You just heard you have a math test on Friday — the same day as your big history test and weekly quiz on Spanish verbs. Are they crazy? How will you get all your studying done?
Don't panic. There are some secrets to good studying. If you follow them, you'll be able to take all three tests with confidence.
Start Studying in School
Studying for tests and quizzes actually starts way before you even know you'll have a test. Good study techniques begin in the classroom as you take notes. Note-taking is a way of remembering what you were taught or what you've read about.
Some keys to note-taking are to write down facts that a teacher mentions or writes on the board during class. If you miss something, ask your teacher to go over facts with you after class. Other keys to good note-taking are keeping notes organized by subject and making sure they're easy to read and review. (This may mean that you need to recopy some notes at home or during a free period while the class is still fresh in your mind.)
Unfortunately, most schools don't have classes that teach you how to take note. When it comes to taking good notes, it can take some experimenting to figure out what works, so don't give up.
When you sit down to study, think about how much time you want to devote to each topic. This will keep you from getting overwhelmed.
If it's Monday, and you've got those three tests on Friday, figure out how much time you need for studying between now and then. Then figure out how long each subject will take. For example, a weekly Spanish verb test probably won't be as intense as a big history test. So you won't need to set aside as much study time for the Spanish test — and if you break it up into a short amount every night, that's even better.
Another study technique is called "chunking" — breaking large topics down into chunks. Let's say you have a history test on World War II. Instead of thinking about studying all of World War II (which could overwhelm even a historian), try breaking your study sessions into 2-year chunks or studying the material by specific battles.
When you've decided on a manageable amount of work, consider how long you need to study it. Most people can really concentrate for about 45 minutes — after that you'll probably want to take a short break. If you find yourself getting distracted and thinking about other things as you study, pull your attention back as soon as possible. Remind yourself that when your 45 minutes of studying are up, you can take a 15-minute break.
How to Study
As you study, review your notes and any special information from your textbook. In the case of math or science problems or equations, do some practice problems. Pay special attention to anything the teacher seemed to stress in class. (This is where good note-taking comes in handy!)
Many teachers tell students ahead of time what the format of an exam will be. This can help you tailor how you study. For example, if you know you're going to have multiple-choice questions on World War II, you'll know to focus on studying facts and details. On the other hand, if the exam will contain essay questions, you'll want to think about which topics are most likely to be covered. Then come up with several possible essay topics and use your notes, books, and other reference sources to figure out how you might answer questions on those topics.
When trying to memorize dates, names, or other factual information, keep in mind that it usually takes a number of tries to remember something correctly (that's one reason why it's a good idea to start studying well in advance of a test). Use special memory triggers that the teacher may have suggested or ones that you invent yourself. Read things over several times if you need to, and write down any phrases or thoughts that will help you remember main ideas or concepts.
Some people find it helps to teach what they're studying aloud to an imaginary student. Or work with a study partner and take turns teaching aloud. Another study technique is making flashcards that summarize some of the important facts or concepts. You can then use these to review for a test.
I'll Study Tomorrow and Other Excuses
It's tempting to put off studying until the last minute (also known as procrastination). Unfortunately, by the time students get to high school there's so much going on that there's usually no room for procrastination.
If you're a procrastinator (and who isn't sometimes?), one of the best ways to overcome it is by staying organized. After you've written test dates and project due dates on a calendar, it's hard to ignore them. And sitting down to organize and plan your work really highlights how much time things take. Organization makes it harder to procrastinate.
Sometimes people put off studying because they feel overwhelmed by the fact that they're behind on things or they just feel really disorganized. Don't let this happen to you. Keep your notes organized, stay on top of required readings, and follow the other study tips mentioned above to stay focused and in control. Your teachers will give you plenty of notice on important tests so you have enough time to study for the type of exam you'll be taking.
But what if you're feeling overwhelmed by all the stuff you have to do? Are classes or extracurricular activities limiting your time to study properly? Ask your teachers for help prioritizing. You may need to involve the people in charge of your activities — such as your coach or music or drama teacher — in working out a solution.
Don't wait until the last minute to talk to your teachers, though, or you'll just look like a procrastinator! And don't be afraid to ask for help. Teachers respect students who are thoughtful and interested in learning and doing well.
Studying in a Crowd
Sometimes it can be useful to go over things with people who are studying for the same test: You can make sure that your notes are correct and that you understand the subject. Study groups are also helpful because you can work together to come up with ways to remember concepts and then test one another.
For some people who are easily distracted, though, study groups spell disaster because they get off the topic. When you're with a bunch of friends or classmates, you may spend more time hanging out than actually studying. One way to ensure quiet and focus when studying with a group is to do it in the library. You'll be forced to keep things more low-key than if you're at someone's kitchen table.
In the end, it comes down to what works best for you. If you like to study alone and feel most confident doing it that way, that's great. If you think you'd like to work in a group, try it out — just be aware of the drawbacks.
When you've finished studying, you should feel like you can approach the test or quiz with confidence — not necessarily that you will get 100% of the answers correct, but that you have a good understanding of the information.
Most of all, don't panic if you can't remember some facts the night before the test. Even if you've spent all evening studying, the brain needs time to digest all that information. You'll be surprised by what comes back to you after sleeping.
Reviewed by: Eric J. Gabor, JD
Date reviewed: November 2008
Reviewed by: Chris Cortellessa, M.Ed, NCC