Studying Your Practice Test
After grading your test, you should have a list of the
questions you answered incorrectly or skipped. Studying your test
involves going down this list and examining each question you answered
incorrectly. Make sure not just to learn the right answer but also
to understand why you got the question wrong and what you could
have done to get the question right.
Why Did You Get the Question Wrong?
There are three main reasons why you might have gotten
an individual question wrong.
You thought you knew the answer, but, actually, you
You couldn’t answer the question directly, but you
knew the general principles involved. Using this knowledge, you
managed to eliminate some answer choices and then guessed among
the remaining answers; sadly, you guessed incorrectly.
You knew the answer but somehow made a careless mistake.
You should know which of these reasons applies to every
question you got wrong.
What You Could Have Done to Get the Question Right
If You Got a Question Wrong for Reason 1 or 2: Lack
Reasons (1) and (2) are variants of one another, and there
is a pretty smooth continuum that runs between them. Both result
from a lack of knowledge of some of the principles of physics. Discovering
a wrong answer in this domain gives you an opportunity to target your
weakness. When addressing that weakness, make sure that you don’t
just look at the facts. For example, if you got a question wrong
that dealt with resistors in parallel, don’t just memorize the rule
for calculating the total resistance of a set of resistors in parallel. Ultimately,
you want to understand why that rule is the way
it is. And don’t stop there. You should next review resistors in
series and DC circuits in general. Make sure you’re comfortable
with Kirchhoff’s Rules: they’re useful in sorting out how current
and voltage work in a circuit.
When studying the questions you got wrong, always remember
that it’s important to focus on the essence of each question and
to understand the principles that would lead you to a correct answer
on similar questions.
If you got a question wrong because of an incorrect
guess, review your guessing strategy. Did you guess smartly? Could
you have eliminated more answers? If yes, why didn’t you? By thinking
in this critical way about the decisions you made while taking the
test, you can train yourself to make quicker, more decisive, and
If You Got a Question Wrong for Reason 3: Carelessness
If you discover you got a question wrong because you were
careless, it might be tempting to say to yourself, “Oh I made a
careless error,” and assure yourself you won’t do that again. That
is not enough. You made that careless mistake for a reason, and
you should try to figure out why. While getting a question wrong
because you didn’t know the answer constitutes a weakness in your
knowledge about the test subject, making a careless mistake represents
a weakness in your method of taking the test.
To overcome this weakness, you need to approach it in
the same critical way you would approach a lack of knowledge. Study
your mistake. Reenact your thought process on the problem and see
where and how your carelessness came about. Were you rushing? Did you
jump at the first answer that seemed right instead of reading all
the answers? Know your error, and look it in the eye. If you learn
precisely what your mistake was, you are much less likely to make
that mistake again.
If You Left a Question Blank
It is also a good idea to study the questions you left
blank on the test, since those questions constitute a reservoir
of lost points. A blank answer is a result either of (1) a total
inability to answer a question or (2) a lack of time.
If you left a question blank for reason 1, you should
see if there was some way you might have been able to eliminate
an answer choice or two and put yourself in a better position to
guess. You should also make a particular point to study up on that
topic in physics, since you clearly have a good deal of trouble
In the second case, look over the question and see whether
you think you could have answered it. If you definitely could have,
then you know that you are throwing away points by working too slowly.
If you couldn’t, then carry out the above steps: study the relevant
material and review your guessing strategy.