Many people think that just reading their notes and showing up for the test are sufficient for learning and doing well on tests. But that is not true. Here are some tips for studying for and taking tests in a more intentional and focused way that will help you retain the information. Every student that has actually done these things have said that they have seen a significant improvement in their understanding and grades. This will be work and take time. But the question you need to ask yourself is do you really want to understand this information, do well on tests, and ultimately know it for life? Because knowing the information taught in your classes will help you think better, understand the world you live in better, and have more interesting conversations with people.
Studying for Tests
1. Repetition over a time is better than cramming the night before.
Many students spend a lot of time the night before cramming for a couple hours before a test thinking that this is sufficient. But that only gets the information into your short-term memory. It is not going to help you retain the information long enough to do well on the test, to take the exam at the end of the semester, and most importantly to retain the information for the rest of your life. Repetition over a long period of time is much better. So, the first day you take notes in the unit, come home and read your notes for five to ten minutes. Then the second day read through your notes again and then the next day and so on. Spending at least ten minutes a day reading through your notes is a much better way to help get the information into your long-term memory than spending hours the night before. Repetition over time is how the brain retains information.
2. Share what you are learning with your parents.
After every day you are in class come home and tell your parents what you have learned. The best way to learn and understand something is to explain it to someone else. There is a lot of things that make sense in your head and you think that you know it, but then you try to explain it to someone else and you realize that it does not really make sense, or you do not really understand it as much as you thought you did. Having discussions with other people engages the mind and process the information on a higher level of understanding. If you realize you do not understand it as well as you thought or the other person does not understand what you are trying to say, then you are forced to reword it in a different way, which then helps you gain a better understanding of the information. Now you are processing and understanding the information and not just memorizing words. Likewise, there are a lot of things that the other person knows about this topic and things that they can add to your understanding.
Also having discussions with other people helps you gain the ability to clearly articulate and communicate information in a logical way so that someone else can understand it. That means when you come to the test it is not the first time you have had to recommunicate the information. You are then more likely to write the answers to the question more quickly clearly. And then the teacher will better understand what you are trying to communicate.
3. Read your notes out loud.
As many of the five senses that you can get involved in a learning process the better it is that you are going to retain the information. So, there are three senses engaged when you are reading the information, speaking it, and hearing it. Also, read it in different accents. You might feel silly, but there is something about hearing something in a different accent that causes one to focus and pay attention more.
4. Do not assume that you know the information because your notes look familiar.
Students spend a lot of time reading through their notes and thinking that they know it because they recognize it. You begin to visually recognize the words on the page and have a kind of an idea of what is coming next and thus you assume that means you know the information. Then you come to the test and your notes are not with you and you are wondering why you are blanking out. For example, just because you can recognize a person when they walk into the room does not mean you know them well enough that you would be able to recreate what they look like from memory. Put your notes away for a couple of hours and then come back later and have somebody quiz you over your notes without looking at them first. This will show you how much you actually know your notes versus how much you have just been recognizing them. This will what do not understand and what you have to work on more.
5. Study in different ways.
Use flashcards this will force you to see your notes in a different format and context rather than visually recognize it on a certain part of the page, as discussed above. It also separates the question and answer to two different sides of a card, forcing the mind to complete the information rather than just looking at the next line on a page.
Take practice quizzes and tests. Do not let the day you come into class be the first time you have taken a test. Have someone else quiz you.
Get in study groups with people of different personalities that understand the information in different ways. Talking about the information with other people who also know the information can help you think about it in a different way. But, make sure you find a group that actually stays on topic.
Rewrite your notes or type them up. Sometimes taking notes in class while you are trying to listen makes it difficult to focus on what is being said. If you rewrite your notes, it forces you to focus on the content without any distractions. And writing is a good way of processing the information.
Find as many different ways to take in the information as possible. Because you are not going to see the questions on the test worded exactly the same way that it was said in class or the way it is in your notes. And that is not because the teacher is trying to trick you, but because they want you to understand the information and not just have a bunch of words that you do not understand memorized.
When it comes to taking the test, here are some tips to help you become a better test taker. Because a lot of test taking is not just knowing the information but taking the test in a more intentional and efficient way.
1. As you read the questions on the test underline each word in the sentence.
Often people think they know what the question is asking before they have finished reading it and they stop reading and fill in the rest of the question on their own. Then they answer the question wrong even though they knew the answer. Also, some people have dyslexia and switch words around in their mind. Underlining each word as you read slows you down and enables you to focus on each word you are reading and thus paying attention to what is written on the paper and not what you think it says. When you come to the matching or the multiple-choice options do the same thing.
2. Get clarification from the teacher when you do not understand a question.
The goal of the teacher is not to trick you with a question, and they are not arrogant enough to think that they have written a question in the best way possible. Ask them for clarification and they will reword the question for you. They will not give you the answer or overly obvious hints that make it clear what the answer is. But they will try to reword the question as many times as they can until you finally understand what they are trying to ask. Because they want to know what you know and if you do not understand the question then they do not know if you really know the answer or not.
A lot of students think that if they go up and ask the teacher a question then people will think they are dumb, especially if they do it multiple times. Most people are not thinking that and if they are who cares. Because in the end you are going to understand the questions and you are going to get a better grade, which will show that you are not dumb. Many of the students that get the highest grades on the test are the ones who come up and ask questions before and during the test.
3. Write the answer in the margin before you read the multiple-choice options.
Sometimes you know the answer to the question, but you start reading the options in the multiple-choice question and they are not worried exactly the way that you had it in your mind and then you start getting confused, second-guessing yourself, and getting a little frustrated then you forget the right answer and pick the wrong one. But if you immediately go to the margin and write down what you think the answer is, before reading the options, then when you read options listed along with what you have written in the margin you are less likely to get confused. Now it is a matter of comparing your answer with the options listed rather than allowing yourself to get confused.
4. Eliminate the options you know that are not right by putting a line through them.
A lot of times students know that an option or two is wrong in a multiple-choice question, but because they keep staring at the same four unmarked options over and over again, they options start to get all jumbled together in their mind. But if you cross out the wrong answers in the multiple-choices then now visually you are focusing on fewer options and less information to keep organized in your mind.
5. Skip questions that you do not know the answer to.
Circle the number of the question you do not know and come back to it later. A lot of times students come to a question that they do not know the answer to, and they sit there for a long time and they start getting frustrated and more confused and they end up wasting a lot time and creating more anxiety for themselves. But now they have this anxiety that is going to affect their ability to do well on the rest of the test, even if they know all the other questions. But if you circle the question and move on then you do not create unnecessary stress and anxiety. Then when you are done answering all the other questions on the test, go back and answer the questions you circled. Now any anxiety that these questions might create will not affect the rest of the test or waste your time. Sometimes there is something in the following questions on the test that helps trigger your memory or clarifies the previous question so that now you have a better understanding of what was being asked in the previous question and now you remember the answer.
Put these tips into practice and you will do better on tests and a retaining information over long periods of time.