Test Smart: Tips and Tricks to Ace the Test

Odds are, if you’re interested in bettering your test taking skills, you’ve probably said one of the following:

  • I’m not a good test-taker.
  • I get too nervous to concentrate.
  • I always run out of time.
  • I can't sit still that long.”
  • I get distracted.
  • I feel like the questions try to trick you.

For so many of us, these are real fears. When faced with these fears, our fight or flight response kicks in. We have two choices:

  1. We can throw up our hands and declare, “That’s it! I just can’t do it!” 
  2. We can learn tools to take down those fears and give us the confidence we need to push on and succeed.

Just by clicking on this article, you’re choosing, not to fly, but to fight! That’s the first–and one of the hardest–steps to take on your journey of education. Making the decision to pursue your dreams is a huge accomplishment all on its own, so congratulations on taking that step today!

The best way to move on from your fears is to get to know the test. If you know it inside and out, it won’t be as scary, and passing will start to seem much easier.

Depending on what state you live in, you’ll be taking the GED® Test or the HiSET® Exam. It helps to know more about which test you’ll be taking, so be sure to find out which test you’ll take and learn more about what it takes to pass it.

When it comes to any of the HSE tests, the common thread is reading. 

Developing strong reading skills not only helps in the areas you’d expect, like reading and writing, but also science and social studies. In addition, reading and understanding the questions themselves and what they are asking you to do is essential to addressing each question.  Which brings us to another key component in your test taking plan of attack:

Understanding the Types of Questions that Will be Asked

On the exam, you’ll encounter questions with multiple answer options in the following formats:

  • Dropdown Menu
  • Drag and Drop
  • Essay or Extended Response
  • Fill in the Blank
  • Multiple Choice–this is a common question type, so here are some tips for how to approach that kind of question:
    • Answer the question in your head
    • Eliminate answers you know are wrong
    • Go with your gut
    • Educated guess   

Guessing doesn’t have to be a crazy, spur of the moment thing. You can guess and still be smart about it. But before you guess, think about likely your guess is to be right. Don’t just pick an answer at random. Think about which answers don’t make sense so you can at least eliminate those answers. Here are a few things to look for that might help you eliminate answers:

  • Watch out for absolutes. Words like “always,” “all,” “everything,” and ‘never” almost always make a false statement. Be on the lookout and be extra critical of choices that use these words. 
  • Slang/informal language. Correct answers will usually won’t use slang terms.
  • Identify answers that are the opposite of each other. If one of them is a likely answer, the other one probably isn’t.

Regardless of the question type, there are some really good things to remember when it comes to answering any question type you are faced with:

  • Follow the directions! Most wrong answers come from test takers who don’t read the full question or skip directions. Make sure you know what the question is asking of you before you answer, and read the whole question and all the answers before selecting your answer.
  • There are no trick questions. Every question is designed so that you’ll be able to answer if you understand and read the question. Sometimes there will be different types of questions, though, so be sure to read thoroughly.
  • Look for keywords. Lots of questions use specific keywords to help you understand what kind of question it is. Look for words like “not” or “except” to know if the question is asking you to find the answer that doesn’t match instead of the one that does. Look for questions that ask you for more than one answer, or answers that include more than one answer.
  • Look for bold or underlined words. These are important words!

Consider all of the other “stuff” surrounding the test too. It’s easy to get too caught up in preparing for the test questions. Don’t forget to prepare yourself physically and emotionally for the exam too.

  • The day before the exam:
    • Recharge
    • Stop studying
    • Do something fun
    • Sleep
  • The Day of the exam:
    • Eat a good breakfast
    • Don’t study
    • Keep track of time
  • During the exam:
    • Manage your time.
    • Have a plan.
    • Take breaks.
    • Use ALL your time.
    • Hydrate
    • Snack
    • Don’t focus on passing

Above all, think positive thoughts! Lingering on your insecurities or nerves just makes them worse. Remember, you’re brave just for trying, and failing isn’t the end of the road. Besides, you might surprise yourself by how much you’ve learned!

Be sure to check out this article's coaching session recap that is all about how to get and stay motivated. If you sign up for the Test Smart coaching session we’ll send you the recap materials which include a recording of the session, the slideshow presentation, and the top 5 takeaways students should know! You can also watch the recorded session below: 


Rosiee Thormahlen, Student Advisor


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