3 Simple Steps to Test Success
Midterms and finals can strike fear into the heart of an otherwise normal college student. Take a deep breath and realize that you’re not alone. Test anxiety can be crippling, but HatToss is here to help!
Been steady in your studies? You’re probably better off than you think. Attending class and learning the material is your goal — acing your tests is simply proof that you’ve achieved it. Do what you need to do to feel prepared, and then enjoy the fruits of your semester-long labor.
If you haven’t been as systematic with your classes, do yourself a favor: don’t ever do that again. The stress that you’re feeling right now is warranted, because you haven’t properly prepared. Take heart, slacker. Even you can achieve test success! Start with my top three tips:
Step 1: Know Your Test Format
Does your professor prefer lots of multiple choice questions, short form essay questions, or a few long form essays? Find out as soon as you can, and plan your studies accordingly.
- Multiple Choice
You might think that multiple choice tests are easier than essay tests, but that’s not always the case. Consider this: you can’t bluff and muscle your way through a multiple choice test. That’s possible (but not recommended) on written tests.
Tip: Learn relevant vocabulary, dates, names, and concepts. Use mnemonic devices to jog your memory, and make sure that you review a punch list of notes a few minutes before the test. Echoic memory doesn’t last very long, but if you scan and review your materials right before you walk in the door, the material will be fresh on your mind.
Tip: Read the entire test question and all choices before you make your selection. This may seem like an elementary statement, but it’s supremely important. Begin with your gut, or narrow your options and select the best answer.
Tip: The further along you get in college, the harder your multiple choice tests will get. There is such a thing as multiple-multiple choice; these tests are common in theory-heavy undergraduate courses and law school. Multiple-multiple choice exams test your conceptual knowledge and require you to synthesize information. These tests can be harder than they seem, and quite nuanced in their answer choices.
Additional Resource: AcademicTips.Org has a highly detailed 13-point breakdown of the decision making process for multiple choice tests.
- Short Answer
It can be difficult to be prepared for short answer essay questions on an exam. The best thing you can do is understand both the details and the concepts involved in your study materials. Know both big-picture systems and relevant details. If you’re cramming for a test, make sure that you know what each chapter and section heading are referring to, and one or two relevant points about each concept. Reviewing structured notes in outline format is a good starting place.
If you want to excel on essay tests, practice makes perfect. Find old tests or ask your professor for some sample questions. Common forms of essay questions are: compare/contrast, explaining a fact pattern with conclusions, and detailing logical steps involved in a theoretical concept.
Make sure you’ve cemented an essay format. The most popular structuce is: Intro, three main ideas with supporting details, Conclusion. Keep your paragraphs concise; it doesn’t take pages to communicate that you’ve mastered the material. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given for academic essays is this: Tell your reader what you’re going to say. Say it. Tell the reader what you just said. Simple, elegant, and straight to the point.
Tip: Always practice your writing. If you freeze up when you see a blue book, don’t be afraid. Use spare pages to make an outline of your answer, then fill in the gaps with complete, detailed sentences. Lifehack has seven more great tips for writing exam essays.
Step 2: Take Care of Yourself
Don’t kill yourself studying. A tired mind is ill-prepared. Get a plan, make a calendar, and stick to it. Give yourself time to study and reflect. Exercise and eat right, if at all possible. Even light exercises will make a difference, and help to physically cement your study materials into your grey matter.
Schedule personal crises for the weeks following your test(s) — let everyone you love know that you’re going to be busy during finals time, and that you’d prefer to concentrate on your studies. There will be time to engage with friends and family soon. Reward yourself in small ways, and don’t forget why you’re stressed: you’re furthering your education, and finals are a time dedicated to review, cohere, and demonstrate what you’ve learned.
Step 3: Know Your Study Style
How do you learn the best? Where do you get the most work done? Do you listen to music, or prefer silence? Do you study best in groups or alone? Do you like to outline? Do you rewrite your notes? If these questions make your head spin, do some research on study styles and think about what’s right for you.
If you’re completely clueless, try going to the library or a public place. Take some earphones, and zone out to your materials with some soft music. Chopin and Mozart can work wonders!
Zen College Life: Best Tips for Acing Final Exams
Huffington Post: Study Tips for Exams: 12 Ways to Ace Your Finals
US News: Top 15 Hot Tips for Finals
College Fashion: 6 Tips to Beat Final Exam Stress
The Real College Guide: Student-Tested Tips to Ace Your Final Exam