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How to Study for Tests

TIP Sheet

The more you interact with the material you are trying to learn, the more you will understand it, and the more you understand it, the better you will remember it.

Studying for a test should not be limited to the last few days (or hours) before a test. You should possess the mindset that studying for a test begins when you are first introduced to the material. Your attitude and choice of activities from the very beginning can make a significant difference in how well-prepared you are when the test finally arrives. Just as you would not begin training for a marathon the day before the race, preparing for an exam involves building your knowledge over time, step by step, little by little.

The following activities represent a variety of successful study strategies. By engaging in these activities on an ongoing basis, you will help to move the information you are trying to learn into your long-term memory, little by little, each day. Prior to the test, when it comes time for a final review, you will find that these strategies have already helped you understand and learn the material.

Use the following items as a checklist to determine how many different strategies you are actually using (the more you use, the better prepared you will be for the test):

Preparation and Attitude

  • Begin studying for the test as soon as you are introduced to the material by using a daily pattern of varied, specific learning strategies.
  • Allow adequate time to learn the material.
  • Plan ahead. Break large tasks into small parts.
  • Create a written schedule and stick to it.
  • Know and take advantage of your own preferred learning styles.

Pre-Reading, Reading, and Post-Reading Strategies

  • Activate your background knowledge by creating pre-reading questions about the topic before you begin to read the assigned chapter or section.
  • Before reading, introduce yourself to the chapter by quickly skimming from beginning to end, looking at only the main points, headings, illustrations, and summaries.
  • Do not use a highlighter until you have already skimmed the chapter at least once.
  • When reading the material for understanding, add notes in the margin (or take separate notes) to reinforce important points.
  • Look up any words you do not understand.
  • Keep a separate list of new vocabulary.
  • Always ask: Do I understand this? Stop and go back if you do not understand.
  • Use resources to improve understanding (reference material, dictionary, class handouts).
  • Write study questions as you go (in the margin or on separate paper).
  • Use a highlighter only on a second reading, and then highlight only the most important points.

Preparation for Lecture and Note-Taking Strategies

  • Read through (or at least skim) the material before coming to class.
  • Take advantage of auditory learning by recording the lecture (with permission from instructor).
  • Include the date, title, and page number on each page of your notes.
  • Take notes on only one side of the paper.
  • Use an organized system of note-taking (such as Cornell).
  • Use symbols and abbreviations in your lecture notes.
  • Review your lecture notes briefly right after class.
  • Read your lecture notes again at several-day intervals.
  • Rewrite your lecture notes for organization and understanding.

Additional Effective Study Strategies

  • Look for a variety of creative ways to interact with the information you are trying to learn.
  • Seek emotional involvement with the material, for example through humor or through application to real-life situations.
  • Participate actively in a study group.
  • ¬≠¬≠Have a specific task or role when working with a study group.
  • Create practice tests.
  • Take practice tests under timed conditions.
  • Test yourself and others in pairs or in study groups.
  • Use tools - flash cards, sticky notes, tape recorder.
  • Create mnemonics in order to memorize key points or steps.
  • Write out a scenario describing how you would use the information in a real-life situation.
  • Explain the main points of the chapter to someone else (a family member, friend, or roommate). Have them explain it back to you.
  • Listen carefully to another student's explanation of the material and evaluate that person's understanding.
  • Create tables, graphs, or diagrams to illustrate difficult concepts from the chapter.
  • Read your summary of the chapter (or notes) aloud and record it. Play it back and listen to it.
  • Work together with a group to create scenarios. Role-play the scenarios and evaluate each other.



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