Successful Study and Test-Taking Strategies

Be Prepared:

  • Figure out where you can study best, whether that’s in a quiet place in the library, at home, or in a group with other people studying a similar topic.
  • Try to plan when to start studying by calculating how much time it will take to learn each section, and then multiply that number x3. Overestimate how much time you need to avoid cramming.
  • Make a check-list of the materials you need in order to study.
  • Createan outline or list of the topics you need to learn for the test, and check the syllabus or with others to make sure you are looking at all the material to be covered in that exam.


Know what helps you study best:

  • Get plenty of sleep, don’t forget to eat, and try to study at your optimal time of day.
  • Take regular breaks. Most people can hold their attention for about 15-30 minutes.
  • Take your time and avoid last minute cramming or all-nighters.


Know your learning style:

  • Try to relate the material and come up with examples that are consistent with your preferred learning method. Think about if you remember/learn information best when it is presented:
    • Visually using graphs, charts, images. Try associated information with an image.
    • Verbally by either listening, explaining out loud, using a tape recorder, or writing.
    • Experientially using hands-on experience where you “do” rather than watch/listen.


Know which study styles work and which ones don’t work:

  • Use more active study strategies that help you group and organize the material in your mind.
    • Try to organize the information in a way that related topics are grouped or chunked together, with smaller/more specific “chunks” categorized under broader ones.
    • Frequent studying in short bursts is usually more effective than a few long study sessions.
    • Translate the information into your own language, and relate to information to old material.
  • Active study strategies generally make the material more memorable.
    • Includes things like being quizzed/quizzing yourself, writing things out or explaining it to others, relating the material to a personal memory, or organizing material by categorizing the information into related chunks and describing similarities/differences between points.
  • Passive study strategies generally result in poorer recall of material when used alone:
    • Include things like reading the concept and definitions on notecards without first trying to recall the definition, and reading notes or the textbook without trying to develop a deeper understanding of how the material relates to other concepts.  


Study according to how you need to answer:

  • Fill-in-the-Blank: notecards with the specific concept on one side and the answer on the other can be a great way.
  • Matching: think of details and defining characteristics of each concept that differentiate it from other concepts/definitions.
  • True or False: list out the components necessary for a given concept to remain “true”, and what it could never be… what are the pieces that have to be present?
  • Multiple-Choice: describe the definition of the concept, and then list what differentiates it from other close definitions, and the conditions under which it might be more characteristic of the other similar definition.
  • Essay: try coming up with your own test questions and practice writing/saying out loud your answer.


Study according to type of memory needed (list, recognize, describe, or explain):

  • Listing, defining, or recognizing concepts (like in T/F, matching, fill-in-the-blank, & multiple choice) require you to memorize and provide defining aspects of a concept, and be able to differentiate details of one definition and another.
    • General Memorization: Develop a mnemonic or analogy in which you relate a concept to its definition by coming up with a novel story, personal memory, phrase, or rhyme unique to that concept.
    • Memorizing a list/series: Create an acronym by taking the first letter of each concept and putting them together to make one word.
  • Describing and explaining a concept (like in essay and short answer questions) require you to remember definitions and details, but be able to arrange/organize those details into steps, describe how they influence other details/steps, and contribute to the larger process/concept. Rather than just providing information, you need to understand and describe the process of howsomething
    • Memorizing processes: try dividing the process into smaller pieces by reducing it to a series of steps. Number the steps and come up with a 1-2 word “nickname” for each, and creating a mini-story with the nicknames.


After the exam

  • Consider which strategies worked, which didn’t, and what to change/keep the same next time.
  • Problem-solve to figure out what contributed to both poor and good performance:
    • Attendance
    • Sleep
    • Note-taking
    • Time spent studying
    • Test anxiety
    • Wrong study strategy
    • Poor understanding of concepts
    • Time-management
    • Planning/organization
    • Stress/anxiety/self-confidence
    • Illness or other life events
    • Class preparation (reading)
    • Quality of examples
    • Environmental factors