General Test-Preparation Strategies

Getting ready for testing time? Cramming to study for finals?

In general, you should:

-Start early. Be sure that you have completed your assigned reading at least several days before the test. Remember that reading and studying are not the same thing. All of your reading should be completed before you begin studying.

-Get organized. Organize all of your studying tools and strategies-notes, annotations, study strategies-so that you can dig right in.

-Distribute your time. Rather than trying to cram all of your studying into 1 and 2 days, distribute your time over several days. Spending a total of 6 hours studying spread over 5 days is much more effective than trying to spend 6 hours studying the day before, or even 3 hours a day for 2 days before the test.

-Break up the work. If you begin studying several days in advance, you will be able to break up the information you have to study into chunks of major concepts. In other words, don’t sit down to study with the idea in mind that you will study every chapter and every page of notes. Study groups of information that seem to fit together, or at least identify which concepts you want to learn in a particular study session. This helps you stay more focused on the task at hand.

-Stay healthy. Eat properly and get enough sleep. Try to remain in a studying routine rather than staying up all night cramming. Eat regular meals and exercise if that is part of your normal routine. As part of staying healthy, it’s also important to monitor your emotional health by evaluating your stress level. When you get too stressed out, it influences other aspects of your performance and becomes a vicious cycle.

-Self-test. It’s important to have a firm understanding of what you know and what you don’t know. Remember that self-testing involves asking yourself questions about the material, saying the information to yourself or to someone else, and then checking to see whether you are correct.

-Study with a classmate. Studying with another serious-minded student has great benefits regardless of what kind of test you will have. One of the most successful models for studying with another is for individuals to study in their own and then to get together to ask each other questions a day or two before the exam. Both parties can then find out which concepts they know very well and which ones they need to spend more time in.

-Look at old exams. Talk to others who have previously taken the class. Finding out as much information about the test as possible, whether it’s from looking at old exams or by talking to others, is simply a smart thing to do. It’s not cheating; it’s being an informed consumer, so to speak. If professors permit students to keep their exams, you can fairly certain that they will not be giving that same test again. But it’s probably also a safe bet that the kinds of questions asked will be similar. When talking with students who have already taken the class and the professor, it’s a good rule of thumb to find out specifics about the level of questions and grading.

Many of these general tips are common sense. But they are tips that students often overlook as they get caught up in exam preparation. In the next section, we will focus more specifically on preparation for and taking objective exams.

Excerpt from College Success Strategies by Sherrie L. Nist and Jodi Patrick Holschuh.

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