Taking tests will make up a big portion of your college career. Quizzes, midterms, and finals will more than likely decide whether or not you pass your classes, so it’ pretty important that you pass them.

However, a lot of students have developed bad test-taking habits that lead them down a path towards failure. In most cases, this path is a one-way road that’s hard to get out of. But there’s hope!

By avoiding these five common mistakes, you’ll be able to increase your chances of actually passing your exams and feel at ease before taking your next test.

Related: 6 Ways to Ace Your Next Test

Mistake #1: Overanalyzing the Material

When you have a test coming up, are you the type of person that overthinks the material? You’re constantly thinking to yourself, “Do I need to know the eukaryotic cell cycle? What time was the Declaration of Independence signed? Who the heck is George B. McClellan?”

Overanalyzing the material for the test causes you to overwhelm yourself, often with details that don’t even matter. This is particularly a problem amongst type A personalities, who have to be meticulous.

How to Overcome It

Focus on the most important topics of your exam. Ask your professor if there are any chapters or theories in particular that you need to know. Stick to what you need to know and you’ll be fine.

Mistake #2: Have a Loser’s Mentality

“Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.” – Willie Nelson

Going into anything with a negative state of mind is a great way to guarantee your failure. If you think that you’re going to fail a test before you even step into the classroom, that negativity is going to stick with you for each and every question on the exam.

You start to think to yourself, “Let’s just get this over with” and you set yourself up for failure. If you think there’s no way that you can possibly pass a test, then there’s a good chance you won’t.

How to Overcome It

I hate to sound like one of those cheesy self-improvement books, but you really have to develop a positive state of mind and visualize success. Even if you don’t feel completely confident about an exam, at least go into it thinking that you stand a chance. Poise yourself and tell yourself that you can pass. You might be surprised how much having a positive attitude can help.

Mistake #3: Being Too Confident

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as being too confident. Overconfidence can lead to being ill prepared and slacking off — just think back to the childhood story of the Tortoise and the Hare. If the Hare hadn’t been so confident that he would beat the slow tortoise, he never would have stopped to take a nap. The same thing applies to taking exams.

When you’re feeling overly confident about an exam, you might slack off by studying a little less, or even speed through the test because you think you know all the answers.

How to Overcome It

Being confident in your ability to pass an exam is good, but keep it under control. Try making up a few practice exams to ensure that you know the material. Study consistently before the test to make sure the information is fresh inside your mind. Then when it’s time to take the exam, pace yourself and avoid overlooking small details.

Related6 Ways to Improve Study Sessions

Mistake #4: Failing to Read the Directions

“Which one of the following is an example of..”

“Which one of the following is not an example of..”

Misreading questions like the ones above lead people to answer incorrectly ALL THE TIME. It’s not that you don’t know the answer, it’s that you didn’t read the question correctly. Teachers have been warning students of this common mistake for years, but for some reason we all seem to do it at some point. It’s partially due to the overconfidence I mentioned earlier and also because we’ve become prone to skimming text rather than fully reading.

Another common mistake is messing up with questions like “All of the following are true except” or “All of the following are false except.” It seems silly when you look back at it, but it’s a very common mistake.

How to Overcome It

Take your time. Rushing through a test is never a good idea. Do you know all that information you’re told before you take a standardized test? Listen to it! They tell you to carefully read over each question for a reason. They’re aware that people tend to rush through the tests and wind up making avoidable mistakes.

If you need to, read out each question quietly to yourself. Sometimes hearing it out loud will help you get a clearer understanding of what’s being asked.

Mistake #5: Being Totally Unprepared

I’ve definitely gone unprepared into a few tests. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it happens. Being unprepared means doing things like:

  • Not studying
  • Showing up late for the test
  • Not eating anything all day (that awkward feeling when your stomach starts growling during the exam!)
  • Waiting until a couple hours before the test to cram
  • Not sleeping the night before

Making these mistakes leads to test anxiety. You’re uncomfortable, anxious to finish, guess on every other question — basically a complete mess. By the time you finish, you’re just happy it’s all over.

How to Overcome It

Pretty much do the opposite of everything I just listed above:

If you can overcome all these common mistakes, you’re less likely to be presented with a failed exam. You don’t want to have to retake a class just because you didn’t do so well on your tests. Save yourself some time and money and get it right the first time around.

RelatedHow to Guess Like a Pro on Multiple Choice Tests


Image: Jeff Pioquinto