Student Success Stories: Test Study Method
How to Successfully Study/Take Tests and Exams
Real study strategies from real students -- methods they use to study for college tests.
Putting in the time for each class is a big part of studying for tests. Reading has definitely had the most beneficial outcomes for my test scores. I study the hardest for the first test in each class, because I'm not ever sure what to expect. I'll reread key points in chapters, go over my class notes, and possibly do practice questions. Once I've taken that first test I analyze which part of my studying was most helpful and concentrate more in that area for the next tests.
Understanding how a professor tests or what he/she looks for is key, too. I had a history professor one semester who always had a section where you would have to explain the significance of key historical events or figures. He wasn't looking for a definition or an identification, he was looking for what impact that event or person had. I understood that, but many of my classmates didn't and their test scores reflected it. Make sure you understand what is being asked, and don't be afraid to ask if you don't understand.
I do have different strategies for different subjects. Some subjects such as language, I like to study in a group or with someone. Most other subjects I like to study on my own and figure things out on my own. For math that helps a lot for me to sit and figure it out even if it takes forever! The feeling of when I finally get it is a great one. I like to repeatedly write definitions out on paper because I feel I will remember that better. I usually end up writing out my study guide and I use that to study with until I take the test.
I have different strategies for different types of tests or subjects. For me, any type of math is exceptionally difficult so I had to spend extra time on that. I would go back through the homework problems focusing on the problems that I had extra difficulty on. Many times I would ask the teacher for an additional study materials they could provide. If it was a class that required memorization or applying concepts I would create a sort of study guide for myself many times focusing on what were key focal points in the class. If I knew there were going to be essays I would try to take the terms and apply them to an example or create different questions on the concepts focused on throughout the semester.
If the test is an essay format test, like for philosophy or English, I like to read the subject matter (be it a specific book or text) a few times before the actual test. If there are parts to me that seem unclear (like a metaphor that is a little ambiguous), I like to go online and read reviews or other articles written about that text. Philosophy was a difficult class for me because I had a hard time understanding certain concepts and applying then to an essay question. After reading other essays and articles that addressed similar issues I realized that my entire writing strategy was all wrong for the class. I was trying to write in a research paper format for what my professor wanted to be an opinion type essay. I would say that the best thing to do is think about your professor and what they would expect you to write for the test based on class discussions and previous tests that they have given.
For multiple choice tests I try to study more vocabulary words and overall concepts. Multiple choice tests are fairly easy because you can almost always eliminate two choices right off the bat. I always try to think about what the teacher would ask us on the test and then study that particular concept the most. It is all about listening during class and understanding what your teacher would want you to know. Ask your professor during class what specific parts he or she thinks are most important in that chapter. More than likely, those same parts will be the main focus of the test.
My strategy for studying changes when I know the test will be a written exam. For instance, if I know I am not doing a multiple choice or true and false I will study in topics. By that I mean I will learn a concept at a time and outline it in a note format. This way when it comes time for the written test I can recall the information from the outline easily.
My strategy for studying for most tests is to make flash cards with any vocabulary words or important key terms, to re-read the chapters that are going to be on the test, and to learn my notes. For some subjects, especially math I normally go back through and redo all of the problems that I've done for homework and in class. Further, I try and study for a test as many days in advance as I can.
I would describe my method for studying for tests in the following steps:
- About a week before the test I look over the learning objectives (if a professor has given them out), or the main topics that we are being tested on and I look over my notes related to the topics at least once a day over the next few days.
--If there is anything I don't understand then I look in the book or ask the professor for clarification
- As the test gets closer, I study my notes for about a half an hour to an hour each day, depending on the difficulty of the test
--If the test is based more on information from the book, then I read the chapter and outline the chapter as I am reading it so that I have my own notes to study that are directly from the book.
--If there are math problems on the test, then I practice the different types of problems and make sure that I understand them.
- The night before the test I look over everything once and make sure that I feel confident about each section that I am going to be tested on.
--If I am concerned about one area or section, then I review it again until I'm sure I understand it.
When it comes time to study for the test, I usually start 2-3 days before the test. I go through my notes and make flashcards on what was important for those sections, paying special attention to what the teacher said would be on the test if there was a review session. Also, I go through the book and read the inset stories and add to my flashcards. If there are practice problems or online assignments or old tests, I use those to help me study for the test as well. Once the test is over, I keep the flashcards so that I have them for the next test or for the final.
I have a couple of rituals I go through before big exams. I don't know if they really help or not, but ever since I started doing these things, I have done really well on my exams. So, I have a special set of songs on my iPod that I listen to the night before -- in between doing some last minute studying. They're just silly songs really, but they pump me up and get my blood going. Then, in the morning, before I head to breakfast, I watch a clip from one of my favorite movies -- it's just totally inspiring and sends me off with a great attitude and a smile. I also bring my iPod with me in case I get to class too early and people are talking about the test. Rather than getting caught up in all that, I just tune it out... literally.
When studying for tests, I always try to find a large space of time in my schedule. I feel like I don't retain an adequate amount of information unless I actually give myself the time to absorb and understand the material. If you rush yourself, you'll feel more pressure and panic -- and panic usually never results in good test scores. I can also only study when I'm fully comfortable -- so I always have to remember to eat before studying, and get other small projects out of the way, so I don't think about them while studying. I never really liked the library because I've never felt as comfortable there -- but I've also chosen roommates who have comparable study habits to mine, so studying in my room was never really a problem; I could always get my work done.
Studying definitely changes from subject to subject, and also for different test types. In some classes, you know that teachers are more application-oriented... this could be anything from explaining a concept with examples outside of the classroom to being able to create balance sheets from a company that you didn't cover in class. This means that when you study, you have to be able to relate the concepts to something bigger -- creating multiple scenarios for certain topics, or doing additional mathematical problems outside of the ones completed in class will help you be able to apply the concepts, because creating your own ways of defining and computing ideas will ensure that you know the material. If you know your professor is this kind of tester, however, you really need to prepare ahead of time, so if you don't know something, you have time to meet with your professor and work out the kinks in your way of understanding the concepts... because if you ask them right before the test, they probably won't like it, and it won't give you time to absorb this new way of thinking about a concept -- because it's more than just memorizing.
For classes that are more definition-oriented, of course it's never a bad thing to try to memorize, but watch out for how professors' tests are formatted. If you know the exact definition, you're good for matching, writing out the definition, or fill in the blank questions. However, be wary of multiple-choice tests and memorization. Just straight memorizing won't give you the adequate rationale to always pick the best answer. This is where application and definition collide; you need to really understand the words outside of their textbook definitions in order to know how to answer multiple-choice questions. Applications of definitions are very frequent on most teachers' tests -- so make sure you know more than just the definitions, by studying examples and creating your own!
I start studying two days before. If the test is on Wednesday, then Monday night for 2 hours I'll go to the library just to see what I need to know and to familiarize myself with the material, so I'm not overwhelmed when I start studying. Then on Tuesday I'll study the material for 3 or 4 hours and make sure I understand it. Then on Wednesday 4 or 5 hours before the test, I sit in the library to cover anything I haven't looked at and make sure I remember everything. That last minute studying gives me and adrenaline rush and I do my best studying. It also helps everything stay fresh in my mind for the test.
I make outlines, and write out the key terms. I look at my notes sometimes during the weeks before the test. I make sure that I have it all down the night before the test, and the next morning I get up for a 2 hour cram study session to get it fresh in my head for the test that day. It works for me most of the time, but I am not the best test taker in the world, I get too nervous! so I study as hard as I can and that's the best I can do as long as I've tried my best.
Test study method: If multiple choice test, I just review notes continuously to be familiar with concepts. Also go to the book website to review online questions... many teachers pull questions from this source or similar ones. It will let you know what you need to keep studying. If there are essays involved, I make sure I can explain the concepts outloud or can make my own outline... go to a friend and try explaining the material. Putting yourself in the teachers shoes forces you to learn the information better. If it is math related, the only way is hit the paper and pencil and redo some typical problems from the past few chapters to check your understanding.
I rewrite my notes and form a study sheet for tests. This helps because not only am I reading it for at least the second time, I am also writing it for the second time. I have a photographic memory, so seeing my notes multiple times really helps me
For classes that use formulas, I make sure that I have all of my formulas written down on one sheet. I also make sure that I write my formulas down with complete words and with the shorthand terms, when applicable.
I have very different techniques. For financial tests, I try to work on problems given in class as well as problems from powepoints and homework. When it comes to marketing classes, I review my notes and try to make diagrams to describe different processes.
Honestly, there are some tests you can just not study for. I had a marketing class based strictly on case studies, and our tests were about tools and strategies, not multiple choice, whats the definition of, etc... I had many different strategies. It really depended on the class, the professor, and the material. If it is a test of terms and definitions and how to questions, I would study literally the night before, and just commit them to memory. Other tests however, took a little more effort, really digging in to the material, and thinking of all the questions that could derive from it. Just remember, its college, its not supposed to be easy, and the first time you get a C dont freak out, its ok.
Return to more Student Success Stories.