Test Insurance: Paying the Premiums

Joan smiled and flashed her crossed fingers at Bob and Drew as she entered class. The three had completed a special class on how to take tests just in time for midterm exams. It came as no surprise when Mr. Smith, their history teacher, announced the midterm. Joan turned to section one of her notes from the test class: “What You Should Know about a Test.” Her hand flew into the air.

“Mr. Smith, what kind of test will it be?” she asked. “I mean, like true-false or multiple choice.”

“Multiple choice,” he replied.

“How many questions will there be?” Joan pressed.

“Fifty even,” responded the teacher.

Joan followed her outline. “What will the test cover—what chapters in the book? And will it cover our class notes, too?”

“The test will cover chapters one through five in the text and a handful of questions on your notes,” he replied.

“Can you be more specific about the class-note questions?” Joan persisted.

“There will be about ten questions from your notes, and they will cover the same period as your chapter on the revolutionary war through the civil war. Any more questions?” Mr. Smith asked with a smile.

“Yes,” Joan broke in. “Will we have the whole class period for the test?”

“No, we’ll take a little break for roll call,” Mr. Smith quipped.

Everyone laughed, but Joan continued, “You didn’t tell us when the test will be.”

“Right,” answered Mr. Smith. “You haven’t given me a chance! The test will be on Monday, one week from today.”

Bob groaned out loud. That was the same day as his English midterm. Drew Stevens tapped Joan on the shoulder. “Way to go,” he whispered. “Mr. Smith has never been pinned down like that before!”

As they left class that day, Bob complained to Drew, “The teachers must sit in the faculty room during lunch and plan their schedules so tests all fall on the same day!”

“I know,” responded Jim. “I’ve got a math midterm that day, too.”

That night Bob went to work. He flipped through his test class notes to section two: “How to Prepare for a Test.” Mr. Smith had announced 40 questions from the textbook covering five chapters. That would average eight questions per chapter. If he made up his own test with questions from each chapter, his chances would be good of selecting some of the same test questions chosen by Mr. Smith. He had seven days to prepare for the test. If he made up a chapter test each night on his class notes, he would have one day left for general review.

Next Bob planned for his English exam. They had studied 12 authors, but there were only three essay questions on the famous authors. If he reviewed two authors a night, he’d still have Sunday without any studying. A light review before the exam and he would be ready. Bob hoped the plan would work. He always tightened during tests and forgot almost everything.

Bob set aside the English and returned to the history. He skimmed through chapter one. To be sure he had the main ideas, he wrote down the major headings in bold black print. Then he went back and read the material in detail, carefully noting and underlining names, places, and dates. It took him 45 minutes to finish. After a 15-minute break, he started a crucial step: sorting and coding his notes. He coded the material #1 if he was sure it would be on the test, #2 if he felt it could be on the test, and #3 if it might be on the test. He wrote out each question and the answer, and then recorded the questions and answers on his tape recorder. Using an earphone, he would be able to listen to his sample questions many times while riding to school on the bus and even during study period in the library.

Joan began studying her notes first. She had carefully followed the instructions given in the test class: “Teachers will tell you what will be on a test in four ways: (1) they will come right out and tell you, ‘You had better know this; it’s important that you understand this; etc.’; (2) they will write key points on the board; (3) they will repeat a key point several times; (4) they will spend a great deal of time talking about a specific point.” The instructions in the test class were: “Be test-wise when you take notes; put an asterisk by any material that meets the four rules.” Joan also made up a test by using the material in her notes marked with an asterisk.

Drew’s job was not as easy. Besides the history test, he had a midterm in math. Unfortunately he ignored his notes and began working the exercises at the end of the chapter. In ten minutes he was so frustrated that he couldn’t think. In desperation he turned to an example worked in the book and tried to follow it. It didn’t make sense either. He sat back in his chair and flipped to the section in his test notes on math and science tests. A sentence in bold type jumped off the page at him: “If you do not understand a principle or cannot work a problem—stop! Ask your teacher for help immediately!” Drew decided that was the best course of action. He put his math away and started to review for the history test.

The next day Drew went to Mr. Cragun and asked for special help. Mr. Cragun arranged to meet with him after school. It took less than 15 minutes for Drew to discover the small but crucial step he had overlooked the night before. He read the study outline from the test notes and followed the five steps: (1) Work the example in the book. (2) Substitute your own numbers in the example and work it again. (3) Work it backwards to check your answer. (4) Work the problems at the end of the chapter. (5) Get extra help on any you cannot work.

Drew had always tried to cram hard the day before a test, but this time he confidently went to bed early. The math test had ten problems. Drew remembered the strategy—work all problems you know you can work first; then work those you think you know. Finally, take a short break by stretching and thinking of something pleasant for a minute, and then go back and try the ones that have given you trouble.

Drew followed the plan. He worked problems 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8 and 9. He went back and struggled through problems 7 and 10. He was working on the final problem when the bell rang.

Meanwhile, for the English test Bob had made some calculations on which three authors Miss Elgart would ask about. She seemed to have four favorites. Bob talked to some of the students who had taken English from her the year before. He found out that she didn’t ask trivial or tricky questions. He studied all twelve authors but put extra work in on her four favorites.

Bob smiled broadly to himself as he looked at the test. He was two-thirds right. Two of the three questions asked about the authors he had singled out. “Not bad!” he said to himself.

Bob prepared to make an outline of each author. There were 45 minutes left in the class period when they received the test. It consisted of three questions, allowing 15 minutes per question. The first question was, “What were the main influences on Hemingway’s writing style?” Bob rewrote the question at the top of his outline: “What happened in Hemingway’s life to make him write the way he did?” The following is his outline using the facts he knew about Hemingway:

  • I.

    Born in a small town in Minnesota.

  • II.

    Father educated as a doctor.

  • III.

    Reporter for newspaper.

    1. a.

      Short, brief newspaper style.

    2. b.


  • IV.

    Service with Italian army.

    1. a.

      Saw death and destruction.

    2. b.

      Was hurt himself.

  • V.

    Spanish Civil War.

    1. a.


    2. b.

      More destruction.

  • VI.

    Personal Reactions.

    1. a.

      Sadness over human misery.

    2. b.

      Anger at human folly.

  • VII.

    Greatest war story: "A Farewell to Arms.”

Later in the history exam Bob felt himself getting uptight as the teacher passed the exams out. He thought about the 185 game he had bowled the night before, and he took several slow, deep breaths, forcing out his stomach. Soon he felt relaxed. His confidence grew as he read the first three questions. They looked exactly like questions from the test he made up. He attacked the test with cool vigor.

In her history test Joan completed only the questions she knew. She circled the number of the others. Her sample test had been a good one; she knew 36 of the 50 answers. She went back to the 14 questions she was not sure of, eliminated those choices she knew were wrong, and then used her first impressions about the right answer. She completed ten more questions. Then she studied the answers in the four remaining questions. She crossed out two choices on one question because they had the words always and never in the sentences. She finally circled the alternative that had the word usually in it. The three remaining questions were dates. Question 17 was, “What was the date of the Battle of Bull Run?” Joan tried to remember the events. Bull Run was an early victory for the South. “Probably in the first year of the war,” she thought. She remembered the war began in 1861. She looked down the choices and circled choice C—1862. The other choices on the last two questions drew a complete blank, so she circled C for both of them—remembering instructions in the test class to that effect.

By Friday the test results were back. Drew got a 91 on the math test. He missed half of one problem, but had even been given part credit for his work on the one he hadn’t finished. Ninety-one was third best in the class and better than Drew had ever done. Joan’s history score was the highest in the class. Bob was walking on air when he got his English exam back. He had never done better than a C+ on an English test. The A- he received was better than he had dared hope. He had come from his usual C- to a B+ in history. But Drew felt prouder than both. Bob and Joan. He had gone from his usual D+ to a solid B on his history test.

Test Checklist

    1. 1.

      Get all the information necessary to plan.

      • A.

        Date of test.

      • B.

        Type of test: multiple choice, true-false, etc.

      • C.

        Number of questions.

      • D.

        Material to be covered.

      • E.

        Sources to be covered: text, notes, etc.

    1. 2.

      Develop a study plan.

      Break the material to be studied into daily pieces and set daily study goals.

    1. 3.

      Start immediately on your study plan.

      If you wait to start, your daily pieces will be too large and frustrate the plan.

    1. 4.

      Start your daily study with an overview of the material.

      Skim-read text, notes, handouts, etc. to get an overview of what you are studying.

    1. 5.

      Conduct a detailed study of the material.

      Read all assigned material in your study plan. Underline significant sections as you read. If you cannot mark the book, make separate notes of the important materials.

    1. 6.

      Code the underlined materials.

      Go back through the underlined materials. Code the material you are sure will appear on the test with a #1, material that could appear #2, and material that might appear #3.

    1. 7.

      Build a sample test from the material.

      Determine the average number of test questions that would be asked from the material covered: Chapters 1–5 and 50 questions equal 10 questions per chapter. Double the average number of questions (2 x 10 = 20) per chapter. From the items coded 1 and 2 make a sample test with the 20 questions per chapter.

    1. 8.

      Review the sample test using both eyes and ears.

      Write out the sample test in detail; record it on a tape recorder. Play it back while you read the sample test.

    1. 9.

      In the actual test use good strategy.

      • A.

        Do those you know first.

      • B.

        Go back to the others.

      • C.

        Leave any question or problem that hangs you up.

      • D.

        Look for key words: always, never, sometimes.

      • E.

        Use first impressions.

      • F.

        If you guess, don’t skip around; choose all one alternative.

      • G.

        Outline essay questions.

    1. 10.

      If you feel you are getting uptight in the test—relax!

      • A.

        Sit back in your chair; put your pencil down.

      • B.

        Take several deep (stomach) breaths.

      • C.

        Think of something pleasant.

      • D.

        Return to work when relaxed.

Yes, you can take tests!

[photo] Photo by Eldon Linschoten