The most important thing you can do to improve your test scores is make certain you are well prepared for the exam. There is no substitute for preparation! However, preparation doesn't mean simply studying hard for each exam as they come up. The most well prepared students practice good habits along the way, which helps them not only remember the material, but understand the material at a much deeper level. Here are a few things you can do that will help ensure your success:
- Complete your homework assignments: Many times in college your professor may have suggested readings, or practice problems/exercises that are not required assignments. Trust your professor – if they have taken the time to recommend certain exercises or readings, they have made this recommendation to help you gain the level of understanding needed to succeed in the class. Remember, whether the assignments are optional or required they do affect your grade in the class!
- Study regularly: Cramming for a test is never a good idea! Studying regularly improves retention and decreases stress. Make use of small chunks of time to organize and reread your notes – you may be surprised what a big difference it makes.
- Understand what you will be tested over and how you will be tested. Make certain you understand what the test covers (i.e. which chapters, notes, concepts and main points). Is the test multiple choice, true or false, and/or essay-style? Ask your professor for any clarification needed. Knowing which material to focus on and how the questions are organized will help you prepare for a test.
- Manage your alertness level so it is at the best point for thinking on the exam. Get sleep so you aren't dazed. Walk around if you are feeling tense. Don't listen to last minute crammers if you are anxious. (Or if you are too relaxed, do some cramming yourself to get your excitement level up). It's like doing warm-ups for sprints—get yourself to the best physiological state
- Relax. You won't test well if you are too tense. If you are feeling anxious, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Continue to breathe slowly and deeply until you feel calm.
Evaluate Your Study Habits
- If you are having trouble telling the difference between the choices on many multiple choice test items, then you have not learned the material at the right level for the class. Learning comes in "levels." For example, the most superficial is knowing that a machine is a bicycle. Another level is being able to describe how the bicycle moves. A deeper level is being able to sit on the bicycle and move. An even deeper level is understanding the role of the bicycle in health and fitness. An even deeper level is being able to describe the impact of the bicycle on the environmental system. And a very deep level is being able to use the bicycle to create something no one has seen before, a bicycle ballet or a water pumping system. Most college work involves learning at least at the level of riding the bicycle but you may only be studying at the recognition level.
- If you earn a grade on a test that you are unhappy with, but study exactly the same for the next test, then you should expect to earn the same grade as before. A change in grade requires a qualitative change in studying.
- Studying "more" is a first step, especially if you aren't meeting the minimum traditionally recommended of 3 hours outside of class/week for each credit hour of class (thus 9 hours/class). However, you could study 9 hours and still not do well if you aren't using deep learning techniques that build connections. These techniques require your full concentration and are indeed hard work. After all, you could study the names of bicycle parts for many hours, but if you can't ride the bicycle (which requires integrating a whole set of skills) you won't pass the course.
- Avoid "reading into" trivial elements of items. Instructors don't have the time or interest in trying to trick you. Most of that student folklore about test items is false. Instructors' motivation is to find out if you know the material and can use it, plain and simple. Over interpreting font choices, formatting or other trivia distracts you from the real purpose of the test—to find out what you know. If a test seems tricky to you, it is most likely that you haven't learned the material at a sufficiently deep level.
- A good study method is to write test questions from the course material along with the answers, either multiple choice or essay (essay works best). You are likely to write at least a few that will appear on the exam.
Special thanks to Dr. Sally Kuhlenschmidt for her assistance with this section of the SRC.
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