

  1. Space and everything in it
  2. Planets and stars
  3. Galaxies
  4. Comets and asteroids


Opposite Choice

If there are two very different choices, one is probably correct. As shown below, talkative and unable to speak are opposites, so most likely, one of them is the correct response. 

When Pablo’s mom caught him lying, he was suddenly tongue-tied. 

  1. Had a dry mouth
  2. Talkative
  3. Unable to speak
  4. Breathless


Judgment Question

A judgment question will probably ask students to select the “best” answer or something like, “With which statement would the author most likely agree?” In these types of questions, all answer choices are usually good ones. Students need to use critical thinking to determine which answer is the correct one. Students will need to be careful not to base their answers on their own opinion but on the criteria. These questions can be like the example below: 

With which statement would the authors of both Passage 1 and 2 agree? 

  1. Mount Everest is a challenge people can’t resist.
  2. Increased safety measures should be adopted on Everest. 
  3. Attempting to summit Mount Everest can be deadly. 
  4. People need to prepare for Everest’s extreme conditions 

Grammatically Correct

If a question uses a sentence stem, then the correct answer should be grammatically correct when the question and answer are put together. As shown here. 

The purpose of a culinary program is:

  1. you learn how to study. 
  2. to learn how to cook
  3. to teach computer programming. 
  4. learning to design web pages. 

In this question, A and D do not form a grammatically correct sentence when joined with the question. B or C would most likely be the correct response. 

Absolute Words 

Teach your students that absolute words like never, always, every, all, or none usually are not part of the correct answer. Like this example shows you.

Which statement is true? 

  1. All bird species migrate. 
  2. Every species in North America migrates.
  3. The majority of bird species migrate.
  4. Bird species never migrate in winter. 


The Most Different

Sometimes a question has three answer choices and one that looks very different. The different answers are often the correct ones. In the example below, three of the answers are positive feelings about the game, while one is negative. 

What is the mood of the crowd at the beginning of Passage 2? 

  1. The crowd feels hopeless about winning the game. 
  2. The crowd is confident Casey will save the day. 
  3. The crowd is supportive of the home team. 
  4. The crowd is enjoying their time at the ballpark. 


Key Word

If a key word is used in both the question and answer, it may be the correct response. In the example below, the key word season is used in both the question and response A. Therefore, A is most likely the correct answer. 

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

  1. SAD occurs when the seasons cause depression.
  2. SAD is a disease caused by fleabites in humans. 
  3. SAD is a disorder that happens after childbirth. 
  4. SAD occurs when students are overstressed. 

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Over twenty plus years, my educational career has spanned four continents and two states, as well as eight grade levels!

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