Episode 4: Test Taking

Posted by in LD State of Mind

[Introduction] Welcome to the LD State of Mind, a podcast about learning together and making a difference for college students. Join us as we discuss tips and useful information with our peers and experts in the area of learning variability’s.

[Patrick] Good morning and welcome to this episode of LD State of Mind. Our guest speaker today is Mrs. James, of the East Carolina University STEPP Program. Over the next few episodes we will be exploring a topic no one likes, but everyone needs help on, test taking. And the tips and tricks you might have been missing out on. In today’s episode we will be discussing multiple-choice tests. What to look for, and how to prepare yourself to do the best you can. So Morgan, if you could give a little bit of background/personal information of why you are our guest today.

[Morgan] Sure, first, thanks for having me. I am the instructional specialist for the STEPP Program at East Carolina University and I work with students that have learning differences in either reading, writing, or math. I teach them learning strategies and academic routines to help them be successful in their college classes.

[Patrick] Awesome, and I know from experience she is amazing at it. She was my teacher for two year and has helped me so much today in all my test taking skills. So, Morgan, today we’re talking about multiple-choice test and the good and bad about them. Do you think you could give us a little reflection back from when you were taking multiple-choice tests? What you liked and didn’t really like about the topic?

[Morgan] Sure, well I’m still a grad student or I’m a grad student again since I’m working on my doctorate. So, I’m still taking tests. There’s a lot of anxiety, I think, going into a test. And I think it’s actually totally normal for myself, and actually any student to have test anxiety. But I even in the past, thinking back to undergrad. I remember I was always thinking in my mind, “Take your time, don’t rush”. As I was going through the test I would say that in my head. I never cared if I was the last one to finish a test. You know I guess I didn’t really have that competitive…

[Patrick] Yea, I understand that…

[Morgan] That competitive spirit maybe died with me when I was in there taking the test. And I know that some students do care about things like that. I tried to use positive self talk to amp my self up for the test, before hand. Ultimately when I’m actively taking the test, I go with my gut. I try to advice students to do that, too. And I know that doesn’t sound real scientific, but I learned early on that your first instinct is usually the right one.

[Patrick] So, should I not go back and read over the test again?

[Morgan] Well, of course you should go back and read over the test. But only change your answer if you are absolutely sure. You know, that you’ve either seen the answer somewhere else on the test or you’re absolutely sure that you got it wrong.

[Patrick] Or you’re getting a gut feeling that it’s wrong, so you’ve got to change it.

[Morgan] (Laughter) Sure, I guess, yea.

[Patrick] Awesome. So, in multiple-choice testing by the sound of it, you’re not writing any essays. You have in front of you, the answers and the question; what are some advantages to this type of testing, compared to the other forms?

[Morgan] Sure, well you kind of mentioned one. You have all the answers in front of you; you just have to pick the right one, ultimately. But, multiple-choice tests give you an opportunity to guess and/or eliminate answer choices that you know are wrong. Which gives you more of a chance to pick the right answer. Also, sometimes you’re able to sift through the test and find similar questions and answers somewhere else on the test. Whether it’s been rephrased or restated somewhere and in doing that you can narrow down your choices again to see you know if the questions been repeated somewhere to, you know, help you answer the questions.

[Patrick] Those were some really good advantages, now let’s take a look at the disadvantages or the challenges of this type of testing.

[Morgan] So I guess in wording, question wording, can be challenging because they’ll, the professors or instructors, they’ll throw in words, we call them absolute words, like not, never, always. Those words can often make students second-guess their answer choice. Or maybe if they’re reading the question they might not really understand, “well do they, are they asking me this, or not asking me this?”. You know, so they can second-guess themselves. In addition to absolutes, you can also have scenario type questions, which can be difficult to actually apply answer choices to. Then also, just in answer choices that are given you have the dreaded “all of the above” type of answer choice. Which makes students sometimes think, “Hmmm, I wonder if this is a trick question and all the answer choices are correct?”. You know, so, wording can sometimes be tricky and also just the issue of having too many choices…

[Patrick] Oh, yea…

[Morgan] And narrowing it down…

[Patrick] I have one teacher, I swear, every time it’s multiple choice, it’s multiple choice… Sorry, that made no sense at all. (Laughter) I swear, I have a teacher, every time it’s all of the above, it’s all of the above; because at that point in time he’s just trying to say, “You should know this, this, and this…”. I have other teachers who don’t use it at all. They stay away from the “E” column. Something that I hate, when teachers do it, or by the luck of the draw; when you get five or six dots in a row, I feel like whenever that happens I’m about to get a bad grade on the test. Is that something to look for?

[Morgan] Well, I think you should be mindful of that, but I also feel like it might be some sort of an urban myth that professors won’t have like all six questions in a row that are “B”. Then you start to think, “Oh, well, all of those can’t be “B”, I’ve got to go back and change one.”. Sometimes professors will have six questions in a row that will all be “B”.

[Patrick] Evil…

[Morgan] (Laughs) So, that I guess really you just have to use your background knowledge and be confident in what you studied.

[Patrick] Wait, so we have to study for these tests?

[Morgan] Yes! You have to study for these tests, absolutely.

[Patrick] Okay, we’ll come back to that in a minute or two. We’re going to come back to studying. So, these tests have a lot of little things that you can look for. You already said red flag words like “always” or “never”. I’m trying to think of another example right now, if a question is really long or really short, what are some tips we can look for when preparing for these test when we’re first getting into it to do better?

[Morgan] Sure, so, when preparing for multiple choice test I tell students to make sure they know the terminology associated with their chapter reading or the terminology the professor has used in Power Points and whatnot. And when I say terminology I mean the actual vocabulary term and the definition. Also, how to apply that definition, because often times in multiple-choice you’ll have a scenario where you’ll have to apply a word to the scenario of actually what it is meaning or what the professor is asking. Also, you want to make sure the students can answer all of the questions at the end of each chapter in their textbook. A lot of time professors will pull questions from the reading and if students can answer questions at the end of each chapter, they’ll have a better chance of maybe seeing those again or maybe re-worded somehow on the test. If you don’t have a textbook, a lot of times they can look questions, like look at questions on study guides if the professors provided one. Or, again, look and try to make your own questions based off Power Points. Honestly studying, I know you mentioned that earlier, studying is really the best way to prepare yourself for any test. Whether it’s multiple-choice, open book, or essay, or whatnot. So, there’s no such thing as studying too much for a test, in my opinion.

[Patrick] Okay, for us who don’t know how to study well. What would be your advice for getting a better grade?

[Morgan] Oh gosh, if you don’t know how to study well, I would, I would use my resources. I would make some friends in class that you can meet with once a week to go over material that was presented from the instructor. You can form small study groups. You can seek out a tutor. A lot of campuses have tutoring centers and even departments have tutoring centers. So, seek out someone that can help. You can go to office hours and visit your professor and really explain to them, “look, I really enjoyed what we talked about in class, I’m really having a hard time understanding this concept. Can you talk it through with me?” Also, if the instructor provides a study guide, ANSWER THE QUESTIONS on the study.

[Patrick] WHAT???

[Morgan] I know, sorry. And honestly, if you’ve been given a study guide, you’ve been given a gift, okay. So I would use it. And speaking of study guides when you’re completing it. Obviously, look through the textbook for your answers, go over class notes, go over Power Points and don’t wait until the last minute to do a study guide. And the reason for that is as you are answering questions in a study guide and you come across, you know, you run into a hiccup, or a mountain. You have time to go ask a friend, go ask a tutor, go ask the professor the answers and dig a little bit.

[Patrick] Awesome, I’m going to continue with preparing yourself for test. If you are in college, sorry high schoolers I’m going to come to you guys in a minute. Look for your DSS or your Disabilities Support Service for your actual test taking. If you have trouble reading, they’ll read it for you. If you need more time, you can get time and a half for almost your entire test. Some classes you can get a note card for notes. Other times, you can have a low distraction environment and even a bubbler. If you are sitting down for this multiple-choice test and you have done every question, sometimes it’s tough. I get my B’s and C’s and D’s mixed up, to put them all in the right bubble. So you can go and take it to a person in DSS and they’ll put in each bubble for you. To make sure that you are getting the best grade you possibly can and not missing out on a couple of silly points for simply bubbling it in wrong.

[Morgan] That’s good advice

[Patrick] Yea, that’s part of the preparation. You’ve got to go a couple days before hand and make sure you’re calendar is setup so you have a test coming up, you know your DSS is signed in and you know you’re studying in advance for these tests so that you can do the best you can.

[Morgan] Umm hmm, and just to add, piggy back off of that, professors and even the staff at Disability Support Service offices they want to set you up for success and they’re there for you, take advantage of that in ever aspect that you can.

[Patrick] And Disability Support Service isn’t just there for your test times. If you go to them early enough in the year, they will read you and make an audio file for an entire book for a class. So you can have that audio side by side with the text and work through better. And they’ll do almost anything they can to make you be more successful. So check them out, super serious about that. They’ll help you just as much as the little tips and tricks for your next test.

Are there any other tips that you can share with us today that you can think of to be more successfully on your next test?

[Morgan] Absolutely. So, I mentioned earlier one of the roles I have is to teach learning strategies to students and one of those strategies is a test taking strategy called “PIRATES”.

[Patrick] I love Pirates!

[Morgan] Oh, thank you. So, it comes from the Center for Research on Learning, from Kansas. And what it does is it helps teach students how to walk through their test systematically. So for example, it helps student to remember, obviously, to read the instructions so they know exactly what to do on the test and what the professor is asking of them. It also encourages students to reduce their answer choices eliminate similar answer choices, turn back and go through the test. Make sure they left no questions unanswered. And also, it helps students try and avoid silly mistakes, like not putting your name on the test. I know that sounds very juvenile, but it, it happens. It really does. And again it helps students not run out of time. It helps them to allot the time in the order of the test in how they want to, which section they want to tackle first. And it also helps the students read the questions thoroughly and really try to choose the best answer possible.

[Patrick] One thing I really like about PIRATES is the “A” for affirmation. The very beginning of the test, you’ve written your name on the test and then you write a little note to yourself. “You’re going to do good!”. “You’ve got this test!”. “Don’t be afraid of the essay, get everything else done.” It just is a good way to go into your test with confidence. PIRATES is a great style, test taking strategy, I love it.

[Morgan] Awesome! Yea, and that self talk aspect, you know, that’s the affirmation that you were talking about. Sometimes we get in our heads about taking test and about passing them or not passing them, or just making it through the test.

[Patrick] And it scares you!

[Morgan] Absolutely it scares you! But you know, if you can, like you said go in with a positive attitude and really amp yourself up.

[Patrick] Confident and prepared, you’ll do great.

[Morgan] Yep, totally agree.

[Patrick] Awesome, Morgan. I think this worked out perfectly. We’ve got another couple of episodes coming up where we’ll be going over more test taking strategies. Morgan is going to be an awesome guest again for that. Thank you so much for giving us your time today.

[Morgan] Absolutely, thanks for having me!

[Credits] The LD State of Mind is a part of College STAR Initiative, a multiple campus project helping college campuses become welcoming places for students with different learning profiles. Check out our college STARS student blog and the larger College STAR Project at collegeSTAR.org. Funding for College STAR comes from the Oak foundation and the NC GlaxoSmithKline Foundation. Thank you to our executive producer Dr. Sarah Williams, field producer Chris Pelletier, and our sound engineer Tanner Jones. LD state of mind is taped in the STEPP Learning Cove at East Carolina University.