Test Taking Skills

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In Science Olympiad, there are several different test formats regularly used by event supervisors. With each type of tests comes several strategies which can be used to make sure you get your best score. This article goes into the basic types of tests, but will not go into specific events (so don't expect hints on doing WIDI or ED).

Standard Test

A 'standard test' is the test like that you get at school. This is commonly given in events like Ecology, Astronomy, and Disease Detectives. The first thing to do when you receive one of these events is to split the test, even if the test looks short since you probably won't be able to properly gauge the amount of time it will take accurately before taking it. Event supervisors often make the tests so that the basics are covered at the beginning of the test and more in-depths questions go later. So it is probably a good idea to give the 'weaker' partner the first half of the test, and the other the latter half. Make sure to write your answers lightly so that if you make a mistake you don't have to spend too much time erasing. After you finish your half make sure to check over your partner's half.

Multiple Choice

Multiple choice tests are fairly common. If you have a difficult problem, remember to make off the ones that you know aren't the answers and then quickly put down the answer for a question. Process of Elimination is often very useful in educated guesses. Mark the ones that you don't know so your partner can quickly check them later. On tests with scantrons you should still split the test in half. Give one person the scantron and he will mark his answers on it while he goes, the other person should mark his answers on the actual test and fill in the scantron later. Another way, which is especially useful if one partner is decidedly stronger than the other, is to have the stronger partner take the test and mark the answers on the test while the weaker partner fills in the scantron. This allows the stronger partner to focus on the exam without worrying about marking the wrong answer, while the weaker partner is able to check the answers and make sure that they are marked clearly and accurately on the answer sheet. Generally these tests are longer and time is critical, so you might want to choose questions that you'll go back to later. Examples of this are math problems that could take a minute or two to get the answer to. If you do run out of time (and only when you run out of time), put all of your remaining answers as a single letter so you might get some partial credit. If your going to do this, though, make sure this test not being graded such that points are taken away for incorrect answers (and no points are given/taken for blank answers). This will also work for matching questions that you don't get the time to go to.

Essay Questions

Essay questions are also relatively common. Though they may say size doesn't matter, you're probably better off writing more than less. Event supervisors often have a rubric they use when grading that lists points that must be made in order to get points. Because of this, you need to be incredibly detailed in your answers. Include vocabulary, definitions, and well-structured writing that shows you know what you're talking about. But while you should write as much as you can, make sure you don't get off topic because then you look like you're just BSing. If you don't have any idea what the answer to the question is, still write! Find a topic related to the question that you do know about and write about that and link it to the question. You may just get partial credit for managing to 'accidentally' fit in something that was part of the real answer.

Math Questions

Solve any parts that you can! Write out potential equations that involve the information given to you. Look at reference tables if you have them and compare given values to any you know. Think back to similar problems you solved in the past. What was the trick for that problem? Was approach did you use? Math questions test how much you've practiced and how creative you are when solving a problem. Practice all the formulas you have many time in order to have a feel for when they'll become useful. At this point, it should be nearly automatic which formula to use for most straightforward questions. If some of the values they give you have units, compare them to the units you want. How can you play around with your values so that the units cancel?

Know your calculator. Your calculator is your friend. Know all its functions and how to quickly access them. Don't use a calculator that has a tendency to be unresponsive or have sticky buttons. This'll merely frustrate and distract you from the test. If you are allowed a graphing calculator, use it. You can create programs to quickly solve problems that would take forever to type in. Additionally, you can store variables, saving you precious seconds on a test.

Finally, if you don't know how to solve a problem, guess! Guess an answer that seems reasonable within the context of the problem. Especially in short answer questions, the proctor will typically accept a wide range of answers. Try to get into that range.

Station Tests

Some tests, such as ID events and Remote Sensing, have several stations (generally 10-20) which students rotate among. In these tests, time is a huge factor. In ID events, one student can identify the species and write while the other one persons the binder and finds information. In other events, one person can start finding answers to the first questions while the other starts at the end and goes backwards. If time allows, they can also check each other's answers. If you see time is running short and you don't know the answer, have a partner write the question down or do it yourself. Some stations take longer than others; chances are you can come back to it later.

Lab Events

Lab events generally have both a theoretical test and an application portion. In events such as Circuit Lab, the test is about 50% lab and 50% questions. In this case, it's easiest to split up into one person completing the lab and one person completing the question. DON'T PUT OFF THE LAB! You may want to finish your part of the test completely before doing the lab, but don't. Event supervisors sometimes make the lab portion equal to the theoretical portion, so that being perfect in that seemingly small lab helps a ton. Finish the lab first, then move on to the questions.

In events that are nearly entirely lab based, like Food Science, there are several ways to divide it. If you are at a bench and get to do several labs at once, divide the labs giving different portions to the person who feels most comfortable with them. If you have different labs at different stations, one person could make the measurements, while the other partner uses this data to make calculations and answer questions. If time and resources allow, have your partner double check your measurements and lab work.