Suggestions for Test Preparation

Preparing for exams is a process that begins at the beginning of each semester and follows through final exams. How you complete that process can help you learn and do well on exams.

Getting Started:

Keeping up with the material will make your job easier all semester.  Original learning--learning the material the first time will help you remember it for the exam.   Review regularly to combat forgetting. Improve concentration: by breaking up study periods, changing subject matter after a maximum of two hours, eating and sleeping normally.   Motivate yourself through an understanding of why you care about performing well in your class or on an exam.  For example, you might have internal motivation, care about your GPA, need a class for getting into a major, or you might be interested in the subject. Know about the exam: be aware of the content covered, what kind of exam it is (True/False, essay, multiple choice), what percentage of your final grade counts on any exam and finally, the date, time and duration of the exam.

How to Review:

Brief—Keep reviews short, spending at most 2 hours per review session.  If needed, repeat. Organized—Start with main ideas and build around them.  Study around what will be on the test. Spaced rather than massed—Study for a few hours each day rather than for 12 hours the day before the exam.  This will help you retain the information with less effort and less stress. Avoid Cramming! If you must, then cram selectively.  Go over the material often in the time you have rather than getting through the material only one time.  Use many types of materials including your textbook, class notes, peer’s notes, library materials, previous tests or quizzes, notes or summaries from readings, homework assignments, chapter questions, practice questions, and old tests on reserve in the library.  Use many methods including study groups, flash cards for quizzing yourself, chunking material into manageable size pieces, recite material aloud, use repetition, integrate materials from books, notes and other experience you have.

When to Review:

Immediately:  Do a brief review of your notes or text within 24 hours of covering the material.  Even ten minutes invested immediately will save you lots of time later.  Rework your notes by adding things that come to mind or filling in any blanks you left.  Use indicators such as highlighting, arrows or underlining to offset important points.  In between:  Pick a half-way point between the first half and second half of material for an exam, or course, and review.  For example, if you have 6 weeks between exams, review after 3 weeks.  At the end, or final review:  Here you should already know most of the material. Your review time is spent Organizing what you know and testing yourself.

The Day of the Exam:

Organize a plan of attack: make a plan that includes what you’ll do for the day, how you will take the test, What strategies you will use to combat anxiety and forgetting. Be mentally prepared: knowing you’re prepared for the exam reduces anxiety. Keeping a positive attitude about your performance on the test and the material itself. Make positive self-statements such as “I will do well” or “I know the material.” Eat moderately: performance will be best if you aren’t hungry or too full. Arriving at the exam: allow yourself to relax for about an hour before the exam if possible—don’t study up to the last minute. Be there early in order to reduce anxiety.  Get a good seat: one with few distractions that still allows you to see if needed—avoid seats near aisles, windows, doors or heaters. Use your anxiety: let your anxiety motivate you into action.  

Let anxiety act as a reminder to use the relaxation and coping techniques you have planned.  Don’t talk with classmates who might confuse you or make you more anxious.  Getting the exam: take a few moments to look over the exam and form a plan for your time and strategies. Jot down any memorized materials on the test or scratch paper as soon as you get it. Skim the whole test. Read directions carefully, maybe read them twice.  Consider point values, time needed per question and the grading system (should you guess?). Answer the easy questions first.  This will save time for the harder questions and build your momentum on the test. Be on the look out for words like: all, most, some, none, always, usually, sometimes, never, more, equal, less, bad, good, is not and except. With each question, read the whole item before answering. If you don’t know the answer, use the process of elimination to narrow your choices. Use strategies appropriate to the type of test you are taking. Ask questions! Rephrase difficult questions. After the exam: carefully consider your performance on an exam and learn from your mistakes. Look for a Pattern to your errors and make changes accordingly to your study process.

Don’t Forget to Be Physically Prepared:

Study where you can concentrate. Use relaxation techniques. Take study breaks. Sit down to study prepared with all the materials you will need. Avoid alcohol and a lot of caffeine. Maintain a regular routine, including diet, sleep and exercise.