Latest posts by Anne Lapour (see all)
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But test-taking doesn’t have to be uber-stressful…as long as you have a plan. Here are our 8 tips for surviving exams in style:
BEFORE THE TEST
1. Don’t cram. So here’s the deal with cramming. It’s just about the most inefficient way to study possible. Psychologists have studied the brain and short vs. longterm memory enough for us to know that cramming doesn’t work. In fact, your brain can really only concentrate for about 45 minutes before you need a break! If you stay up for, say, 5 hours during the night studying, most of that was wasted time. You won’t retain everything you’ve studied, so you might as well be sleeping. Instead, try to start preparing several days in advance, and review the material small chunks at a time. On the night before the test, you should be doing a final review, not learning the material from scratch. Studying little bits at a time is ultimately easier—we promise!
2. Get your questions answered. The other bonus to studying in advance is that it helps you identify what you don’t understand. So you’ll have plenty of time to check in with your teacher before test day for some extra clarification and practice on those tricky problems or concepts.
3. Location, location, location. It’s always fun to study with friends, and some people learn best by talking through the material for an exam. But it’s not for everyone. Experiment with different locations and spend some time studying on your own, too. Try the library, your kitchen table, or even that desk in your room. But pay attention to where you focus best, and make that your #1 study location.
4. Use a variety of study methods. Everyone studies differently. Again, do some experimenting. When I was in high school, I used to read my textbook material to myself out loud. Sure, it probably sounded goofy, but I retained information better when I heard and spoke it. In general, be an active learner. Don’t just read in silence; interact with the material. Make flash-cards, underline and highlight, make study guides, or get a friend to quiz you. Mix it up!
5. Eat. So, you avoided cramming and got a good night’s sleep. Way to go! Follow it up with some decent brain food. Your brain needs fuel, and a donut isn’t going to give it to you. Try something light but well-balanced. And you can celebrate after the test with your treat of choice!
6. Use a test-taking system. It’s the day of the test, and you’re staring at the blank exam in front of you. Know how you take tests most effectively. For most people, the best strategy is to tackle the questions you know FIRST. That way, you score the most possible points without running out of time. If you try to do everything in order, you’ll waste time on the tougher problems and risk losing time to nail down the easy points.
7. Partial credit is your friend. Don’t get discouraged if there’s a question you don’t fully know. Unless it’s a multiple choice or True/False test, you’ve always got the opportunity for partial credit. Write something. Anything. You’ve probably retained more than you realize, and some points are better than none.
AFTER THE TEST
8. Don’t obsess. One test will not make or break your academic career. Let go, and do something to celebrate all your hard work and preparation!
* A final note: Do you think you might suffer from something called “Test Anxiety?” If so, you’re not alone, and it doesn’t mean you’re doomed to do poorly on tests. Check with your school counselor for resources and additional strategies, and check out this online resource.
Want even more great tips? Try these articles below:
What works for you? Do you have a favorite test-taking strategy?