We have all been in the situation where we honestly didn't prepare adequately for a test. There are a myriad of reasons for this, some good and some not so good. Unfortunately, this doesn't change the fact that you're still sitting there with the exam in front of you.
Don't panic! Panicking is the worst thing you can do. Stop, take a deep breath, and put a smile on your face. I am here to help. I have learned a few things through my years in college, and I can help you with this situation.
First, as soon as the test is handed out, don't read it — turn the paper over. (If the test is printed on both sides, ask your instructor if you can use a blank piece of paper.) Jot down on the back of the test the facts you have been studying. These could be the formulas required for the test, dates and historical facts, rules, laws, and even graphs. Remember, do this before you have even looked at the test.
Don't worry if you can't remember all the information necessary; write down what you know and what you think you know. This helps you focus on recalling what you studied without getting distracted by the actual test questions.
Now, you have a wonderful reference sheet or, if it makes you feel better, a cheat sheet to refer back to during the test.
(You'll be amazed what having this reference can do for you. All during my physics semester, for example, I barely passed the tests because I could never remember the formulas. When the instructor allowed us to use one sheet of formulas for the final, I got the second highest score in the class!)
Next, review all the instructions your instructor has included on the test. This will help you to understand your instructor's expectations. Do this before you answer any questions; it can provide options you wouldn't know about if you start the questions first. (We have all heard about the mythical instructor that put in the hidden secret that all you have to do is answer this one question instead of all the others.)
After you have reviewed the test's instructions, take a first pass through the test answering only those questions you are comfortable and confident in doing. These will be questions that you have a good chance of getting correct. Don't waste time at this point on questions you don't know – you'll end up missing those that you do know.
Those questions remaining will be the ones you're unsure of, so take another pass through the test and work on these. Remember what you read in the other questions – many times hints to answers or even the answers themselves are hidden in other questions. I especially found this to be true in Chemistry, where a particular formula was given in one question and was then needed as an answer in another question. If it is not the complete answer it might still be a tip you need to give the correct answer. So pay attention.
There are plenty of other tips for taking tests, but these are some practices that I've found to be useful. Always remember it's better to show what you know than to bluff your way through. Instructors know when you are bluffing and they respect you more as a student if you are honest and upfront. It can pay off big at the end of the semester. After my essay answers on a history exam, I included other tid-bits of knowledge that I had gained from the course. I wasn't trying to be a kiss-up but just wanted to show I had learned a few things. I ended up with a great grade in the class even though I wasn't the best at the subject matter.
The last tip, of course, is to avoid the situation in the first place. Take some time beforehand and prepare for every exam. Either way, though, you can use these tips to help you do even better on your next test.