From college entrance exams to finals in high schools and middle schools, springtime is a season of test taking. Even most elementary schools administer standardized tests at this time. Each test demands its own unique preparation, but there are some things to keep in mind that will help students from private schools to public. Whether it’s a stressed out high school student facing a tough chemistry final or third graders braving their first standardized test in elementary school, anyone testing can improve his or her exam performance.
The biggest key to doing well on a test is preparation. If it’s a test for a class, the student should ideally be getting ready to be tested as soon as he or she starts learning the subject. For a standardized test, preparation might involve taking practice tests or even a class. It’s important to remember that a test isn’t a measure of the test taker; an exam doesn’t judge the person taking it. Tests measure what we’ve learned about a subject.
This leads to one of the most important tips about taking tests—cramming doesn’t work. As anyone who has ever tried waiting until the last minute knows, staying up late for a few nights, intensely memorizing as many facts as possible, and feverishly reading textbooks and going back over handouts, are very poor test preparation tactics.
Here are some better ways to study for a test.
Find out what’s important. Teachers often give out handouts with major points highlighted, or even an outline about what will be on an exam. Study that information. When in doubt, ask the teacher what to focus on during your test preparation.
At least two weeks before a test, review all your materials. Go over previously assigned chapters in your textbook again, re-read your notes, take another look at earlier tests and quizzes. When you come to information you know is important, say it out loud. Read out loud or put information in your own words and say it aloud. Research shows that recitation helps long-term memory better than any other tool.
Imagine what the teacher might include on the test. Think back over the class, calling to mind facts the teacher focused on or repeated. Ask yourself what questions you would put on the test and then answer them.
Whenever you think of an upcoming test, give yourself a mental boost. Visualize doing well; imagine feeling relaxed and confident. Studies have shown that positive visualization can reduce stress and anxiety as well as help you stay focused.
Whatever you do, do not wait until the last minute to prepare for a test. For one thing, it’s important to be well rested on exam day, which is impossible if you stayed up late studying. And for another, there’s no way to learn at the last minute. Test preparation needs to be ongoing. It’s really just part of paying attention in class and engaging with the subject matter. If you think you can put everything on hold until a night or two before an important exam, you will certainly not perform well. But if you actively engage with the information being taught, and take a little time to prepare, test taking can be a positive experience.