Taking Tests

Be Your Best
>Study Skills

Objectives

By the time you finish this you guide, you should:
  • know how to write effective reponses to identifications; 
  • know hoe to read an essay question, make notes, and write a clear, well-supported in-class essay.

Resources

The following Internet and print sources can help you with the concepts covered in this unit:

Be Your Best: Taking Notes provides guidance on taking the kinds of notes that can help you study for tests.

Updated August 17, 2001
© Mark Canada, 2001
mark.canada@uncp.edu

Introduction

Have you ever felt that your performance on a test did not reflect your mastery of the material?  Perhaps you studied effectively, knew the course content, and had developed the skills taught in the course, but still fared poorly on the final exam.  The unfortunate truth is that many classes require on additional skill--the skill of taking tests.  This guide provides some help with handling two types of questions that frequently appear on college tests.

Identifications

When you take quizzes and exams in college, you may come across something called an identification. Identifications are designed to test your cultural literacy--that is, your ability to recognize important people, characters, terms, places, events, dates, works of art, or quotations. When you respond to an identification, you need to describe the item and explain why it is significant. It may help to answer the "reporter's questions": Who? What? When?Where? Why? How? For example, if the identification is "Mark Twain," you might write: "Mark Twain was an American author who published several important novels and short stories, including Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," in the late 1800s. A master of dialect, he also is known for his use of humor and his treatment of race

Essay Exams

Perhaps more common than the identification--and more intimidating for many students--is the essay exam, in which you must write a paragraph or more answering a question about something you have covered in class. Designed to test not only your knowledge of people, events, and the like, but your ability to see how such elements interact, essay exams require strong analytical skills. For example, a question on a history exam might ask you to analyze the principles of the Enlightenment manifested themselves in American political thought. When responding to an essay question, you should refer to as many relevant people, places, and events as possible, but you also should concentrate on making connections among them. Specifically, a strong essay will contain these four components:
  1. An answer to the question 
  2. Clear introduction that states a claim 
  3. Clearly presented, well-organized supporting evidence in the form of statistics, details, and expert testimony 
  4. Clean writing free of distracting surface errors
In their rush to write as much as possible, some students make the mistake of beginning to write right away without taking time to think about the question and about possible ways they might respond to it. You will write a better essay if you spend some time analyzing the question and organizing your thoughts. For example, if you have an hour to write an essay, you might divide up the time in this way:
  • Read the question and highlight key words. (5 minutes) 
  • Decide on a claim you can make and support with evidence you have studied in the course. Write an introduction that states this claim. (5 minutes) 
  • Sketch an outline in which you organize your evidence in a logical way. (5 minutes) 
  • Using this outline as a guide, write an essay that supports the claim you have made in your introduction. Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence and use the rest of the paragraph to support the topic sentence. Use transitions to move the reader through your argument. (40 minutes) 

  • Read your essay. Look for missing words, sentence fragments, and other major errors. Correct these mistakes. (5 minutes)

Practice

  1. Practice Identification: Skim your notes from a liberal arts course, such as an English or history class. Choose five items, perhaps a person, a place, an event, a term, and a work of art. Using the list of reporter's questions as a guide, identify each item in a separate paragraph. 
  2. Practice Essay: Think of the information below as notes you have taken during your research on American pioneer women. Use this information to write an argumentative essay. The numbers in brackets are the page numbers where the information appeared.
Luchetti, Cathy, and Carol Olwell. Women of the West. New York: Crown, 1982.

The westward crossing was an extraordinary undertaking--one that took its toll on the minds and health of women in a variety of ways. For every young girl who saw the crossing as a lark and urged her husband ever forward, there were others who dreaded the endless prairies ahead and the prospect of a future life shut off from civilization. . . . Living on the frontier--alone or with family--required a special brand of courage. Women wrote repeatedly of the fear they felt when alone at night. They were fearful of Indians, fearful of animals, fearful of anything that rustled or stirred outside. Much of their fear . . . came from their inability to read their environment with any accuracy. [28]. . . In the West women experienced an autonomy never before dreamed of, and with this new freedom came the necessity to solve their problems in any way they could. . . . Women's work soon came to mean whatever had to be done, whether it was herding cattle, checking trap lines, or seeding the rows with corn. [31]. . . It would be impossible in this setting to discuss the complete diversity of women's experiences in the West. The careers, attitudes, hopes, and aspirations were as varied as the women themselves. These were the ordinary people of history, the women who ultimately bore the ravages of their new experience and emerged in whatever way their personal endurance allowed. . . . For the nineteenth-century woman of the West was more than an overlander . . . . Most importantly, she was part of a time in which women were beginning to discover, little by little, the unexplored realms of their own talents--finding out what they could contribute to the world. [36]

Stratton, Joanna L. Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1981.

To the pioneer woman, home and hearth meant workloads that were heavier than ever. And yet that work was the work of survival. In its isolation, the pioneer family existed as a self-sufficient unit that took pride in its ability to provide for itself and persevere in the face of hardship. Men and women worked together as partners, combining their strengths and talents to provide food and clothing for themselves and their children. As a result, women found themselves on a far more equal footing with their spouses. [57] . . . As equally active and capable participants in the family's struggle for survival, women earned the growing respect of their husbands, their children, and their communities. [58]

Vaughan, Chloe Bunker. Interview with Julie Jones-Eddy. Homesteading Women: An Oral History of Colorado, 1890-1950. New York: Twayne, 1992.

Well, I went out to the Sand Wash with Minford one winter. That was before Elmora was born, and we were alone. From the last of November to the first of April, I seen five men and two women. . . . It didn't bother me a bit, because I had lots of books to read and we'd go for our mail. [62]

Knott, CeCelia Sullivan. Interview with Julie Jones-Eddy. Homesteading Women: An Oral History of Colorado, 1890-1950. New York: Twayne, 1992.

My mother was a very ambitious person. She did everything, inside and out. She wasn't the cowboy type, really, but she took care of the cattle and she would do the chores such as milk cows, take care of chickens. Well, I guess when they had pigs, they took care of pigs and that type of stuff. Raised a monstrous garden. Canned an abundance of garden produce and fruits that were available. Well, it was an "able" job--you got going as soon as you were able, and you went as long as you were able. [60]