A Detailed Guide on How to Study For Tests Effectively?

Throughout your academic life—and, more than likely, the rest of your life—testing will be an inevitable, sometimes frightening, and distressing reality. The sooner you learn the techniques of preparing for, taking, and mastering tests, the better off you’ll be.

What Do They Want to Know?

Many tests measure the way you study— your ability to organize a mountain of material—as they measure your knowledge of the material itself. This is especially true of any test that purports to measure knowledge spread across the years and your mastery of a broad spectrum of material—the SAT; GRE; bar or medical exam; exams for nurses, CPAs, financial planners, etc.; and others. This means the better you study, the better your score will probably be on such tests.

Before deciding how to study for a particular test, you must know precisely what you’re being tested on. Preparing for a weekly quiz is far different from preparing for a final exam. And the biggest last of your life is child’s play compared to “monster tests” like the oral exams I faced before they allowed me to graduate college—which covered everything I was supposed to have learned in four years. Studying for a standardized test like the PSAT, SAT, ACT, or GRE is also completely different—you can’t pull out your textbook and, knowing what chapters are being included, just “bone up.” The structure of the test is also of paramount importance, not necessarily in terms of how you study, but how you tackle it once you get your test book

What Are You Afraid Of?

Tests are scary creatures. So before I start doling out test-taking techniques, let’s tackle one of the key problems many of you will face: test anxiety, a reaction characterized by sweaty palms, a blank mind, and the urge to flee to Pago Pago on the next available cargo ship. What does it mean when someone proclaims they don’t “test well?” For many, it means they don’t study well (or, at the very least, prepare well). For others, it could mean they are easily distracted, unprepared for the type of test they are confronting, or simply unprepared mentally to take any test. We all recognize the competitive nature of tests. Some of us rise to the occasion when facing such a challenge. Others are thrown off balance by the pressure. Both reactions probably have little to do with one’s level of knowledge, relative intelligence, or amount of preparation. The smartest students in your class may be most afraid of tests.

Believe Me; You’re Not Alone

Take heart—very few people look forward to a test; more of you are afraid of tests than you’d think. But that doesn’t mean you have to fear them. Few people enter a testing site cool, calm, and ready for action. Most of us have various butterflies gambolling in our stomachs, sweat glands operating in overdrive, and a sincere desire to be somewhere else… anywhere else. The more pressure you put on yourself—the larger you allow a test (and, of course, your hoped-for good scores) to loom in your mind—the less you are helping yourself. (And the more significant the test is, the more likely you are to keep reminding yourself of its importance.) Let’s face it: Your scores on some tests can majorly affectect on where you go to college, whether you go to graduate school, or whether you get the job you want. But no matter how important a test may be to your career, it is just as essential to deemphasize that test’s importance in your mind. This should have no effect on your preparation—you should still study as if your life depended on a superior score. It might! Keeping the whole experience in perspective might also help: Twenty years from now, nobody will remember, or care, what you scored on any test—no matter how life-determining you feel that test is right now. Of course, you can make it easier to do all this by not going out of your way—certainly before an especially big or important test— to add more stress to an already stressful event. Two days before the SAT is not the time to dump a boyfriend, move, change jobs, take out a big loan, or create any other waves in your normally placid river of life.

With Friends Like These…

Some people thrive on their own misery and are jealous if you don’t feed on it, too. They want to suck you into their gloom, whether you really know or care what’s happening. These Anxiety Professionals are the people to avoid when you’re preparing for an exam. “Oh, I’ll never learn all this stuff!” they cry. You might not win points with Miss Manners by saying, “If you’d shut up and study, you might!” But you can have the pleasure of thinking it—on your way to a quiet place to study alone. Watch out for those “friends” who call you the night before the exam to wail, “I just found out we have to know Chapter 12!” Don’t fall into their trap. Instead of dialing 911, calmly remind them that the printed sheet the professor passed out two weeks ago clearly says that the test will cover Chapters 6 through 11. Then hang up, get on with your life, and let them wring their hands all the way to the bottom of the grading sheet. (Of course, if you don’t bother to check what’s going to be on the test, a call like this will panic you…and waste your time.)

How to Lower Your AQ (Anxiety Quotient)

To come to terms with the “importance” of a test, read the following list. Knowing the answers to as many of these questions as possible will help reduce your anxiety:

1.What material will the exam cover?

2. How many total points are possible?

3.What will this exam count for?

4. How much time will I have to take the exam?

5.Where will the exam be held?

6.What kinds of questions will be on the exam (matching, multiple-choice, essay, true/false, and so forth)?

7. How many of each type of question will be on the exam?

8. How many points will be assigned to each question?

9. Will certain sections of the test count more than others?

10. Will it be an open-book exam?

11.What can I take in with me? Calculator? Candy bar? Other material crucial to my success?

12. Will I be penalized for wrong answers?

Hit the Road, Jack

To shake off pretest anxiety, take a walk or a vigorous swim. In the days before an exam, no matter how “big” it is, don’t study too hard or too much, or you’ll walk into the exam with a fried brain. You’ve already found that scheduling breaks during your study routine makes it easier for you to focus on your books and complete your assignments faster and with more concentration. Scheduling breaks during test preparation has the same effect. No matter what the time limits or pressures, don’t feel you cannot afford such a brief respite. You may need it most when you’re convinced you can least afford it, just as those who most need time management techniques “just don’t have the time” to learn them.

Relax Already

If your mind is a jumble of facts and figures, names and dates, you may find it difficult to zero in on the specific details you need to recall, even if you know all the material backwards and forwards. The adrenaline rushing through your system may just make “instant retrieval” impossible.

The simplest relaxation technique is deep breathing. Lean back in your chair, relax your muscles, and take three very deep breaths (count to 10 while you hold each one). There are a variety of meditation techniques that may also work for you. Each is based on a similar principle— focusing your mind on one thing to the exclusion of everything else. While you’re concentrating on the object of your meditation (even if the object is nothing, a nonsense word, or a spot on the wall), your mind can’t be thinking about anything else, which allows it to slow down a bit. The next time you can’t focus, try sitting back, taking three deep breaths, and concentrating for a minute or two on the word “Ron.” When you’re done, you should be in a far more relaxed state and ready to tackle any test.

Recent Posts