How to Study for a Test

Five Methods:Having a Successful Studying RoutineStudying EffectivelyReducing Test AnxietySample Study SchedulesStudy Tips and Tricks

Tests seem like they spring up like weeds, don't they? You take one test and there's another just around the corner. Start showing those tests who's boss like a round of Whack-A-Mole: You'll soon be getting your share of "A"s and "B"s.

Method 1
Having a Successful Studying Routine

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    Make a study schedule. Time management is key to studying for a test or tests. If you plan out your time, you'll feel less rushed and hurried. You'd be able to avoid a Sunday night, 3 AM cram session. Plan out the week before the test to use your time most effectively.
    • Analyse how many things you have to study and try to calculate how much you have to study each day/week to cover everything. You can quickly test how long it takes you study one page and calculate the amount of time you need to study everything afterwards.
    • Try to study over the course of a week, not just one night. Revisiting the information moves it from short-term memory (the kind that disappears almost immediately) to long-term memory, where you can retrieve it for later.[1] Ideally, take a look at the content a little bit every day.
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    Start as soon as possible. If you start on top of things, you'll never have to worry about catching up. Read the textbook assignments, do the homework, and go to class. The studying you do on your own time will then be that much easier.
    • Organize a notebook and folder for the class. Keep all your papers together when you need to pull them out three months later. Keep your syllabus accessible to use it as a rough outline for the class. Don't forget to keep up the studying on a daily basis, don't leave it for the last minute!
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    Ask your teacher what things she/he want you to study. Remember, any little detail on a test can become a question!
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    Get some sleep. Alright, so we already covered how you should sleep instead of changing your normal routine to wake up early to study because it can ruin your REM cycles.[2] Get as close to 8 hours as possible. Your grades (and parents) will thank you for it.
    • Before you go to bed , hit the hardest concepts. Then when you do hit the hay, your brain has hours and hours to let it sink in. The fluff can be tackled mid-afternoon -- let the difficult stuff stew overnight for maximum retention.[2]
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    Make time for breakfast. Studies show that students who eat breakfast before a test do better consistently. But you want to keep it to something light and healthy -- focusing on that lump of eggs, bacon, and cheese in your stomach won't do you any favors. Stick to fruits, veggies, whole grains, and light dairy products.
    • In fact, research says that your diet the week before the test matters, too! Students that were placed on a high-fat, high-carb diet did worse than those loading up on fruits, veggies, and complex, whole grains. Do yourself, your body, and your mind a favor by eating right. By eating right, you can get the right nutrients that your body needs, and you will be able to retain information better.[2]
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    Avoid the last minute cram session. Studying the night before the test will make it even more difficult -- you'll be sleep deprived, groggy, and your mind will not be firing on all pistons. You don't want to gather heaps of information in one night; it's impossible to absorb that much info at once.[3] Straight up, you'll do worse.
    • If you don't see the logic, believe the science. Studies show that late-night crammers get average grades.[4] If you're looking for a C, cram away. But if you're looking for something a bit better, avoid it.
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    Study right after waking and just before bed. In the morning, your mind is fresh and clear. Though you wouldn't think it works this way (so simple!), your mind seems to have more room to absorb information right when you wake up.[5] At night, your brain secretes chemicals to cement the information into your memory, so studying right before bed (and when you wake up) is a safe bet. When you know the patterns of your brain, you can take advantage of them!
    • Research shows that the closer the information is taken in relative to sleep, the more it'll stay in. So review right before bed! What's more, it also shows that getting a good night's rest leads to greater levels of retention. Remember how we said don't cram? There you go.[6]

Method 2
Studying Effectively

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    Assemble a study group. According to Duke University, the most effective study groups have 3 or 4 people. One of them should be deemed the leader, or representative -- they'll keep the group on track. Bring some snacks, some music, and agree on content beforehand. Talking about the content makes you read it, see it, hear it, and speak it -- way better for memory.[7]
    • It's a good idea to spend the first part of your session working on concepts. These often get ignored. Have a discussion on the concepts of that week's material or the major points on the test. When you have a discussion about it, it'll be that much more interesting (and memorable). Then, work on specific problems. When you've covered the concepts, the problems will be more likely to fall into place.[8]
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    Choose a few different places to study. Recent research has shown that your memory improves if you take in information in multiple environments. Scientists aren't exactly sure why, but it has something to do with enriching the information and making associations with multiple sets of stimuli (encoding the information deeper).[9] At home, at the library, it's all good!
    • If you can study where you take the test, do so. If you've heard of context-dependent memory, you know what this is about. Your brain is more likely to remember information in the environment it learned it in.[10] So if you can bring your study group into the classroom, do it!
    • Avoid getting distracted by your environment and use background noise to block out distracting noises.
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    Take breaks during your study time. Whether your study period is at home or at school, make sure you take some time off of your notes. Get a drink of water or walk or grab a snack. But be sure your break is only a few minutes, about 5-10. Don't make it too long, or you'll set off task and won't study!
    • Remember, you're only taking a break because your brain needs to set the information it's already ingested. Your attention will improve, and your recall will be much, much better. You're not slacking -- you're simply studying the best way for your brain.[11]
    • Use your breaks to stand up and go for a walk. Go out and get some fresh air, your brain needs oxygen in order to perform best.
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    Go for power foods. Recent research has shown that cocoa is superfood for the brain. Dark chocolate has a similar effect, but make sure it's over 70% cocoa. So grab that cuppa or that bar and feel guilt-free![12]
    • Coffee and tea -- a little bit of caffeine -- doesn't hurt either.[7] Staying energized is a big part of absorbing information. Just don't go overboard and crash a few hours later!
    • Fish, nuts, and olive oil (all things high in Omega-3s) are also brain super foods. Have the meal before your test high in these and your brain will be ready and raring to go.[7]
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    Make it fun. Write the information on note cards and then decorate them. Make sure the cards do not have a whole essay of information or they'll be impossible to decipher. You can quiz yourself, others, and work with them as you're waiting for the bus, walking to class, or just killing time.
    • You're also more likely to remember something if you associate it with a crazy story.[13] Trying to remember that the only war that took place during one president's term was WWI and it was Woodrow Wilson? Well, Woody's initials are WW, so imagine him on top of the world with one of those giant foam fingers. Or one giant Wilson volleyball, painted to look like the Earth, bouncing between the US and Germany. You know, whichever.
    • Graphs and pictures are much easier to remember than boring, drawn-out sentences. If you can make it more interactive and visually pleasing, do so. It'll pay off.
    • Use mnemonic devices too! Your brain can only remember so many things (the magic number is 7, it seems), so if you can lump a whole bunch of information into one word (think Roy G. Biv), you'll be able to maximize your memory.[7]
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    Separate the content into parts. The easiest way to do this will be with your handy highlighters. Use yellow for vocab terms, pink for dates, blue for stats, etc. When you're studying, take time to hit all the different types of information, so you brain doesn't saturate with numbers, dates, or hard-to-process information. You wouldn't practice basketball by shooting lay-ups all day, would you?
    • That way, when you study, it should be fairly easy to see the larger concepts versus the finer details. When you're scanning, just focus on the big stuff. When you're really getting into it, delve into the details.
    • Studying different types of material in one session has shown to leave deeper, longer-lasting impression on the brain. It's the same reason musicians do scales, pieces, and rhythmic work and athletes do strength, speed, and skill drills. So in one afternoon, attack all those colors![9]

Method 3
Reducing Test Anxiety

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    Take a pre-test. This is useful for two reasons: A) You'll be less nervous when the actual test rolls around (which can be rather detrimental to your grade) and B) you'll do better. A recent study at UC Berkeley showed that students who were tested on information they just learned actually did better than those who were asked to document what they were learning.[14]
    • So write up a pre-test and have your friend do the same! Then you can grade it for each other and reap the benefits. And if you can get your study group in on it, all the better. The more real it feels, the more prepared you'll feel and be when test day arrives.
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    Review that morning -- if it calms your nerves. This is good for the exact same two reasons as stated in the previous step. You want to be as calm and relaxed as possible, and reviewing right before the test will do that. What's more, you'll retain the information (remember how the brain is clearer right when you wake up?). So on your way to class, whip out those flashcards for the last time.
    • Only hit up the simple stuff (only revise simple concepts). Trying to wrap your brain around the large, difficult concepts when you have ten minutes on your walk won't do you any favors. You'll end up psyching yourself out -- the opposite effect of what you want! Just prime your brain for the content.
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    Get in the zone before class. Some people go so far as to meditate before class. Yoga helps, too! Anything that relaxes your breathing and gets you in the zone will be helpful. What would get you in the right place?
    • Consider listening to classical music. Though it doesn't make you smarter like some people (used to) believe, it can improve your memory. If you want to get super specific, listen to music that's 60 BPM. That's when the benefits will be highest. [15]
    • Natural background noise generators that let you play rain, wind, water or a calm fire crackling have the same beneficial effect and help you getting in the zone.
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    Show up early. If you're running, running, running, you'll be stressed out, even if you know your stuff. Show up early, get out your materials, ask a friend questions (and have them do the same), slip in some gum, and settle in. It's time to rock this bad boy.
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    Do the easy questions first. An easy way to get stressed out and lose your cool is to focus on questions you don't know the answers to. You start worrying about the clock and thinking about how you didn't study enough. Don't fall into the trap -- move on to what you do know. Then you can hit the hard stuff dead on.
    • The more time you spend on a question, the more time you risk second guessing yourself. You want to trust your intuitions. You worked hard! Never doubt yourself.Ensure that you revisit your work afterwards

Study Tips and Tricks


  • Every weekend take home your notes and for each course/subject make a summary of all the notes taken that week. When exam time comes, you'll be ahead of the game with pre-made notes.
  • Drink plenty of water, eat plenty of food and have plenty of sleep so you will have more energy during the test. Stomach rumblings can be awfully distracting.
  • Make sure you reread and explain everything. This is especially important when studying for a math test.
  • Don't exhaust your brain. Take short breaks when you need to.
  • Get a good nights sleep and you will be more refreshed. If you have time, go take a shower, listen to music, or look over the flashcards. If you made some, if not look at your copy of the notes. Drink water and don't have sugary foods because by the time the test came around you would be full of energy and wouldn't want to sit down.
  • Make flashcards and turn them into a fun game. Studying does not have to be boring!
  • Take it one concept at a time, hitting the hardest first. Then, quiz yourself. Try to make the questions harder than the actual test questions.
  • Every night, once you have studied enough, reward yourself later. Play some video games or have a special treat.
  • When you read through your notes, take 3 different colors. They can be highlighters, pens, markers, colored pencils, etc. but highlighters are easiest to use. Highlight section titles in one color, vocabulary or important words with another, and any other important information with the last color. This should help you focus on what you need to know.
  • Read aloud while revising.
  • After you finish reading a paragraph or so, make a mind map of all the things you can recollect and check whether all points are mentioned. If not, mark the points you forgot as important, as you are likely to forget them in the future.
  • Every time you study, chew a specific flavor of gum. When you take that test, chew the same flavour of gum. It will help you remember what you studied.
  • Find soft classical music that you can have "floating" in the background while you study. This helps lower stress and helps your mind process the information better.
  • If you are on a little trip, be sure to take your study materials with you so you can study whenever you have time.
  • Date your notes. Being able to find the information from last Tuesday's lecture easily will save you time.[16]


  • Do not wait until the last minute to study. Studying the night before can get your brain too tired, and during the test, you will forget every bit of information you've collected during your study time.
  • If you worry, you will feel less confident about the test. Try not to stress; it's just one test. One out of too many!

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Categories: Tests and Exams