How to Study for Tests

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If you’ve kept up with your class work in the weeks prior to a test, you shouldn’t have to sweat too much.  You’ve taken notes and reviewed them, you’ve done all the readings and understood them, you’ve turned in every homework assignment and you’ve spoken to your professor or the TA if there was something you didn’t understand.  You organized a study group and worked with them regularly.

Yeah, in a perfect world.

Chances are, with three or five classes and three or five professors who each think theirs is the most important class you’re taking, you’ve got some work to do to be really prepared for a test.

So, here are some suggestions to help you study efficiently for a test, relax before a test, and get the best possible grade on your test.

The First Step – finding out what kind of test it will be and what will be covered

It is very important to know what kind of a test it will be – multiple choice?  Essay?  True or false?  A combination?  If possible, look at previous tests from this class.  Ask students who took the course before what the tests are generally like.

Listen to what the professor says will be on the test and WRITE IT DOWN.  If they give out a study guide, you’re in luck!  If the professor doesn’t volunteer the information, raise your hand and ASK what will be covered.  It’s very important to know if the test will be based only on information that was presented since the last test, or if it will be cumulative, covering everything learned through the course of the semester.

Here are some other ways to figure out what will be on the test:

  • Anything that was in a handout or written on the board
  • Anything the professor stressed or repeated during lectures; anything (duh) the professor said was important or might be on the test
  • Any questions the professor asked during class discussion
  • Pay particular attention to things the professor says in the class or two just prior to the test

The Nitty-Gritty – Getting down to studying

  1. Find a quiet place, free of distractions.  Let your friends know you’re studying for an important exam and that they shouldn’t disturb you.  Turn off your cell phone, and DON’T sign onto instant messaging if you are using the internet.
  2. Gather all of your materials before you start
  • Pens, paper, laptop, calculator, note cards
  • Textbook, class notes, handouts
  • Water and healthy-ish snacks (popcorn, cheese sticks, carrot sticks and hummus)


  1. Set goals.  It is much better to study for a test in several short bursts with a wrap-up session the evening before or the day of the exam. If, for example, you are being tested on three chapters, set up four two-hour study sessions – one for each chapter and one for final review.
  2. Set a time limit. Study for half an hour, or an hour at most, and then take a five- or 10-minute break to refresh your mind (and possibly, your attitude!).

Finally, stop cramming AT LEAST 15 minutes before the exam.  DON’T frantically look at your notes while you’re waiting for the professor to hand out the test paper.  Whatever you remember in the last 10 seconds will throw everything else straight out of your brain.

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