by Andrea Reaka, Ph.D, Center Director/Owner, The Tutoring Center
Oh, no! Three tests in one week! How could the teachers do that to you (and your child)?
Since taking a test is actually something your child has to do on their own, pass this article
on to them to read, or read it out loud to them.
Strategies for Studying
Luckily, there are few things that you can do to ease the pain. Follow these tips to make your studying more effective and allow you to breeze through the week without feeling a thing.
Whether you are the student studying for a test or a parent helping your child study, one of the most important things to do to make studying easier is to get and stay organized. It is important to know ahead of time when tests and major assignments are coming. Armed with this knowledge, you can carve out time in your schedule to study.
Taking good notes during class is the first line of defense for studying. This starts even before you know you have a test coming up. Good note taking is the best way to remember what you were taught or what you’ve read. Some keys to good note taking are to write down facts that the teacher mentions or writes on the board during class. If you miss something, write a note about it in your notebook and then ask the teacher to go over it with you after class. Also, make sure you can actually read your notes and be sure to leave space within your notes for clarification and adding detail. As you read through your textbook, add information to your notes. These facts and details will help you remember the information. Also, if the teacher spends a lot of time discussing a particular topic in class, be sure to write it down in your notes. Usually, the amount of time spent on particular points in class relates to how important these points will be on the test.
When you find out a test is coming up, get organized. Look at your calendar and schedule time to study for it. Otherwise, you can easily become overwhelmed and procrastinate your way to a failing grade. Sometimes people put off studying because they feel they are behind on things or they just feel really disorganized. Don’t let this happen. Keep your notes organized, stay on top of required readings, and follow the other study tips mentioned to stay focused and in control. The best way to study is to set aside time each day to review. If you cannot do that, try to set aside time early on so you have time to digest and clarify any points that are not clear to you. You can ask classmates, parents, or teachers for help.
If you can, find out the format of the test. This can help you tailor how you study. For example, if you know you are going to have multiple choice questions, you’ll want to focus on facts and details. If, on the other hand, the exam will contain essay questions, you’ll want to think about which topics are most likely to be covered on the test (ask yourself what the teacher spent a lot of time on in class) and practice using your notes, books, and other resources to put together essays regarding those topics.
Whatever kind of test you will be taking there are a few tricks that can help you remember the information. You can use memory triggers that the teacher may have suggested or ones that you invent yourself. Read over your material several times, writing down any thoughts or phrases that will help you remember main ideas or concepts. Some people find it helpful to teach what their studying to another student, even if it’s an imaginary student. Or, it can be helpful to study with another student and take turns explaining the concepts. For some people, studying in a group works well. But, be sure the dynamics of the group will work for you. When you’re with a bunch of friends, you may spend more time hanging out than actually studying. One way to ensure quiet and focus when studying with a group is to do it in the library. You’ll be forced to keep things more low-key than at someone’s home.
Believe it or not, your brain needs time to digest the information. When you go over the material early on, your brain has the time it needs to process the information and store it away in a place that it can be accessed again and again. What you need to practice for the test is not just knowing the information, but accessing the information. If you cannot access the information when you need it, all your studying may be a waste of time. Having someone quiz you on the information by asking you the questions in several different formats, can help you practice accessing the information you will be tested on and remembering the details of the information.
Making note cards to summarize important facts or ideas can also help you review. This will also help you practice finding the right information you need to answer a question or solve a problem. As you practice finding the information on the note cards, you will be reviewing the other concepts as well. You will probably start sorting the cards to find the ones you need more quickly. This means you will physically be doing what your brain is doing, which is categorizing the information.
Reading through your notes each day for a week before your test is also a good idea. By far, the best way to study for a test is a little bit each day. Research has shown that to retain information, it is better to study in short bursts more often, than one long study marathon. Repeating the material in separate sittings helps your brain digest it. In college, I had a friend who put up a bulletin board in the bathroom that we shared. Each night she put a set of notes on it and in the morning, while she was getting ready, she read through them. I found that by using this trick, I could easily go over my notes twice a day. And, since the notes were fresh in my mind, I paid more attention in class because I remembered the material from the previous day.
When you’ve finished studying, you should feel like you can approach the test or quiz with confidence. You may not get 100% of the answers correct, but you should feel like you have a good understanding of the information. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. But, don’t wait until the last minute to talk to your teachers, or you’ll just look like a procrastinator. Teachers respect students who are thoughtful and interested in learning and doing well.
Also, don’t forget the obvious. One thing you can assure yourself of by keeping up with your work and studying early, is that you will be able to get a good night’s sleep before the test. So, be sure to do that. When you get up in the morning, eat a good breakfast and wear something that makes you feel good about yourself. At this point, the increase in confidence will do more to help you on the test than any last minute cramming.
In the end, it comes down to what works best for you. If you like to study alone and feel most confident doing it that way, that’s great. If you think you’d like to work in a group, try it out - just be aware of the drawbacks.
Most of all, when you’re taking the test, don’t panic if you can’t remember some of the information. Move on. Go to the questions that you know you can easily answer and then go back and work on the more difficult questions. You’ll be surprised what comes back to you as you continue working. The worst feeling comes when your time has run out and there are questions that you didn’t get to finish that you know you could have gotten right. Do the easy ones first. If you have time, always go back and check your work. We are human. Mistakes get made. Always double check your work, there are no points given for being the first one done. By doing this, you may avoid the exasperating, “Oh, I knew the right answer. I don’t know why I put that!” when you get your test back.
Lastly, don’t forget to reward yourself for a job well done. No matter how you did on the test, give yourself a reward for working hard and putting in so much effort. No doubt you have learned a thing or two and now have a better understanding of what works for you when you study. This will help you in the long run. So, if you truly put your best effort in, be proud of yourself!