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Types of Exams

Types of Exams

Different Exam Types

There are many different types of exams, ranging from multiple choice, short answer, in-class essay style, take-home essay-style, problem-solving and calculations, to any mix of the above! No matter what kind of exam you're facing, your best strategy is always to thoroughly understand the course material. Then, review and study with the type of exam in mind, if you can, and practice applying your knowledge through self-testing in the same format. Check out some study strategies below for different exam types.

Studying for a Multiple Choice Exam

  • SYLLABUS: Review the course syllabus to remind yourself of key concepts and themes.
  • ORGANIZE: Visually organize all course information into mind maps and diagrams so you can see the connections. Multiple choice often focuses on the details, make notes of times, names, and dates.
  • PRACTICE: Create possible exam questions based on previous tests/assignments to get an idea of the question format as well as the depth of details. Test yourself and practice the questions out of their original order!

Types of Multiple-Choice Questions

Question TypeWhat is it Testing?How to Study?
Recognition/ RecallKnowledge from lectures and text.Test yourself by recalling information without looking at your notes or by teaching concepts to another person.
ComprehensionHow concepts are related to each other, compare or contrast information.Elaborate and draw connections between concepts and evidence.
Elaboration and ApplicationYour understanding of the relationship between a theory and its evidence and applying this understanding to a hypothetical situation or case study.Practice solving problems, creating your own examples, elaborating and thinking creatively.

Writing a Multiple Choice Exam

Managing your time

  • Divide the time accordingly for each question (e.g., If you have 75 MC questions and 90 minutes to complete, ideally you would want to spend 1 minute for each question and the last 15 minutes to review your work).
  • Leave at least 15 minutes at the end for review – set an alarm if you can or keep an eye on the clock.
  • Don't stay too long on one question. If the exam format allows you to go back, work on the easiest questions first and mark the difficult ones clearly so you can come back to them at the end. When you can’t go back and forth between questions, pick a response and move on.

Understanding the question

  • Look for all key terms and information in the question; underline them if you can.
  • Make sure you clearly understand what the question is asking you to do.
  • Eliminate the incorrect options first so they don’t distract you; cross them out if you can.
  • Translate any double negatives question (e.g., Which of these is NOT a FALSE statement?)

“Cover-Up” Strategy

“Modified Cover-Up” Strategy

When you don’t know the answer: Make an educated guess!

  • Avoid extreme values – few things are ‘always’ or ‘never’ true. Instead, chose moderate statements (‘a few’, ‘often’) or numbers in the middle of the range.
  • Select ‘all of the above’ if you think at least one of the options is true and ‘none of the above’ if none of the options look familiar or plausible.
  • Check for look-alike options or opposite options; one of them is usually the answer.
  • Options which seem foolish or completely unfamiliar are likely incorrect.
  • Go with your gut instinct if you really have no idea, move on to the next question, and let it go.

Study Guidelines

  • DETAILS: Short answer exams focus on the details. Try using cue cards and study notes to help you remember the details while keeping in mind big picture themes and concepts to help you organize and understand the information.

Writing the Exam

  • READ: Read all instructions very carefully and read through the entire exam to budget your time according to how many marks questions are worth.
  • STRATEGIZE: Start with the easiest question to help you relax and think clearly!
  • TIME: Leave time at the end to read through your exam.  Correct any errors and misplaced words which could hamper comprehension of your answer.

Study Guidelines

  • UNDERSTAND: Study how concepts connect together and then work to fill in the smaller details. Use the syllabus to remind yourself of the overall themes or course goals, and connect these to what topics were emphasized in lecture.
  • QUESTION: create practice questions drawing on past tests, assignments, and projects.
  • CREATE: Use mind maps or graphic organizers to visually organize the material to help you understand connections between big ideas.

Writing the Exam

  • READ: Read all instructions very carefully before responding, reading through the entire exam to give yourself an idea of what you will be working through.
  • ORGANIZE: Create an outline before you begin writing, underline key words from the questions, and organize your thoughts into supporting paragraphs based on the evidence you remember.
  • STRATEGIZE: Look at how many marks each question is worth and determine how much time you spend on questions according to this. Start with an easy question first to boost your confidence!

Study Guidelines

  • REVIEW: Review all formulae, understand how they relate to each other and how to incorporate information from one formula to help you solve another. Remember big picture themes and review past question and solutions.
  • PRACTICE: Old tests are a great way to find practice problems, and ask your prof what they recommend! Practice setting timers for yourself to complete the questions under pressure.
  • PREPARE: Find out if you are allowed to bring a formula sheet into the exam. Make sure you prepare everything you need for the exam ahead of time, like calculators and pencils!

Writing the Exam

  • READ: Read the instructions carefully.  Do you need to answer all the questions or do you have a choice? 
  • STRATEGIZE: Dump any information you are afraid you might forget.  Write down formulas, processes, etc. on the back of the exam paper.  This will help to reduce your anxiety as you won’t be in danger of blanking on the material half way through the exam. If you get stuck on a question mark it, move on, and come back to it at the end. 
  • TRANSLATE: Translate problems into English (instead of variables and ratios) and take time to read through them carefully. Write down what you know from the problem.  This may help you see which variables you’ve been given and therefore which formula to use.
  • DRAW: Make a picture.  Visual representations can help unblock your mind and may get you part marks.
  • CHECK YOUR WORK: You don’t want to lose marks for not carrying a 1!  Start by estimating the answer. Does the answer you arrived at make sense? Is it possible?  Systematically check the process you followed and the arithmetic (performing opposite operations works well).  Avoid the temptation to change an answer in the last few minutes unless you are SURE that the answer is wrong.  In the last-minute rush it is easier to get the wrong answer.  If you redo a solution do not erase the original answer – just draw a line through it.

Additional Resources

Midterms, Tests, Exams, Oh My! Learning Skills Workshop
Online ExamsHow to Prepare for Online Exams