Test prep and taking comes naturally to some folks – they just seem to know what to study (and what to not study), they don’t get flustered by tricky questions and they seem to just sail through exams with out anxiety or incident.
Not everyone is so lucky. For most people, learning how to take tests is a process. It’s frequently a skill that takes an entire academic career to master.
So for the majority of folks who have to learn to test prep skills, here are a few things to try:
Make up a story. Stories are great ways to jog your memory. Make sure you get all the pertinent details into your story. It doesn’t matter how crazy the story is, as long as it covers the material and you can remember it! Since you can’t make up a meaningful story about the content you are studying, unless you understand it, then you are bound to be teaching yourself something in the process of building a memory aid.
Draw pictures and diagrams. Same concept as story telling – use pictures and diagrams to draw relationships between concepts. These relationships will strengthen your recall when it comes to taking the test. Also, if you are an extremely visual person, you’ll likely recall the actual pictures and diagrams you made previously – bonus!
Study while sleepy. Ok – so I’m not advocating lots of late night study sessions where you get inadequate sleep. Remember, good sleep increases memory recall and test performance. Instead, choose one or two concepts that are alluding you and study them right before bedtime. During sleep, the brain strengthens new memories, hopefully cementing the concepts you studied just before bed.
Space out study sessions. Very few people can memorize an entire speech in one setting. Instead, break your work into smaller chunks, over longer periods of time. It’s just like packing a car – if you take your time and get the pieces in carefully, you can make more room, than if you cram it all in at the last minute.
Create your own tests. Put yourself in your teacher’s position. What questions will he ask? What questions would you ask if you were giving the exam? Use online resources to find possible test questions. Make your own test and then see how you do. You can make this a partner activity even – make a test for a friend and vice versa – then take BOTH tests.
Take a short exercise or meditation break. Both aerobic exercise and mediation can sharpen focus – something sorely needed when studying! Also, taking a break helps you space out your study sessions!
Eliminate distractions. This one should be a no brainer.
Make your study materials portable. Portable study materials let you take your test prep with you anywhere you go. Use an app, make flash cards, create a study sheet. It lets you maximize your study time and space it out over several days. Plus, you can combine light exercise (like a walk) with a quick review session.
Do a final review right before the exam. The day before the exam, make a hit list – a study sheet with the concepts that you are having the hardest time remembering. Review it in the hours and minutes leading up to the exam. Then scan the exam for those questions and answer them quickly, while the material is still very fresh. That last minute test prep can really boost your score.
Listen to classical music. So it doesn’t have to be classical, but ambient, instrumental music calms the brain and doesn’t distract with heavy rhythms and catchy lyrics. Try making a playlist with about 45 minutes worth of music. Study through the playlist and then take a 15 minute break before starting again.