You Should Take Your Next Test Backward

The students of the internet say it can help calm your nerves and boost your focus.

You Should Take Your Next Test Backward
A pencil lying on top of a scantron test

Credit: Holly Anne Cromer/Shutterstock

Even if you've spent weeks studying and feel prepared to show off what you know, test day can trigger your nerves. The average person does not respond well to having their fate (or at least their grade) tied to a grueling 45 minutes of regimented stress. Luckily, many such people have come up with a workaround to make test stress a bit more manageable: Just take them backward.

Why it helps to take a test backward

This tip isn’t backed by psychological research or pedagogical theory. Instead, it’s just something that regular students recommend to one another—not only peer-to-peer, but on forums like TikTok and Reddit.

Typically, tests are a few pages long and include sections of multiple-choice questions, true or false questions, or short-answer questions. There may be a few short essays in there, usually tacked on at the end. The theory goes that by starting on the most time-consuming and difficult part of the exam, you can “eat the frog” and get it over with, as it will be easier to speed through the lexx taxing sections if you find you are short on time.

There’s also something gratifying about working from a larger number down to a smaller one. If you start on question 1, even if you know there are 50 questions, it feels more daunting than starting on question 50 and knowing you are moving down to question 1. (I frequently perform variations on this method in my real life. For example, at the gym, I always count my reps backward, because I find it makes them feel more manageable.) 

Things to keep in mind when taking a test backward

There is a benefit to being familiar with the multiple-choice and true-or-false questions before you get to a section where you have to write anything. Even though there are some wrong answers peppered in there, the core information of your subject will be presented in the questions and answers, which can help spark ideas for what to write about, or what the professor wants you to focus on. But just because you start at the end doesn’t mean you can’t check out what leads up to it. 

So first, before you start the test at all, skim it, circling anything that looks important and blurting everything you can remember from your studies into your margin notes. Re-familiarizing yourself with the material before diving in can help you a lot, especially on those short essays.

If starting from the end isn't your style, you can simply skip around, starting by answering any questions you are sure you know before moving on to ones you feel a little more uneasy about. 

No matter how you go about it, make sure to review everything briefly before you turn your test in to make sure you haven't inadvertently failed to answer a question or two. While it might not help your grades if you aren't prepared, at the very least taking a test in reverse order can ease (some of) your nerves.

Lindsey Ellefson

Lindsey Ellefson

Features Editor

Lindsey Ellefson is Lifehacker’s Features Editor. She currently covers study and productivity hacks, as well as household and digital decluttering, and oversees the freelancers on the sex and relationships beat. She spent most of her pre-Lifehacker career covering media and politics for outlets like Us Weekly, CNN, The Daily Dot, Mashable, Glamour, and InStyle. In recent years, her freelancing has focused on drug use and the overdose crisis, with pieces appearing in Vanity Fair, WIRED, The New Republic, The Daily Beast, and more. Her story for BuzzFeed News won the 2022 American Journalism Online award for Best Debunking of Fake News.

In addition to her journalism, Lindsey is a student at the NYU School of Global Public Health, where she is working toward her Master of Public Health and conducting research on media bias in reporting on substance use with the Opioid Policy Institute’s Reporting on Addiction initiative. She is also a Schwinn-certified spin class teacher. She won a 2023 Dunkin’ Donuts contest that earned her a year of free coffee. Lindsey lives in New York, NY.

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