According to a recent survey of over 200 students, more than 82% of respondents reported that they felt overwhelmed at the mere thought of an upcoming test.
There’s simply no denying the fact that tests can be stressful events. Whether it’s a routine assessment or a high-stakes standardized test, an examination of any kind is enough to get the heart pumping and the adrenaline coursing through your veins. Test anxiety is preventable, however. In fact, most of this anxiety is a result of either not preparing for the exam at all, or preparing inadequately. Learning how to study for an exam the right way can give you the confidence you need to eliminate stress and improve grades at the same time.
How to Study For An Exam Step One: Understanding the Test
Learning how to study for an exam requires preparation, but it’s nearly impossible to prepare for something without some degree of information. In fact, if you don’t understand what’s going to be on the test, then all of the effort you put towards implementing good study methods and study tips will likely be a waste of your time and energy. Therefore, the first step toward excelling on a test is understanding it. Of course, the more you routinely attend class, pay attention, and take good notes, the better position you will be in because you’ll have the knowledge and material to adequately prepare. If you put yourself in the mindset that you could be tested at any time—that is, listening to your teachers, preparing lecture notes, and reviewing on a regular basis as opposed to cramming for the exam the night before, then naturally, you’ll be more prepared for the test when the big day arrives.
Another important aspect of understanding the test you’re studying for is being aware of the format of the test. Knowing beforehand whether the test will consist of multiple choice questions, fill-in-the-blank, short response, essay, or a combination of these types of questions can help you predict—and therefore prepare for—the kinds of questions you may be asked to respond to, thus helping you improve grades. While some instructors use similar test formats time after time, others prefer to vary their assessments. If you’re unsure which type of test you’re facing, don’t be afraid to ask your teacher directly. While few teachers will give up actual test questions prior to test day, most don’t mind revealing the types of questions that the test will be comprised of. This will prove to be invaluable information as you begin to prepare for the actual test.
How to Study For An Exam Step Two: Prioritize Your Test Material
The next step in adequately preparing for an exam involves gathering and prioritizing test material. If your teacher provided you with a study guide for the test, then this is, of course, an excellent place to start. If you don’t have access to a teacher-prepared study guide, then it will be wise to create your own based on the resources that you do have. This includes worksheets, recent assignments, essays or writings you’ve completed for the class as well as prior tests. This self-created study guide will become a blueprint for your study strategy. Ideally, you should prepare this blueprint two weeks prior to test day to give yourself plenty of time to prepare. If you don’t have this much time, for whatever reason, then make the most of the time you do have by increasing the amount of time per day you devote to your study sessions.
When preparing the blueprint itself, list the topics you need to study in order of importance. The most important topics such as those your instructor addressed most often during class and those referenced in recent assignments and class discussions along with topics you have struggled to grasp should be on the top of the list and demand the most amount of your time and attention. Be sure to list the amount of time you plan to spend on each topic on the blueprint itself, and hold yourself accountable for studying this concept for the specified amount of time each day. It’s also necessary to schedule in some rest time during your study sessions, especially as test day approaches. The last thing you need is to burn yourself out prior to test day, and as a result, be unable to perform at your optimal level.
How to Study For An Exam Step Three: Make and Execute a Countdown Planner
The third step necessary to improve grades on upcoming tests is to make a countdown planner one week prior to test day and then spend the week ahead executing the plan. Ideally at this point, you’ve already spent a decent amount of time familiarizing yourself with the test material and studying the subjects deemed most important. Now it’s time to narrow down your study materials to focus on the topics you’ve determined are most complex or difficult for you to recall. Make a list of these subjects and commit yourself to reviewing them as much as possible before the test day arrives. In addition, it may be helpful to create a “cheat sheet” of sorts. This isn’t intended to help you actually cheat, of course, but it can help you improve grades by providing you with a document filled with the information necessary to excel on the test or exam. Fill this sheet with facts, dates, formulas, and any other relevant data that you’ll need to know for the test. Then, be sure to carry it with you wherever you go so that you can review it between study sessions whenever it’s convenient—in line at the grocery store, waiting at the doctor’s office, or while having coffee in the morning. Jeffrey Karpicke, assistant professor of psychology at Purdue University says that repeatedly testing yourself before a test is a much more effective study technique than simply reviewing your textbook.
While most students associate studying for a test with staying up all night cramming for the pending exam, in order to improve grades and ace the test, it’s important to understand how to study for an exam properly. Once you understand that preparing for a test is a process, not an event, you’ll be on your way to achieving the academic success you desire.