5 Test-Taking Strategies for the Paper-and-Pencil-Based Test
Do you have a study plan in place?
That’s one of our top tips for test taking, recommended to students preparing to take the TASC Test Assessing Secondary Completion™. These tips are great for preparing and studying. They can also improve your test-taking skills on the day of the test.
If you are taking the paper-and-pencil-based TASC test, you should know that there are specific strategies that can help you on the day of your subject tests. Incorporate them into your study plan today.
1. Start with the Instructions
Many test takers skip over the instructions when they begin tests. This often leads to confusion, incomplete answers, and incorrect answers. The educational public service center’s Study Guides and Strategies emphasizes avoiding careless errors, and making sure you take time to read the instructions. Different questions may look similar but have different instructions – so note whenever new instructions are introduced, and whenever the instructions tell you how many questions they apply to.
If you need to make a note to yourself about what the question is asking, jot it down in the margin next to the instructions (so you can refer back to it). This is especially helpful when the instructions refer to a series of questions.
2. Use Your Test Booklet as Scratch Paper
The great thing about taking the paper-based test is having a physical document to work with.
When you arrive for your test, the administrator will give you a test booklet. The booklet has all of the questions for your subject test printed in it. You will also be given an answer booklet, where you will record your answers to the corresponding questions. Typically, only the answer booklet is graded. Testing centers might not provide scratch paper or will allow you to bring a limited amount. In these cases, you can also use the test booklet as scratch paper.
Use extra space in the booklet to work out math equations or create an outline for your written response.
Faculty members at Bucks County Community College recommend using the booklet as a place for “a quick ‘mind dump’ of information you don’t want to forget.” Did you memorize the order of the wars that the United States has participated in? Do you want to make sure you remember the different types of sentence structures? Are there reading keywords you need to remember? Did you commit the acronym PEMDAS to memory? The booklet can be a great place to “dump” this information at the start of the test, so you can free up your mind and have a reference point throughout the subject test.
3. Answer Easy Questions First
One thing that test takers struggle with is remembering that they don’t have to take the test in order. In fact, many students have reported that they feel they need to answer the questions in the order they’re written. This is not true.
You should answer the easy or moderately easy questions first. Then, skip the ones you’re not sure of or the ones that seem difficult. This is easy to do in the paper-based test, and you shouldn’t be worried about forgetting to go back. You can mark the questions in the margins so you remember to return to them or dog-ear pages of the booklet.
Sparknotes’ testing guide for the ACT (which is a test that high school students take for college applications, and has similarities to the TASC test) advises test takers to skip more difficult questions because this strategy will “make sure that you get to see all the questions on the test.” Rather than wasting 10 minutes trying to remember the details of the New Deal, you can answer ten questions that you know and save the leftover time for the difficult questions.
This doesn’t mean you should skip the difficult questions entirely. You can take a couple seconds or even a minute to think about the answer. You can mark which answer you think it might be. But if you’re not certain after a minute or two, you should skip it. Sparknotes writes, “The time you spent on the problem earlier won’t be wasted. When you come back to the problem, you’ll already have done part of the work needed to solve it.” You’ll just need to think about it for a little longer, and you’ll feel better about spending the time on it because you’ve already answered many other questions.
4. Double-Check Your Answers (and Your Bubbles)
This tip is especially helpful for the Mathematics subject test, when you might be asked to do longhand work to solve a problem. Double-check every step of your math, and keep an eye out for instances where you may have forgotten to carry something over or apply a negative (or positive) sign. These simple mistakes are often easy to catch if you give yourself some time at the end of the testing period.
You should also make sure that your answer bubbles are completely filled in – and that you’ve filled in the right one. First, it’s important to note that the paper tests are graded by computers, which read the filled in bubbles. If a bubble isn’t filled in completely or the pencil mark is light, then there is a chance that the computer might not be able to read your answer. If this happens, the computer will assume the answer was left blank.
Second, check that you’ve marked the right bubble. It’s easy to accidentally fill-in the “C” bubble when you meant to fill-in the “B” bubble if you rush. Taking the time to double-check these simple things on the paper-based test can save you important points.
5. Keep An Eye on the Clock
Manage your time while you’re taking the subject tests. It can be easy to lose yourself in the test. If you’re not conscientious about how much time you’re spending on particular questions or sections, you might find yourself out of time.
Go into every subject test with a strategy. Know how much time it takes you to answer an easy, moderate, and difficult question. Know how much time you want to spend on different sections of the subject test. For example, if you need to spend more time on the written responses for the Writing subject test, budget for that.
And, if you’re skipping difficult questions, you’ll want to make sure to budget some time at the end of the test for going back to the questions you’ve skipped. You can develop such a strategy by timing yourself while you’re completing practice problems and practice tests. Take this practice seriously, and don’t pause your timing unless you absolutely need to. This will help you get a sense of how much time you’re spending on particular parts of the subtest – and if you’ll have time left over.
Remember: you’ll want to practice these strategies just like anything else. It’s easy to know that these strategies exist, but it’s hard to put them in practice in the moment. Add these strategies to your study plan, and use them while you’re working with the practice materials, pre-tests and assessments.
Are you looking for more strategies? Check out additional options at Collegeboard.com.
Share your test-taking tips in the comments to help your peers.