Got a big test coming up? Believe it or not, your potential for success will be determined long before you sit down to take your exam by how you go about preparing for it. Whether you're prepping to take the MCAT, SAT, or GRE, how you study is crucial.
If you’re looking for a few good strategies that will help you get ready, then you're in the right place. Here are the best ways to study and ace your next test.
Best Ways To Study: Prepare
Before starting your studying, prepare yourself by doing the following:
Define What You Need To Accomplish
The first step is to get a clear understanding of what you need to get out of this study session. For example:
- Will you be studying for just one test or three?
- Will the test be multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, or essay style?
- Can you bring your notes or do you have to recall everything from memory?
When you answer these questions, you can better define and optimize the time you’re going to invest.
Establish A Place To Work
Ideally, you should study for your test the same way you’re going to take a test: By sitting upright at a desk or a table. Don’t crawl in bed under the covers because that will just make you tired and undermine your memory retention.
Also, don’t try to study in a common area where there’s a TV blaring, lots of other people, or other distractions. Find someplace quiet where you can be alone and focus. Music is okay but only if its turned down and in the background.
Okay, so you’ve got a test tomorrow – relax! You’ve got this. Don’t stress. It can create corticotropin-releasing hormones that disrupt the process of creating and storing memories.
Instead, get some light movement in before you sit down to study. Go for a walk, do some brief exercise, or even try out yoga. Be sure you schedule this well in advance so you’ve got plenty of time to hit the books.
Getting Down To Business For Studying
Now that you’re in a nice comfortable place and are physically ready to study, its time to get to work.
Absorb The Information
There are many effective ways to start committing the test material to your brain. Here are a few time-tested strategies that work very efficiently.
- Recite your notes. There’s a reason you took your notes these past few weeks – that’s probably the material that will be on the test! Start going back through the material, but don’t just read it. At the end of the page, practice reciting everything you just read to engage your long-term memorization.
- Organize the information. Regardless of whether or not you can bring notes with you to the test, organizing the information in a chart or grid can help you to identify differences and details that will better help you. Plus, just the simple act of writing the information will help tremendously to help you commit it to memory.
- Write flashcards. A classic study aide! Not only does this method again make you re-write the information, but then it will also force you to be able to recall it from memory.
- Retake old exams or practice tests. Old / practice tests are gold! They will give you some idea of what your test is going to be like. Definitely take them and see how well you know the information. Just don’t get too hung up on the questions since your actual test is most certainly going to be different.
- Ask to be quizzed. It's one thing to read the information, but then it's quite another to have to explain it to someone out loud. Use this technique to see how thoroughly you really do understand the material.
- Study with friends. As long as you can stay on task, studying with your friends can help to ensure that collectively you’re all studying the same scope of material. Plus, it can allow you to have someone to practice your flashcards or get quizzed.
Eat And Stay Hydrated
It's important while you’re studying to not get so focused that you forget to eat and drink. Be sure to snack on some healthy food (like some fruit or veggies) and drink plenty of water.
Take Frequent Breaks
Locking yourself in your room to study all night long isn’t going to do anyone any good. Unfortunately, memory retention starts to wane the longer you cram the material. Therefore, it can be in your best interest to take a short break.
Research from MIT recommends that you budget a 10-minute break for every 50 minutes of studying. Be sure it's an active break too. Get up and move around, or do something else for five minutes like talk to a friend or play an instrument.
Keep Your Eyes On The Prize
Even though it can be tempting to call it a night, close up your study session early, and turn on Netflix, don’t! Think about the test and what getting an A can do for your GPA. Honestly ask yourself: Am I ready for this? Using any of the techniques from above, you’ll know if you are or not.
Get Some Sleep
No matter how much you study, you’re not likely going to do very well if you go into your test with anything less than a good night’s sleep. According to researchers at Harvard, be sure you get the recommended 7-8 hours by scheduling the start of your study session well in advance of when you should be going to bed.
The Big Test Day
On the morning of the big day, its time to own it by putting your best foot forward.
Don’t skip breakfast because you’re nervous or in a rush. Again, eat and drink something healthy! Your brain is going to be far better at recalling test information when your body isn’t bombarding it with feelings of hunger.
Go Over the Information In Your Head
While you’re eating breakfast or on your way to class, go over the material you studied silently in your head. Are you able to recall the majority of everything you studied? Are there any missing details that you need to quickly review before its test-taking time?
The worst thing you can do before entering a test is to believe that you’re going to fail it. As Henry Ford once said, “Those who believe they can do something and those who believe they can’t are both right.”.
Remember: You’ve got this! You studied for it, quizzed yourself, and can even visualize the notes you’ve taken. Go into your test reassured that you’ll be ready for whatever they throw your way.
Final Thoughts: Best Ways To Study
No matter what test you're about to take, studying is key. Throughout this guide you've learned the best ways to study. Remember, don't stress, take breaks when you need them, and be confident!
You've got the tools you need to study the best way you can. Get prepared and go ace your tests!