How to Take a Written Test
How to Prepare for the Test
In most cases, you will have some time between when you apply for an examination and the date of the test. You can use this time to prepare yourself for taking the test so that you can do your best on the test date. The next sections of this booklet will give you some general test-taking guidelines that should be helpful.
The following information applies to civil service multiple-choice tests, although some of the information may be helpful in preparing for an oral test or a performance test as well.
Preparing For The Test
Most New York State civil service examinations include a multiple-choice test. The examination announcement will list the Subjects of Examination that the test will cover. Use this information to help prepare for the test.
For example, the Subjects of Examination on the examination announcement for the Compensation Claims Clerk listed four subject areas:
- Arithmetic computation
- Arithmetic reasoning
- Understanding and interpreting written material
- Office record-keeping
Often, the name of the subject area will give you a good idea about what will be covered in that area. For example, "Arithmetic computation" would cover simple arithmetic operations like addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, percents and averages.
Usually, the announcement contains (or indicates where you can get) an expanded description of what will be covered in a subject area. For example, the expanded description for "Arithmetic reasoning" reads: "These questions test your ability to solve arithmetic problems presented in sentence or short paragraph form. You must read the problem, understand the situation presented, decide what must be done to solve it, and apply the appropriate arithmetic operation(s), in the appropriate order, to determine the correct answer. Knowledge of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division will be necessary. Questions may also involve the use of percents, decimals, and fractions."
There are certain words that often appear in the names and expanded descriptions of the subject areas of an examination:
- principles, practices, procedures, methods, techniques
- understanding, interpreting, applying, reasoning, solving
The first group of words generally indicates that you will be asked about your knowledge of the principles, practices, procedures, methods, and/or techniques of the particular subject area.
The second group of words generally indicates that you will be tested for the skill or ability in understanding, interpreting, applying, reasoning, and/or solving problems and/or information in the particular subject area.
Preparing for a Test of Knowledge
To prepare for a test of knowledge, you can:
- read books, magazines, manuals, or other printed material on the subject area
- ask people who know a lot about the subject for information
- rely on your own background (think about your experience in the subject area)
Try your local library for books and magazines. If the public library does not have the kinds of books you need, a nearby school or college may. You can go there and take notes. Sometimes you can borrow the books (with the help of your public library) through inter-library loan. Some libraries have collections of government documents. Books or manuals available at your present job may be useful as well.
If you have Internet access, you may want to search the Web for information on the particular subject area. Libraries have Internet access and can help you with your search.
There are some private companies that publish examination study guides on particular jobs. These are available in libraries or bookstores and have titles like Civil Service Examination for Accountant. However, please be aware that the New York State Department of Civil Service is not involved with the publication of these study guides and does not endorse or recommend any study guides that are published by private companies. Privately published study guides may cover subjects that are or seem similar to those in civil service examinations. Arithmetic computation, arithmetic reasoning, reading skills, and clerical skills are a few examples. However, these books will not give you the exact content of a New York State civil service test because the Department of Civil Service does not publish its questions, or sell or give them to anyone else to publish.
Sometimes people who are familiar with the job can be helpful. They may be able to answer your questions, recommend books to read, or help you focus your studying on particular areas.
Do not overlook your own background as a resource. If you meet the minimum qualifications–and we are assuming that you do or you would not be taking the test–you probably already have experience that will be useful when you take the test. Before you start studying, think through what you already know.
Preparing for a Test of Skill or Ability
Preparing for a test of skill or ability may be a bit more difficult. If you want to improve your skill or ability in a certain area, your best preparation is practice.
Skills like keyboarding are easy to practice–you sit down at a keyboard and type. To improve other skills, you may need to be more creative.
For example, if you are going to be tested on your skill in preparing written material, you can try writing a few paragraphs about an event you attended or a project you completed. Then ask others to read what you wrote. Ask them to tell you whether your paragraphs were clear to them. Ask if there were parts that needed to be rewritten. Get suggestions for improving your grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure from writers or writing teachers. There are plenty of textbooks that contain the rules of good writing, grammar, and punctuation. Learn the rules, then practice them. Then go back and try again.
Books can help you improve your arithmetic skills. Arithmetic computation involves skill in correctly performing addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, percentages, fractions, etc. Arithmetic reasoning involves skill in understanding and solving problems that use arithmetic. Here is an example of such a problem:
A company owned six trucks and three vans in March. It sold two trucks in April and two vans in May. The company did not buy any trucks or vans until July. How many vehicles did the company have in June?
The answer is 5. (6 trucks + 3 vans = 9 vehicles owned in March; 2 trucks in April + 2 vans in May = 4 vehicles sold; 9 vehicles owned in March minus 4 vehicles sold in April and May = 5 vehicles left in June.)
Arithmetic computation and arithmetic reasoning problems can be found in schoolbooks or library books. You can practice solving the problems until you are more comfortable with them.
In general, the more you learn about a job, the better you can prepare for the examination. Learn to use the examination announcement as a guide - the whole announcement, not just the Subjects of Examination portion. If you decide you need to study, start early. You will probably remember more if you study when you are relaxed than if you wait until the night before the examination.
Computer-Administered Multiple-Choice Tests
Although most civil service multiple-choice tests are administered in paper and pencil form, some are administered on personal computers at central test locations. Candidates read and answer a computer-administered multiple-choice test directly on a personal computer at a test center. The number of computer-administered tests is expected to grow as personal computers become more available and as computer technology advances. The examination announcement will indicate whether a test is to be computer-administered.
General Test-Taking Guidelines
Read all test directions and instructions carefully. Make sure that you carefully read and follow all directions and any special instructions for the test. If sample questions are provided, do them for practice. Make sure you understand the directions and instructions before you start to answer the questions.
Make sure you are answering the correct test questions in the correct test booklets. The particular test you are taking may involve skipping some questions in the test booklet or may involve answering questions in more than one test booklet. You are responsible for making sure you get the right test booklets for your particular test and for determining which questions you are to answer. Refer to your test materials for information on which test booklets and questions you are to answer.
Make sure the choice you mark on your answer sheet matches the question you are answering in the test booklet. Most written multiple choice tests are scanned and scored by machine. You will not get credit for choices you mark in the wrong place on the answer sheet. Check your work to make sure that the number of the question you are answering in the test booklet matches the choice you are marking on your answer sheet.
Make sure you record all your answers on the answer sheet. Only the answers you mark on your answer sheet will be counted toward your score.
Make sure you fill in the circles for your choices, completely and carefully. Avoid making stray pencil marks on your answer sheet. The scanning machine may interpret these marks to be your answers.
Budget your time wisely. Take note of the test time allowance and of the starting and stopping times. Look at the whole test first, then decide how much time to allow yourself for each part. You get just as much credit for an easy question as for a hard one. You may want to answer the easy questions first. Do not take too much time trying to answer the difficult questions. Jot down the number of the difficult questions and then come back to them later if you have time. (If you do skip a question in the test booklet, make sure you skip that answer on your answer sheet as well.) Keep track of the time as you go through the test. Know how much time you have and how many questions you have left to do. If some parts of your test are separately timed, work as rapidly as you can but stay calm and pay attention to the time limit.
Read each question carefully. Make sure you read what is actually printed in the test booklet. The questions are designed to test your knowledge, skills, or abilities in a subject area. They are not meant to trick you or to be deceptive. Read each question carefully, follow the directions given, and answer each question based on the information given and on the actual question asked. After you read the question carefully, read each choice carefully. Make sure that you understand each choice before you decide which one is best. Pick the one choice that best answers the question given. Do not jump to conclusions. Be thorough and think about all the choices. If you do not read each choice carefully, you could easily miss the best one.
Be alert to key words that you must consider to answer the question correctly. Key words establish a condition that only the correct answer meets. Words like best, greatest, always, or most are examples of key words. If a question asks you to identify the best choice among four given, it may be that each of the four choices is a possible answer, but only one of the four choices is the best answer. To answer this type of question correctly, you must carefully read and compare all the choices given.
Here are some examples of questions that contain key words:
1. Of the following foods, which one provides the most vitamin C in a one-cup serving?
- grapefruit juice
- sliced peaches
- mashed potatoes
- chopped broccoli
This question asks which of the foods listed provides the most vitamin C in a one-cup serving. The key word in this question is most. All of the foods mentioned in the choices contain some vitamin C. Many people know that citrus fruits, like oranges, lemons, and grapefruits, are good sources of vitamin C. That makes choice A look attractive. But one cup of broccoli actually contains more vitamin C than one cup of grapefruit juice. Choice D is the best answer. To answer this question correctly, you must read all four choices carefully before you can determine the best answer.
2. Of the following, which one is generally the best way to repair a Compton machine that will not start?
- Replace the entire engine.
- Replace the ignitions wires.
- Clean the carburetor.
- Clean the valves.
This question asks which one of the choices listed is generally the best way to repair a Compton machine that will not start. The key words in this question are generally and best. Assume that in 99 out of 100 cases, the best way to repair a Compton machine that will not start is to replace the ignition wires. Then choice B, replace the ignition wires, is generally the best way to do the repair. Choice B is the correct answer to this question.
Questions that use words like generally and usually are looking for the rule, not the exception. Other key words of this type are common, likely, more, often, primarily, probably, typically, and usually. When you see these words in a question, look for the choice that would be correct most of the time. Do not choose the one that would be correct only some of the time or on rare occasion.
Be alert to questions that use words like disadvantage, except, least, and not. If the question asks about a disadvantage, be sure not to choose an advantage as your answer. Words that begin with non- or un- are ways of saying not.
3. If grease in a pan catches fire, it is unwise to do which one of the following?
- Cover the pan with a lid.
- Pour water on the fire.
This question asks you to identify which action is unwise to do if grease in a pan catches fire. The key word in this question is unwise. This word should alert you that the question is looking for what you should not do, rather than what you should do if grease in a pan catches fire. Choice A, covering the pan with a lid, would smother the fire by cutting off the oxygen it needs to burn. Choice A is what you should do if grease in a pan catches fire. However, since this question asks what is unwise to do, choice A is the wrong answer to this question. Choice B, pouring water on the fire, would cause the grease and fire in the pan to spatter because water and grease do not mix. This could cause injury or make the fire spread. So, it is unwise to pour water on the fire. Therefore, Choice B is the correct answer to this question.
4. If an alarm goes off in a mechanical room and the situation appears to be a threat to health or safety, what should you do first?
- Turn off the power.
- Call your supervisor.
- Call the security staff.
- Have people leave the area.
This question asks what you should do first if an alarm goes off in a mechanical room. The key word in this question is first. When a question uses the word first, consider the choices in the order in which they should be done. For the question above, all four choices list actions that should be taken. The important thing to know is which to do first in the situation. Since the situation could be life-threatening or could result in injury, the first thing to do is to have people leave the area. This allows people to remain safe while the reason for the alarm is determined and the situation is fixed. Choice D is the first thing to do. If the situation were not life-threatening, choice A, turning off the power, might be the first thing to do.
When you see a question like this, make sure you understand the question and the situation thoroughly. When you think you have decided the right order for the actions, mark down the choice that you think is the first action to take in the situation. That way, you think about the whole series of possible actions to take, not just one action by itself, and you are more likely to choose the correct answer.
Break large problems into more manageable parts and analyze each part. A very large or complex problem may make more sense if you break it down and look at it one part at a time. Make diagrams or notes on your scrap paper to help you understand each of the separate parts, and how those parts collectively make up the whole problem. Sometimes you can work backwards from the answer to see which answer best fits the problem. Try each answer, in turn, to find the one that works best.
Use a process of elimination, if you are not sure about the answer to a question. Most multiple-choice questions give you four possible choices. You may not be sure of the answer, but you may see right away that one or two of the choices are not correct. If this is the case, immediately eliminate the choices you know are not correct. Then, just think about the others. Pick the best of the choices that remain. Even if one choice seems only a little better than the others, pick that one. If you can eliminate one or more of the choices and make an educated guess about the choices that remain, your chances of success are better than if you make a completely wild guess.
Guess, if you do not know the answer to a question. If you do not answer a question, you will not get credit for it. If you guess correctly, you will get credit. Therefore, if you are not sure of an answer, you should still try to answer the question.
On The Day Before The Test
On the day before the test, you should prepare just as you would for any other important appointment. Know where you are going and explore your options for getting there. Check bus or subway connections or get information about where to park ahead of time.
Prepare what you should take with you to the test. Review the examination announcement and your admission notice to identify everything you need to bring with you to the test. [For example: sharpened No. 2 pencils, a driver's license or picture ID, your admission notice, a watch (to time yourself if you cannot see a clock), a quiet hand-held calculator without keyboard (if allowed), or other required materials.] Since many tests last three or more hours, you may want to bring a quiet lunch or a snack and beverage with you.
Get plenty of rest the night before the test and allow yourself enough time in the morning so that you do not have to rush. Being rested and having a clear head on the day of the test may help as much as any last minute review.
Be aware that you may not bring cellular phones, beepers, headphones, or other similar communication devices to the test center. The use of such devices at the test center is strictly prohibited and can result in your disqualification.
Be aware that smoking is not allowed at the test center or on the test center grounds.
On The Test Day
When you leave for the test, allow yourself extra time to find parking, to locate the room where you will be taking the test, and to get yourself settled. Be aware, however, that you will not be allowed into the test center until one-half hour before your reporting time.
There will be test monitors in the building and room where you take the test. The monitors will ensure that the tests you are taking are administered fairly to all candidates. On your desk or table, you should find the answer sheet for your test, with directions on how to complete it, and a copy of the Candidate Directions. Take the time to look these over while you wait for the test to begin.
The Candidate Directions
Be sure to read the Candidate Directions carefully. The Candidate Directions include information specific to your test, such as the time allowance for the test, what test booklets and test questions you are to answer, and how the questions will be valued. (Unless the Candidate Directions state otherwise, all questions will be valued the same.)
The Candidate Directions will contain explicit information about which questions you are to answer. For some tests, you may not have to answer every question in every test booklet. but you may have to answer some questions in several test booklets. It is important that you read the Candidate Directions very carefully. You are responsible for determining which questions you are to answer. The monitor cannot help you to determine which questions you are to answer. That part is up to you.
Beginning the Test
The monitor will begin the testing process by announcing what test(s) are being given in your test room. Listen to the monitor carefully and make sure you are in the correct test room. The monitor will then verify your identification and have you sign your admission notice. After the identification and admission process is complete, the monitor may give you some oral instructions, will distribute the test booklets, and will tell you when you may begin the test.
During the Test
Although test monitors cannot answer questions about the test itself, they can assist you if something goes wrong, if there is a defect in your test booklet, or if you have to leave the room for a legitimate purpose. Just raise your hand and a monitor will assist you. If someone or something is distracting you, bring it to the monitor's attention. Do not look at the work of other people in the room or you may be disqualified.
Ending the Test
Before you leave the test room, you must return all the test materials you were given, including scrap paper. Raise your hand when you are finished with the test. A monitor will come to your desk to check and collect all your test materials before dismissing you from the test.
Keep a positive attitude.
Your attitude can affect how well you do on a test. If you are aware of what to expect on test day, read all the test materials carefully, listen to the monitors, follow the directions given, and keep a positive attitude, you will do your best.Good Luck!