How to Study for a Test

I have an embarrassing secret to share with the world.  I love tests.

I really do.  Something about sitting down and pouring out your knowledge onto a piece of paper, with the expectation of impressing your instructor and probably learning something yourself, is extremely attractive to me.  This probably has a lot to do with the fact that I've always tested extremely well.  I do procrastinate, but my memory is excellent (thank you, Suzuki!) and I enjoy organizing the information into clusters that I can easily wrap my mind around.

Grad school, unfortunately, is not heavy on tests.  Most professors shun them as "high-stakes" assessments (the other type of assessment is "authentic assessment;" honestly, which sounds better to you?) and instead assign papers, presentations or [terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad] group projects.  More than halfway through the program, I've only had one test so far, and it was open-book and taken online -- so basically, I didn't consider it a test at all.

So when I started Educational Psychology this semester and I read on the syllabus that there would be an exam, I'll admit, I was a little excited.  Whoopee!  Something to study for!  (This is where you all shake your heads in disbelief at my geekery.)

The format of the exam was very simple: Eighty-five terms, plus the possible threat of additional terms as relevant to the class material.  Twenty-five on the exam, to be defined in two (or fewer) sentences.  I relished pulling out and dusting off the old-fashioned studying methods I relied on through grade school and college; and while I haven't received the results yet, but I'm pretty confident it went well.  So, here's my advice:

Start early. Yes, I'm a procrastinator, but I also take good notes, both during class and while reading.  In a sense, that's "studying," because it's making definite decisions about what's important and relevant.

Define your terms. In this case, the exam was terms, which made it even simpler, but even for a Math or Philosophy test, the terms are key.  Even broader concepts should be distilled down to a bulleted list or outline; you have to have a structure for the knowledge, or it will never stick.

Read them aloud. If you're a strong aural learner, record yourself (this is also a good way to study -- you can simply play the recording while you're driving, doing housework or involved in a one-sided conversation.

Quiz yourself. Make flashcards, ask someone else to quiz you, or pause your recording after the name of each term.  You can't know whether you really know it unless you test yourself, and this is where most students fall short; they think reading over the material is enough.  Quizzing exposes the holes in your knowledge so that you can address each one until you know it well.

Cluster. This can be a good way to take a break from quizzing, which should be your main focus; group ideas, people and events that are related.  Graphic organizers can be very helpful here: flow charts, webs and outlines all help make visual connections between ideas.

Repeat. Until you feel so comfortable that you can joke around with your friends in the minutes before the test.