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Top 3 Test Taking Tips, for when you don't know the answer.

Ever have one of those nights? Your teen stays up all night studying for the big test. Or spends all week preparing for the exam, only to not know many answers during the exam. They go into class feeling prepared, only to space out during the test. Test anxiety may overwhelm them as they suffer in another major exam.

Since tests and exams are a part of high school and college, it's important for teens and students to learn good test taking skills. The earlier they learn these skills, the better!

There are several test taking tips that all students need to know. By knowing a few extra tricks, your teen can score higher even when they don’t know the answer!


1. Eliminate answers.

This is the first and most obvious start. In a multiple choice question, your teen may not know the right answer, but they may know which answer is incorrect. By eliminating incorrect answers, you can increase your chances of guessing accurately. For example, if your teen can eliminate 2 out of the 4 answers, they have increased their chances from 25% to 50%. Much better odds!

2. Ask the teacher

You may be thinking “My kid cant ask the teacher! The teacher will never give them the answer!” 

You may be surprised how many teachers will give out an answer during a test. The key is to ask the teacher privately without any other student over hearing. Then, you ask the teacher in a way that shows you know the information, but you are a little confused about the question. In most cases, the teacher will try to clarify the question in a way that is specifically leading you to one answer. They will guide you in the right direction. 

I even had a teacher flat out tell me “the answer is B”, all because I asked!

This, obviously, does not work with every teacher. Some teachers will have the attitude of “you don’t understand the question? Tough luck. Now go sit down”. (if that is the case, then I’m sorry your teen got stuck with them.) This type of teacher does not really care how well your teen learns or how well they do.

The only way to find out which teacher is helpful or not is to ask. Don’t assume that if a teacher is hard and mean that they won’t want to help you. They may be tough because they WANT you to learn, and would be willing to help you. 

If a teacher is willing to help during a test, only ask them for help a maximum of 3 times. You do not want to overuse their help, because it will look like your teen didn’t study. So only pick out the 3 most difficult questions to ask for clarification.


3. Answer the most similar

One teen I was tutoring in Algebra, had homework we were reviewing together. One math problem we came to, within a second of looking at the problem, I said, "the answer is B". She asked me, " how do you know that?". I told her to finish solving the problem to see if I was correct. 

She asked me if I had ever seen that problem before, or memorized the answer. I told her that I would tell her how I could tell that was the answer after she completed the problem.

Once she completed the math problem, the answer was B. She looked at me astonished. "How did you know that?" I explained to her this easy similarity of the answers.

This is the easiest way to guess the right answer! In a multiple choice question, like on prefabricated tests, will have answers that are very similar to each other in order to make it more difficult to answer. This actually makes it easiest to answer because you simply pick the one most similar to the others.

Example one

a. 3b + 4

b. 3b + 5

c. 4b + 5

d. 5b + 5

I see this most often in math. This answer has 2 parts. Without ever needing to see the question, I know the answer is B. 3b + 5. Why? Because it is the most similar to the other answers. 3b is listed in two answers and 5 is listed in three.  

The reason test makers do this is because if your teen could only solve the first half of the problem, then they would be stuck guessing between A and B. Likewise, if they can only solve the second half of the problem, they would have to guess between B, C, and D. Your student would have to know how to solve the whole problem correctly in order to have the full answer of B. 

But if your teen does not know how to solve this problem, then this test trick will result in the correct answer.

Example TWO

a. John Smith

b. John Adams

c. Jack Adams

d. John Jacob JinglhimmerSmith

This example is the same as the first. The answer is B because the name John appears 3 times and Adam appears twice. Test makers do this because if your teen only remembers the key figures first name, they have to guess between A, B, and D. But if they only remember the last name, then they have to guess between B and C.

See! Easy right!

Now, this does not happen to all multiple choice questions. Sometimes the answers provided are not similar at all. In which case, this tip will not work, and your teen will have to resort to tip number 1.

Bonus Test tip!

If you cannot eliminate any answers, and you have to take a huge guess, guess B or C. The 2 answers in the middle have a more than 50% chance of being the right answer.



Hey there! My name is Rachael and I have been a private tutor for over 10 years. I earned my undergraduate degree in 2 and a half years and earned my graduate degree by age 22. I have tutored dozens of high school students, college students, and graduate students. I offer support, encouragement, and resources to help parents learn how to best help their teen or child that is struggling in school.