The Best Way to Study for a Test

The worst way to study for a test is to wait until the night before or several nights before the test.  Information crammed into the head just before a test, falls back out again in a very short time.

Imagine that you have a large group of friends coming for dinner. You run to the store to buy the groceries you need. But the store has only one paper bag . They stuff everything you bought into that one bag.

The picture is pretty clear isn’t it. Once your groceries are in the bag, you need to get the bag back home. Just how long would it take for this paper bag to begin to tear apart..

Can you see the vegetables rolling around on the floor? The tomatoes are crushed, the milk is spilled. What a mess.

When students cram information into their head for a test, much of what they “learned” will be gone by the next morning. The rest won’t last much longer.

These students don’t understand that the real point of studying is NOT to pass the test. Teachers give tests so students will study and understand the material, so they will learn more about the subject, sometimes for practical reasons, sometimes so the students end up with a good education.

When should you start to study for a test?

The best time to begin preparing for a test is when you open the textbook for the first time, when you sit down for the first class or lecture. Successful students plan their study so information goes into their long-term memory, focusing on learning a little at a time but learning it well. By then reviewing this material and testing themselves over and over, week after week, they will have no problem remembering this on a test

Studying for a Test in 12 Steps

1. Start studying when read the first chapter and go to your first class.

2. As you read each chapter and as you listen to each lecture, take careful notes. Later, you might do the notes over as an outline, concept map, summary, etc.  Keep all of your notes nearly organized, probably with one binder for each class.

3. After reading each chapter, after every class, write a list of questions that you might find on a test. Write additional questions just because you’d like to know the answers.  Write answers to question as you learn them. Add to your binder.

4. Use Scheduled Reviews. Schedule reviews differently as needed. You might review daily for the first few days, then twice a week, then once a week.

5. Use the review time to first test yourself on what you remember and then go back over the material as needed. You learn much more by self-testing than you do by re-reading.

6. Use a variety of strategies to organize, think about and remember the material. The least effective memory strategy is rote memory, the system most students use. You remember more when you relate new ideas to information you already know or to personal experience.

7. Ask what kind of questions will be on the test and how much of the grade will be based on each section. The more you understand about the test, the better you will be able to prepare. Will there be essay questions: How many? Will there be multiple choice, true-false, or short answer questions? Will there be problems to solve like in math or physics or other classes? What information do you need to know? In History, I always ask if we need to know the dates.

8. Write practice questions of the kind that will be on the test. For objective questions, you might use flash cards for study. For essay tests, the best practice is actually writing the answers, evaluating your work, and rewriting them.

9. It often helps to have a one page study sheet to go over many times in the days just before the test. It might include formulas, diagrams, definitions, etc.

10. Get plenty of sleep the night before the test, and every other night. Be sure to eat a good breakfast or lunch including protein before the test.

11. Be well prepared with any supplies you need for the test. Bring extra pencils, pens, etc. Do you need a calculator? It’s always a good idea to wear a watch so you know how much time is left.  If the test is in an unfamiliar location, look for the building and room a day or two before the test. Be sure to get to the test a little early and take time to relax, knowing you are well prepared. There is no need for last-minute study.

12. When the test is returned, use it to begin preparing for future tests. Try to understand why your answers were wrong. If you didn’t get full credit for essay questions, re-write the essay and ask the teacher if that would have gotten you more points. If not, ask what you should do differently to make a better score on essay questions.

If tests are not returned, ask your professor if you can look at it in his or her office. Take plenty of time to understand what you did wrong and learning how to do better on the next test. Almost all professors will be impressed that you want to learn from your mistakes. All too many students get back a test, check out the grade, then ball up the paper and throw it in the trash can. People who do this are not successful learners.