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5 Proven Study Strategies for Test Taking Success

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studying for test success

Studying is an integral part of learning new concepts and succeeding in school but, for many students, taking the time to hit the books is a tedious chore often left until the last minute before an exam. With some subjects being less interesting and more difficult than others, it’s understandable why high school and college students alike often have trouble gaining the motivation to sit down and review material. Focusing during the pandemic can be even more of a challenge, as the remote style of learning can limit how engaged students feel in their classes.

The good news is that effective study strategies are centered more on how students study rather than on how long they study. There are many proven strategies that can help students retain information in ways that make the material more interesting and easily digestible.

To help you stay focused on succeeding academically, here are five proven study strategies to improve your comprehension and help you feel confident and ready to tackle your next exam:

Spread Your Study Time Into Several Short Sessions

It may seem counter-intuitive, but spending lengthy periods of time reviewing one subject is actually less effective than spacing out your studies over several short bursts. The psychological phenomenon behind this is called the spacing effect, the term used to describe the evidence-backed theory that memory consolidation and memory retrieval are strengthened with repetitive studying over several short periods rather than by absorbing large amounts of information in a single sitting.

To put this into practice, try to study each subject for about an hour at a time, take a break, and then switch to another subject. Repeating this a few times every week will help you stay caught up on all of your subjects. Additionally, spending only a short amount of time on one subject makes it an easier, less intimidating goal to achieve when compared to begrudgingly diving into a five-hour cram session the night before an exam.


Explain Key Concepts to Others

Explaining new concepts that you have learned to others is a study strategy that is widely shown to enhance someone’s understanding of new material. Teaching others about something you have learned helps you to understand the concepts in a manner that is deeper than simply memorizing definitions. It forces you to think critically about the material and organize your thoughts in a way that allows you to explain the ideas to someone else in your own words. It’s also a great way to clarify any areas that you are uncertain about, as you’ll be able to make note of which ideas you can clearly explain and others that you struggle to describe. To put this strategy into practice, tell friends and family specifics about the subject you are studying. If you are by yourself, simply expressing the explanations out loud can have a similar effect as well.

Utilize the Testing Effect

If you ever find yourself reading a paragraph and being unable to recall much of what was written, you are far from alone. Reading through large chunks of text does not serve as the best study strategy on its own. Without making note of which keypoints are important, a large amount of what you’ve read won’t be filed away to be stored in your memory.

One of the most common ways that students attempt to deepen their understanding is to go back and re-read the material, but a more effective strategy is to pair your reading with the testing effect. Studies analyzing the testing effect show that reading and re-reading material are not the most efficient ways to thoroughly grasp new information. Instead, reading the material, making note of what you have read, and then testing your ability to recall that information is a more powerful way to learn. When you are actively able to fetch facts and concepts that you just read about from your memory, those connections in your brain are strengthened, which helps to bolster how much information you are able to retain.

Here are a few ideas to help you put the testing effect into action:

  • Answer the questions in the textbook. Even if they are not assigned, many modern textbooks encourage students to utilize the testing effect by listing several questions that focus on the key concepts after each section in every chapter.
  • Write down your own self-test questions about the material as you read. Then when you have finished reading, go back and answer them to see what you remember.
  • Find a study buddy. After you each have read the material, take time to quiz each other or engage in a discussion that helps you both recall what you have learned.
  • Write down what you have learned without looking at the text. After finishing your assigned reading, write down everything you can recall in your own words, and then skim back through the text to see if you missed anything important.

Make the Material Meaningful to You

It has also been shown that the more personally meaningful you can make the material, the more likely you are to develop a solid understanding of it and a stronger ability to remember it over longer periods of time. By focusing on the meaning of the concepts rather than on the exact words your teacher uses to describe something, the better your comprehension will be.

Do this by making connections between the material you’re learning about and personal experiences or interests, and always try to link the concepts with real world examples that differ from the ones utilized by your teacher or the textbook. For example, if you’re learning about a historical conflict, try to associate that historical moment with similarities between modern events. If you’re unsure if something is related, asking your teacher is a great way to start a memorable dialogue that facilitates more meaning with the material.

Another great way to create connections is to share the interesting links you’ve made with a classmate. You each may have made an association that the other never would have thought about, which can further increase your overall understanding.

sleeping and studying

Get Enough Sleep

Sleep has long been known to play an important role in memory consolidation, and a routine pattern of getting inadequate sleep can impair memory and other cognitive processes associated with learning, such as the ability to concentrate. Studies show that studying before bed helps facilitate learning more efficiently than studying several hours before bed or by staying awake all night reviewing the material.

You most likely don’t need science to tell you this, as you’ve probably noticed a difference in your mental stamina on nights you sleep well compared to nights where you barely sleep at all. Though high school and college students often work while going to school, the need for all-night study sessions can be minimized by utilizing the spacing effect, leading to more time for quality rest before an exam.

Closing Up

Studying is a necessary part of learning new material and excelling in assignments and exams. While many students don’t look forward to reviewing every concept they need to know, these proven strategies show that studying strategically can often make the material more engaging and reduce the amount of time it takes to confidently prepare for a test. While the way someone learns best varies from student to student, these tactics, especially when used in combination with each other, can help streamline the learning process, which will help you succeed on your next exam as well with your overall academic career.

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