How to Prepare for Success on Your Tests

a desk filled with a green fern, a notebook, ruler, pencils, erasers, and a cup of coffee, all waiting for someone to sit and prepare to succeed on their test

Happy Tuesday! It’s already my fourth(!) week of school and I know some schools are even further into the spring semester. This year is flying by for me, and I hope it’s enjoyable for the rest of you. If you’ve been wondering where all the interviews are, keep checking in every Tuesday! I’ve got some plans in the works. 😉

If you haven’t already taken a test this semester, like me (two tomorrow!!!), you probably have one scheduled in the next week or two. Whether your test is based in math, multiple choices, short answers, essays, or a little bit of both (been there), you have an opportunity to reduce stress and feel adequately prepared for your tests! What’s this secret formula, you might ask?

A plan.

I know some people prefer flexibility over structure, but after nearly three years of college, I’ve come to realize that actually writing down a plan for how to study for a test makes life way less stressful. Instead of hurriedly flipping through notes in the day before your A&P test, you know what to do and when. So in today’s post, I’m going to break down for how to create a plan for any kind of test.

You’ll need to know…

  • What material you need to study
  • Where you’re going to get your study material from
  • How you’re going to review that material
  • How many days you’ll need to feel ready

What to Study

Your professor will definitely tell you what chapters or sections of notes to cover in preparation for a test. What not all professors do, however, is tell you where to pull your study material from. Depending on the professor, this could be from a combination of your textbook, class notes, handouts, assigned videos, or homework problems. If your professor doesn’t specify, feel free to ask them, or talk to a friend who’s taken the class before to see if they can offer any hints.

If you are struggling to understand the assigned work, the Internet is your best friend! Look up Quizlets, YouTube videos, and educational sites to find better explanations, or easier to understand phrasing.

Something to be careful with, however, is the fact that the Internet isn’t always right. To avoid false information, one of the best sources when you’re struggling with a class is your school’s tutoring center. It’s important to contact the tutoring center when you first realize you’re struggling with the class, but no matter how late in the game it feels, it doesn’t hurt to ask anyway. Tutors have been in your situation and know what to help you with so you can succeed.

Reviewing Your Material

Now that you’ve gathered your information, it’s time to figure out how you’re going to learn, understand, and retain it for the test! If the most you’ve ever done is review notes a few times, I’ll give you a few ideas to experiment with.

Make a Quizlet/flashcards

Many people say that studying with flashcards or Quizlet, the online version of flashcards, is an essential part of preparing for a test. Indeed, once you’ve made your set of questions for that test, you don’t need to make much else. Try and break down the information you need to learn into easy to answer questions. Cramming a whole section of notes onto one card is useful for reviewing key concepts, but it’s not helpful when you’re trying to remember and understand all that information! As you review, give adequate time to sections that give you more difficulty.

Practice Test

For so many things in life, if you want to do well in something that’s important, whether it’s a job interview, driver’s test, or a big game, you practice like the actual thing. So why don’t more people practice for tests by taking tests? You can pull tests questions from your study material in the same way you would create flashcards.

The important difference between flashcards and practice tests is making your test as close to the actual environment of test day. Make a list of questions or ask a friend in the class, then wait a day or two. Find a private space to work in, set a timer, and put away all distractions. If tests make you anxious, make sure to give yourself enough time to try your practice tests.

Besides giving you chances to practice what’s nearly the real deal, practice tests give you real-time feedback. It’s a chance for you to see what types of questions you struggle with, or what sections you need to work on.

Group Study

Studying with friends or classmates can be tricky. You want to get along well enough to be able to collaborate with each other, but you don’t want to derail all studying within fifteen minutes to watch a movie. So choose your study partners wisely! Besides the help of reviewing material with friends to answer questions, group studying has some unique benefits that are hard to find elsewhere.

Divide and Conquer

If you have a lot of text to review and summarize, dividing material between your study partners saves time when you don’t have much. The only downside of this is that everybody will have different ideas of what to highlight, and if they don’t adequately understand a concept, you may be misinformed or need to go back to learn it for yourself.

Teach It

Instead of summarizing the material in note form, why not teach it to your group? Sharing in your own words what you’ve learned from your book or notes requires you to actually understand the material, not repeat word-for-word what you just read. If you’re the one listening, think of questions to help you and your classmates even more.

Take Tests Together

What’s one way to make practice tests even more realistic? Take them with a group! Have everyone contribute five to ten questions (bonus points if they’re not multiple choice!), then type them up and take your “test” together! Then, as a group, review what questions were tricky for everyone and what areas you need to work on.

It Takes Time

Now that you know what to use and what to do, you need to figure out how long it will take! This is where you have to get a little creative. While seeing other’s examples of study plans are helpful for reference, you can’t copy them day-for-day because they don’t take into account your life.

Fitting my study plan to my life is something even I trip up on all the time. Since I’ve done this for so long, I have a basic plan that I apply to all tests, but sometimes I forget to take into account that some days are more busy than others, or I realize that an assignment that was supposed to take maybe thirty minutes now needs two hours.

With that caveat in mind, take what you need to do, apply it to the study material you need to use, and give yourself a little to do everyday. Your plan can have days that build on each other, focus on a different kind of learning strategy (the flashcards or tests or reviewing), or devote time to tutoring or study groups. You know you best!

I wanted to attach an example study plan that puts a lot of what I talked about together. It’s pretty generic, but when I thought it up, I liked to imagine that this was created by a student preparing for a cardiovascular test in pathophysiology.

sample study plan to succeed on your test

Want to know how to feel confident when you actually take your test? I’ve got a post on that too!

Good luck on whatever endeavors this week holds!

What do you do to prepare for tests? How can you apply these study tips to your classes?

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