Nov 10, 2008

How To Take a Test

You know the test is important. In fact, you stayed up all night studying for it. Now it’s staring you in the face and your mind is blank as beads of sweat begin to form on your brow. Information that you memorized a thousand times suddenly leaves you stranded. Surprise questions leave you guessing.

It happens to everyone. Lack of preparation, or even improper preparation, can bring any test-taker to the breaking point. But try not to worry- stress has a bevy of negative effects on the brain, including reduced memory (additional information on the effects of stress can be found here). Instead, prepare with these proven learning tips and tricks, because it’s not always how much time you spent studying, but how effectively you studied.

First off, know your learning style. How do you learn things best? This is determined by the way that your brain processes information, and can be broken down into three separate categories: kinesthetic, auditory, and visual. There are many free tests that you can take to help you determine which type of learner you are.

Once you know what type of learner you are, prepare for each test in the way that will help you the most. This means different learning methods depending on what style you are. For example, if you are an auditory learner, record each lecture that your teacher gives. Cheap tape recorders can be found at garage sales or bargain electronic stores, and many laptops come with built-in microphones. Once you’ve recorded the lecture, replay it while you study. Silently repeat in your head what you hear- create an internal dialogue. Finally, reinforce information by writing it down. This way you can associate what you hear with what you write.

If you aren’t an auditory learner, find other ways to apply your learning style. Most people are a combination of kinesthetic, auditory, and visual learners, so try different methods to see what works best for your unique brain.

Another way to increase the effectiveness of your study time is to tailor your approach to the test format. Find out what kind of test you will be taking. Will it be multiple choice? In-class essay writing? Short answer? Think of study time as practice. For example, if the test is an in-class essay, try to predict what the prompt will be. After compiling a list of possible topics, create a few outlines. You’ll find that even if you didn’t predict exactly the same prompt you are given, some parts of the outlines you made before-hand will fit right in.

Also, most test-takers do not realize how much the brain depends on the rest of the body. But the facts are clear: physical and mental performance go hand-on-hand. Take care of your body and you will learn more efficiently. Sleep can also play a major role in cognitive agility. Make sure you get plenty of rest before test-day. While you may be tempted to pull an all-nighter, lack of sleep could actually hurt your grade worse than not studying at all.
Finally, remember that as important as your next test may be, there are sure to be many more in the future. Treat each test like a learning experience, not the apocalypse.

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