Whether you’re studying for the NAVLE or a vet school exam, solid test-taking strategies can go a long way towards helping you perform your best.
Yes, it’s important to invest the necessary time to master the exam’s content, but having a solid test-taking strategy also plays a significant role in how well you will perform.
Here are 10 tips to help you perform your best on any exam:
- Get a good night’s sleep. While you might be tempted to pull an all-nighter before a big exam, getting a good night’s sleep is probably the better option. Improved sleep is correlated with improved problem-solving abilities; being well-rested can help you reason through material that you may not have retained in your memory.
- Eat a healthy breakfast. The last thing you want is to be distracted by a growling stomach or caffeine-induced gastrointestinal upset. Eat a filling breakfast, but don’t eat anything excessively rich or sweet. Keep your caffeine consumption within your normal range to minimize the risk of negative effects.
- Enter the exam in a relaxed frame of mind. What you do in the moments leading up to the exam matters! Many of us want to take advantage of pre-exam time by doing last-minute cramming up until the last possible moment. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to significantly boost your understanding of the exam topics, and it is likely to boost your stress levels! Arrive for your exam early, and use any free time for relaxation, meditation, or some positive thinking exercises.
- Read directions and questions carefully. Many missed questions are a result of not reading the question correctly. Take the time to read the directions carefully, looking for tricky phrasing like “which of the following is NOT true about…” or “which of the following is LEAST likely to…”
- On multiple choice exams, come up with your own answer before looking at the answer choices. If you immediately begin reading the answer choices, you can easily be led astray by an incorrect answer. Instead, take a minute to answer the question in your own words. Then, read through the answer choices, and select the choice that most closely matches your answer.
- Don’t waste time on questions you don’t know. If there’s a question you’re unsure of, mark the question, and come back to it later. Once you have completed the entire exam or section, return to your marked questions, and give them some more thought. You may see something else later in the exam that jogs your memory. (If you’re taking a timed, multiple-choice test such as the NAVLE, enter a random guess on any marked questions before moving on. That way, if you don’t have time to revisit the question, you have at least some chance of getting a correct answer!)
- On multiple choice questions, look for cues in the answer choices. If you see two answer choices that are opposites, one of those answers is likely the correct one. If you see any answers with very extreme wording, they are less likely to be correct.
- Use the process of elimination. When you’re taking a multiple choice exam on paper, you may already be in the habit of crossing out wrong answers as you read through the answer choices. If you’re taking a computer-based exam, you can use a similar strategy. Set up a sheet of scratch paper with multiple rows of “A B C D.” Then, anytime that you come to a question you aren’t sure of, use one of those ABCD rows to cross off obviously incorrect choices. Having a visual way to eliminate less likely answer choices can help make these questions less challenging.
- On true/false exams, look for vagueness instead of absolutes. Statements that contain absolutes, such as “always” or “never,” are less likely to be true. Statements that contain vague qualifiers, such as “frequently” or “rarely,” are more likely to be true.
- Learn mental tools for getting your mind “unstuck.” When you’re taking an exam, especially one that you feel strongly about, it’s easy to enter an unproductive frame of mind. Whether you’re spiraling with anxiety or feeling like your mind has gone blank, relaxation and positive visualization can help.
Before your exam, dedicate a few minutes to learning one or two of the following strategies:
- Deep breathing: Take deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth, for approximately one minute.
- Progressive relaxation: Close your eyes and progressively clench and relax every part of your body. Begin at your feet, then proceed to your ankles, then your lower legs, and all the way up your body. Don’t forget about your arms and the muscles of your face.
- Guided imagery: Take a few deep breaths, close your eyes, and visualize yourself in your “happy place.” You may be on the beach, in a hammock in the mountains, swimming in a pool… whatever makes you feel calm and relaxed. Use this little one-minute “mini-vacation” to calm yourself down during your exam.
Obviously, all of the strategies in the world can’t compensate for a failure to study. However, if you’re like most vet students, you probably have studied a good bit for any exam that comes your way. Now, you need to trust that the information is in your mind and focus on effective test-taking strategies in order to perform your best.