At some point, everyone blanks on an important test, even if they've been studying hard. But before taking a blind stab at a multiple choice question, there are things students can do to cut their losses. By using deductive reasoning, logic, and a pinch of common sense, students can learn to make educated guesses, and lose the test-taking jitters along the way.


As a school counselor, I've seen struggling students gain confidence and succeed using just a few test-taking strategies. Take Evan, for example. Evan was a seventh grader who tried hard, but failed miserably. The worse his grades got, the worse he felt about himself. While I emphasized the importance of preparing for tests by completing his homework and studying, I told him I’d let him in on a little secret. His ears perked up and I honestly think he thought I was going to give him the answers! Obviously not! I told him I had something better: test taking strategies he could use even if he couldn’t remember everything he'd studied. 


Here's a starter kit on making an educated guess when test stress has your brain blocked:


True / False Tests:

  • If any part of the statement is not true, then the answer is False.

  • Every part of the statement must be True for the answer to be True.

  • Choose True for statements with details and qualifiers like “often” and “usually.”

  • Choose False for statements that are shorter with absolutes like “always” and “never.”

  • When guessing, choose True because there are usually more True answers than False.

Multiple Choice Tests:

  • Cover the answer choices then read the test question carefully. Think of your answer before looking at the choices so you’re less likely to be confused by the decoys.

  • Cross off choices that are clearly incorrect. This increases your odds of choosing the correct answer.

  • If there is a range of numbers to choose from, choose an answer in the middle. Most decoy answers tend to be at the extremes of the range.

  • Choose the answer with more details and qualifiers like “often” and “usually” because answers with absolutes like “always” and “never” are harder for the teacher to create and defend if the answer is challenged.

  • When an answer choice is “All of the Above,” choose it if two or more statements are true. If at least one of the answers is false, don’t pick “All of the Above.”

  • When an answer choice is “None of the Above,” do not choose that if at least one of the answers is true.

  • When two of the answer choices use similar phrasing, choose one of those two answers because teachers usually create decoy answers opposite the correct answers. For example:

“Lines of latitude and longitude . . .”

  1. Have letters on them.
  2. Never cross.
  3. Have numbers on them.
  4. Are written on street signs.

 Answers A and C use similar phrasing, so it’s best to pick one of those choices.


All Tests:

  • Read each question carefully.
  • Pace yourself so you have enough time to complete each question.

  • Double check your answers, but only change an answer if you misread the question or found something in the test that indicates your first answer was incorrect. Otherwise, stick with your first guess because research shows it’s usually the right answer.

  • Answer every question and put the answer in the right spot.

The following test taking strategies have helped my students academically, socially, and personally. Not only do they do better on tests, they feel better about themselves and more confident around their peers, too.