In many ways, taking an important exam is like going on a first date. You might try to look confident on the outside, but on the inside you’re all nerves. Depending how it goes, it could have a big impact on your near-term future. And your best buddies will be calling you the moment it ends to find out how it went.
If you’re not great at taking tests, you should know you’re not alone. But thankfully, it’s never too late to learn how to study better. Whether you’re preparing for a placement exam like the SATs or GMAT or brushing up for finals, there are a few simple strategies you can adopt to help you perform better.
To help our readers out, we compiled the following list of top 12 test-taking tips. The first six focus on how to study for a test, and the last six discuss what to do on the day of the test.
Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouts, was on to something when he chose the words Be Prepared
as the slogan for his movement. Preparation is everything, hence why we’ve chosen it as our number one best way to study for a test.
The bigger the exam, the more time you need to prepare. According to Kaplan
, one of the world’s largest course prep companies, the top scorers on the GMAT spend 120+ hours on study. If you can spare 10 hours each week, that means you need to start your exam prep 12 weeks – or three months – ahead of the exam.
The actors in Broadway’s Hamilton
don’t go on stage without rehearsing. Footballers don’t get picked for the team on the weekend if they don’t attend practice. And no one should go into a big exam without taking at least one or two practice exams.
Fortunately, most of the top online course providers
offer practice exams as part of their service. Mock exams offer several benefits. They help you get familiar with the exam structure and time limits. They reveal what sorts of questions you might get in the real exam. And they show you which areas you’ve got under control and what you still need to study for.
Most online course prep companies offer one-on-one tutoring, from those that offer tutoring as their primary service to those that offer it as a supplement to self-guided study.
Even if you prefer to study on your own, hiring a tutor for a couple of hours can be useful. A tutor can help you out on the subject areas you find most difficult. They can help explain course materials. And they can even give you tips on how to study better for your specific exam.
The wrong type of music can be a distraction, but the right type can really help you concentrate. If you have a favorite band that helps you focus, switch them on. If your favorite type of music tends to make you get up and dance, then why not go for something else?
Finding good focus music is easy. Just find “Focus” under Genres and Moods in Spotify, or type “focus music” or “music for concentration” into YouTube. If you do use YouTube for music, just make sure to minimize the window right away – or else you’ll find yourself looking at cat videos for the next hour.
Visualization could be a simple as imagining yourself in the exam room and using your senses to bring it to life. Think about who else is in the room, what you can see, hear, or even smell. Imagine that you calmly go through each question and answer them all correctly. Doing this can greatly increase your confidence – and deliver results.
If you followed our first tip, “Be Prepared”, you should have completed your prep at least 24 hours before the exam. The last day and night before the exam are for relaxing and getting in the right frame of mind. Get a good night’s sleep, wake up with a clear head, and eat a good breakfast.
Other than the above, do whatever you like to do to relax. For some people it’s yoga, for others it’s going for a run, and for some people it’s binging on Netflix. As long as your activity helps you relax but doesn’t cause you to forget what you learnt, it should help you in your exam.
Staying with the theme of relaxation, there’s nothing more important on exam day than arriving on time. If your exam is in the morning, make sure you organize your bag the night before. Pack a pen, calculator, ID, or whatever other materials you need to bring to the exam. Pack some water and something small to eat before the exam or during breaks.
Make sure you know exactly where the exam is and how to get there, and don’t forget to check for traffic. Studying 100+ hours for an exam should hold you in good stead, but it will all be for nothing if you don’t make it to the exam hall on time.
The first thing you should do when the exam begins is read the instructions. The first page on an exam usually contains information about the test format, time limits, and any anomalies like being able to give two answers to a multiple-choice question.
Reading the instructions might take a few seconds of valuable time, but it can save you having to spend several minutes at the end of the test correcting avoidable errors.
This is actually something you can do while you’re studying for the exam or on the day of the exam. Some exams impose time restrictions on each section, such as the SAT, which gives 80 minutes for the math section and 100 minutes for evidence-based reading and writing.
Whatever exam you are sitting, think about how you’d like to divide your time. Spending too much time on one section will leave you rushing to finish the other sections. Make sure to leave yourself enough time for the final section and budget in at least a few minutes at the end to review.
One of the more unique test-taking tips we heard about recently was a memory dump. A memory dump basically involves writing (or dumping) down all the important things you might need to know for the test onto a page. This could include formulas, dates, numbers, or anything else that you think you might need during the exam.
Once you get into the thick of the exam, you may find it difficult to recall important information at the right moment. By unloading it from your brand and onto the page, you’ll have the information right there, ready to be retrieved at the right moment – and it’s all perfectly legal.
Getting the easier questions out of the way first can be a useful strategy, especially in exams like the SAT where all questions are graded equally. No matter what type of exam you’re taking, it’s important to get off to a good start. Handling the easiest questions first can save you time and give you the momentum you need to go onto the tougher questions.
If you find yourself spending a disproportionate amount of time on one question, stay calm. Move on to the next questions or task, and don’t forget to swing back to the hardest questions toward the end of the exam.
Ideally, you should have a few minutes to spare at the end of the exam. It can be tempting to pat yourself on the back and walk out of the exam room, but the best move is to stay in the room and go over all your work.
Leaf through the pages, reviewing each answer. It can be surprising how easy it is to make mistakes when we’re under time constraints. By the way, if you’re unsure about an answer but your intuition says you got it right, it’s probably best to leave the answer as is. But if you find an obvious mistake, you’ll be glad you went back and reviewed it.