I was one of those rare high school students who just did not need to study for tests. As long as I paid attention in class and did my homework, I somehow retained skills and information well enough to keep a great GPA.
When finals came along, I found that the best way to study for a test that covered the whole semester was to review all of the smaller tests I had taken for each course. This plan worked until I got to college.
“Test shock” is the only way I can describe my first semester in college – I had never really learned how to study for a test, so I had to try a lot of trial and error strategies until I found what worked for me.
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One of the things I discovered was that the way I studied for tests for various courses had to be different!
I am now passing on to you, in this ultimate guide, what I think will work for almost anyone. Herein lies 5 years of accumulated wisdom!
Best Way to Study for Test
There actually is no best way, because students’ learning styles are different and because skills (required for some courses) are not the same as content (the “stuff” you have to memorize).
Let’s talk about learning styles first.
There are these big categories – what you read, what you hear, and what you get physically involved in (yes, I ended this sentence with a preposition, but I wouldn’t do that on an English exam).
All of this means that each of us has a dominant method of learning, but we do, in fact, learn best when as many senses are used as possible.
So, if you have a lot of content to remember, you should read it, speak it out loud, write it, and talk to someone else about it (yes, studying with someone else can really help)!
Know Your Retention Level:
Can you retain content that you have learned for several days or not?
This will impact how to study for a history test, for example, because if you have to know lots of facts, and you cannot remember them over time, you will need to do some cramming the night before. You can, however, prepare in advance by getting all of those facts organized into a study guide that you prepare for yourself.
- Use the tools you already have for remembering content.
Here are the best ones:
Repeat information over and over again out loud (minimum 3X)
- Use mnemonic devices
Remember in algebra class when you had to learn the order of operations?
Who could forget, “Please excuse my dear aunt Sally” – the first letter of each word stood for an operation.
These devices work for most courses, and if you are worrying about how to study for a science test, sit down and figure out some acrostics (that’s what they’re called) for lists and procedures. “Very active cat” is a phrase that allows you to remember the 3 types of blood vessels in the body – veins, arteries, and capillaries. If you have to go large to small, it becomes “Amy visits Carl.”
For long lists, you may need to put together several nonsense words, but each letter will represent one item.
Some courses have cumulative skills rather than content (think math and foreign language), so there is not a lot of memory work to do.
What you can do is review those skills with practice problems (in math) or by writing examples (Spanish sentences with different verb tenses).
Know What to Study
This is an essential part of how to study for a test.
You probably have a text; you have done some research for essays or papers; and you have those lecture notes from the classes. Which do you think is most important to your professor as s/he prepares an exam?
Face it! Professors are human, and they will cover in their classes what they believe to be most important. So, when you get ready to study for that final, lecture notes are more important than anything else. Several days before your cram session, go through those notes and make a study guide from them!
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Test Taking Tips
Can I show you how to ace a test?
Well, there are no guarantees, because I won’t be taking it for you. But I can give you some strategies that will show you how to improve test taking skills and help you get better grades on them.
Objective Tests: You know – these are the True/False, Multiple Choice, and Matching questions.
- Go through the test and answer those you know without a doubt.
- Go back and begin to tackle the ones that are troublesome, and proceed as follows;
- For True/False questions – go with your first instinct. Studies show this is usually going to give you the most right answers.
- For multiple choice: Eliminate those options you know are wrong and whittle down your options. Also, check the later questions on the test – you may have answered one that gives you a hint about this one.
- Matching: Do the ones you know first, so you can eliminate the choices. Second, go to the ones you think you might know, and do those you don’t know last.
Essay/Short Answer Tests
- Read the question and make sure you understand it. To make sure, rephrase the question in your own words.
- Answer the questions with which you have no problem first. This builds confidence and you will be in a much better mindset to tackle the more difficult ones. And, as you write, you may actually get some “triggers” that help you with the other questions!
- For longer essay questions, make a quick rough outline of what you need to include and the order in which you will include your points. This will keep you “on point” and show you where you need to make paragraph breaks.