So, you’ve got a test coming up that you want to do well on — or, you know, that you desperately need not to bomb. Either way, you’re obviously going to have to hit the books. But at some point, while thumbing through pages of highlighter-laden text, you may come to the realization that you don’t really know how to study for a test.
How many hours should you cram for an exam? Is there a better way than hunkering down in the library for hours on end? Fortunately, whether you’re high school or college age, or you’re a mom working on that degree while balancing work and kids, tried-and-true study tips do exist. These habits should help you take future tests with far more confidence. Hey, you might even ace a few!
Take good notes
Yep, being prepared actually plays a big part in studying for a test. The more thorough you can be when taking notes during class, the better — it’ll help you remember key facts that were discussed and minimize the amount of time you have to spend re-reading textbook material you already went over in class.
Studying for an exam can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t feel 100 percent prepared. As such, your natural inclination might just be to sit down and try to shove as much information on as many topics as possible into your brain. However, in 1956, psychologist George Armitage Miller observed that the average person can only hold five to nine things in their short-term memory at any given time (also known as “seven plus or minus two”).
Thus, Miller coined the term “chunking,” which refers to dividing large pieces of information into smaller units — or chunks — to make them more palatable for short-term memory. Doing this during your studies could help you retain more information prior to test time.
Focus, focus, focus
Sorry to break it to you but, according to the Cleveland Clinic, we actually all kinda suck at multitasking. In fact, research shows that a teensy 2.5 percent of people are able to multitask efficiently. That means your best bet for nailing your test is to buckle down and focus on your study session. Turn your phone off. Unplug the TV. Distractions just add to the ultimate time it will take you to really absorb the information you need to pass your exam.
Try some white noise
According to a 2017 study in Scientific Reports, “listening to white noise may improve some aspects of cognitive performance in individuals with lower attention.” That means turning off the TV and music and finding the perfect background or white noise for you. For some, it may just be the classic sound of static, for others the sound of rain, but white or background noise can be so much more than that. What about the sound of a busy cafe or cafeteria like the kinds offered by Coffitivity? The idea is that within a few minutes the background noise becomes just that and you can go into hyper focus mode.
Make sure you’re actively engaged
Sure, reading over the material that might be on your test is good. But to actually learn the information, you need to be actively engaged. What does that mean? Well, active learning promotes higher thinking skills through application: problem-solving, analysis, self-quizzing, role play, mapping, etc. The idea is to engage on a deeper level so that you understand the knowledge better, as opposed to surface (or passive) learning that you’re less likely to retain long-term.
Say it out loud
Another helpful hack for making information stick is to speak it. A 2017 study out of the University of Waterloo found that reading text aloud helps seal words into your long-term memory. This boost from the dual action of speaking and hearing has been dubbed the “production effect.”
Of course, one of the easiest (and most fun) ways to remember information by speaking it aloud is using a mnemonic device — i.e. “Roy G. Biv” to remember the colors of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) or “Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally” to remember the order of mathematics operations (parenthesis, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction).
Try not to procrastinate
Hey, we get it! Whether you just realized you had a test or chose to ignore that fact, sometimes waiting until the 11th hour is inevitable. Having said that, if it’s at all possible, you’d do better to start early so you can spread your studying out. This learning strategy, known as “distributed practice,” has been shown to be particularly effective — the idea being that you’ll spend the same amount of time studying but over several shorter periods. Since your brain concentrates better in shorter spurts, distributed practice can help you retain information better.
So, say goodbye to procrastination! Besides, 30 minutes of study for five days sure sounds a lot better than 3 hours stuck at the library or hunched over the computer when the kids have gone to bed, right?
Online study tools
In addition to adopting the smart (see what we did there?) study strategies above, you can maximize your studying mojo by using readily available resources. Here are a few of our favorite online study tools:
Quizlet: You don’t have to worry about filling out a million flashcards on your own if you rely on Quizlet. This free resource offers lessons on various subjects, flashcards to nail the material and, as the name suggests, quizzes so you can test your newfound acumen.
Grammarly: There is a free version of Grammarly and a premium paid version, and both are utterly fantastic. Honestly, everyone should install this. You can use it on your desktop, your laptop, your tablet… even your smartphone. Running your notes through it will help identify any misspelled words, phrases, any other potential problems. Why is that important when you’re studying? Well, you clearly don’t want to learn something incorrectly and get it wrong on your test — especially when one quick Grammarly scan could have shown you the error of your ways.