Study skills and Test Taking Strategies for High School, College and University. Posted in Calgary.
Tips to sharpen your study skills and improve your test taking strategies.
There’s at least 7 steps to developing good study skills:
- Planned study times – a major component of test anxiety is lack of preparation and a lack of confidence that one has truly studied.
- Ensure you learn to take efficient notes in class and from texts.
- Study skills include effective review of notes and memorizing of information.
- Use of mnemonic devices to summarize notes.
- Settling self prior to an exam – relaxation and visualization of success.
- Anxiety management – this is not a life and death situation.
- Good test taking strategies.
Tip 1: Setting planned study times.
Good study skills means study time must be treated like a job. Turn off your mobile during your work time- really, you have to do this even if it creates anxiety! The world won’t fall apart if you’re off-line for 2 hours. Once started, you can’t be distracted by personal business or social activities. Take a coffee break or stretch break same as you would at work; schedule 10 or 15 minutes break time but then back to work at the end of the break.
Decide how much time you are willing to devote to an upcoming exam – say 6 hours. Divide that time up over your study days – say 2 hours a day for three days. Try to set specific times to study, but at the least set the latest time in the day you can start. Don’t study late at night. You’ll run out of time or be too tired to absorb the material. Try not to study one topic more than 2 hours. You’ll just lose focus and end up taking 4 hours to do 2 hours of studying. You’d be better to study for 2 hours and take time off to relax, rather than study inefficiently for long periods.
a place to work where you can study and not be distracted. It may be
easier to study at the library rather than sitting in your room where
there’s too many distractions.
Once you’ve put in your hours of study you can take the exam confidently knowing you’re well prepared, used your study skills and have put in sufficient time. The exam is merely an opportunity to test your knowledge.
Consider blocking off time after each class to review notes and work on homework while information is still fresh. This is a great study skills for math classes where immediate use of the knowledge to solve problems will solidify new learning.
Tip 2: Taking notes efficiently is part of good study skills.
Attending lectures without taking notes is a waste of time. Very little information about the lecture or presentation will be recalled even a few days later. During lectures and while reading textbooks develop good study skills by making use of your time by taking notes. Don’t just highlight information. Writing and listening allows you to store the information in two modalities and forces you to really listen and comprehend.
After reading every page or two in the text or in notes handed out by the instructor, make a few notes of your own summarizing the key points in the material you just read. When you stop to make notes, don’t just re-write what’s in the text. Ask yourself if you were the instructor, what questions would you ask your students based on the last two pages? Put the answer in your notes. At the very least, paraphrase the text with your understanding of the material. This forces you to think about the content and not just copy sentences. If information can be itemized such as five key points or 6 different theories, list these points in your notes with numbers, rather than just writing long paragraphs.
By exam time, you should have separate sets of notes for each textbook or handout and a set for lectures. Don’t mix them all up. Keep them organized and well ordered in a binder.
Tip 3: Summarizing Your Notes
Good study skills means you go back over your notes but this time try to summarize the key point in point form. Not everything can be summarized into key points, but many things can. Even a novel may be summarized with the points that the author might have been portraying or perhaps the motives which influenced the characters (for example: jealousy, anxiety, manipulation, sabotage, etc). Turn these points into a mnemonic device such as a short word using all the first letters of the key points. In the above example, this becomes the JAMS novel. All you need to remember the key points is the acronym JAMS. Visualizing broken jars of jam smeared all over the novel sitting on your kitchen table will solidify your recall of the acronym in a test situation. Each letter stimulates quick recall of the four key elements of the story, and each word in turn should cue you to quick recall of other information and points that you’ve studied or reviewed from your notes.
you identify a number of acronyms which summarize your notes, put
them on a small card. Perhaps you can even make up a sentence
containing the acronyms so they too are easy to remember. The night
before your exam, ensure you know the acronyms and what each letter
stands for. Read them out loud without looking at the answers! You
can take the card to the exam if you wish, putting it away as soon as
the exam is handed out. As soon as you get the exam, write out the
acronyms on the back of the exam and write out what each letter
stands for. You now have much of your exam material “encoded” on
the back of your exam! This will reduce your anxiety and help
prevent yourself from blocking on material when you read a question
later in the exam.
margins of your notes put in key words that will cue you to the
larger content of the notes.
Tip 4: Reviewing Your Notes Before the Exam
There’s more to good study skills than just re-reading and summarizing notes and identifying acronyms.
When you’re re-reading and summarizing your notes you may have felt confident you know the material. It all seems familiar and and easy to recall when you’re reading. But re-reading notes is not a test of your recall. It’s only a test of your recognition memory. It’s easy to recall information after you see it, but that won’t help you on an exam.
To solidify your recall of the material, you have to practice recalling it with minimal cues. This is when the real studying begins. Read one page of your notes, turn the page over, and see if you can recall everything on that page. Talk out loud to solidify your memory. Simply recalling the material in your head won’t be sufficient. When you talk in your head, you skip steps, and you may not really be able to explain the material when it comes time to write out an answer. If you can explain out loud what’s on the page, you’ll feel confident that you really do know the material
Once you’ve gone through your notes reviewing each page, go back again but this time glance at the first few words on your page of notes, turn the page over, and see if you can summarize the key points out loud without looking at your notes.
Review your notes one last time, again trying to only glance at the page.
You should then quickly recall the key words you have listed in the margin and, if you have made up an acronym for that page, you should be able to easily recall it. Best time to do this final studying is right before you go to sleep. Your brain will consolidate the information while you sleep. Once you can do this, you’re well prepared for the exam.
If you study with others, consider each person taking responsibility to review, summarize, and then teach one section or unit. Having to teach others is the best way of memorizing the material.
Tip 5: Settling yourself prior to an exam. Relaxation and visualization of success.
A simple but effective study skill is to arrive at an exam with plenty of time to spare – say ½ hour. If you rush to the exam you only create anxiety for yourself which you’ll then misinterpret as test anxiety. Eat a small meal of something nutritious for breakfast or lunch. Some protein and carbohydrate is a good idea. Bring a bottle of water and ensure you have all your supplies before you arrive for the exam. Find a place to relax prior to the exam. A study carrel is good. Talking to other students will only hype your anxiety about the exam.
Close your eyes in the study carrel, relax your muscles by checking each muscle group to ensure they are loose. Start at your head and work down, relaxing the eyes, jaw, lips, shoulders, arms hands, etc. Loosen up each muscle group so you are relaxed like a rag doll. Then visualize yourself walking tall and confidently into the exam room being loose and confident. You’re calm and feel powerful and in control. You’re there to share your knowledge and not to be tested or examined. The instructor is a speck beneath you. You’re well prepared. What you once thought was anxiety is now a feeling of excitement and anticipation of getting started on a personal challenge. Wipe out any thoughts of competition or challengers or what others are doing. You’re not competing; you’re there to answer the questions you know. Questions you have no answer for are of no concern. You’re there to answer the questions you can. Visualize yourself writing your answers, handing in your test, and confidently leaving the room. Double check throughout this visualization that your muscles are relaxed. If your heart speeds up, remind yourself this is anticipation and it will soon slow.
Don’t fall asleep or lose track of time! You don’t want to waste all those study skills! Set a timer on your phone if you need to!
the card with your acronyms, then and head to class. Other than
reviewing acronyms, don’t try to review material in your head or
study in the last half-hour before the exam.
Tip 6: Managing test anxiety is part of study skills.
Managing anxiety is an important part of study skills and test taking strategy. Anxiety may increase if we are unprepared, but also if we listen to self-talk that induces panic. Confidence includes the belief that one can deal with failure or cope with the consequences of performing less well than expected. Thoughts which may increase anxiety include:
failure – I won’t do well, I’m stupid, I’ll blank out….etc.
the consequences of failure – I’m useless if I fail, I won’t
survive without this course, failure is not an option, etc.
unrealistic expectations on ourselves or focusing on “imperative
thinking” – I can’t drop this course, I have to get 90%, I have
to be … etc.
positive self talk and recognize you will survive or will cope if you
don’t do as well as expected. Counselling can help with this
Tip 7: Test Taking Strategies. – Being “Test Wise”.
Write out your acronyms and what they mean as soon as you get your test paper. Write down any numbers, formulas, or specific facts you might be asked about but might blank on when you see the question.
all directions carefully. Look at the value or marks assigned to
each question and allocate your time accordingly. Plan to leave time
for review at the end, if at all possible.
multiple choice, read and consider all alternative answers. Don’t
just pick the first one that looks correct. Evaluate each alternative
answer as true or false.
correct answer is apt to be more complete and therefore longer than
the alternatives. Consider carefully any answers which are longer.
Wrong answers may not flow from the question or may have the wrong
tense or perhaps be plural when it should be singular. Read the
question and answer sub-vocally to decide if it “sounds right”.
there is no penalty for wrong answers, guess. Even if there is a
penalty, if one or more alternatives can be eliminated, guess. Star
the question you guessed on, so you can go back to it later and spend
more time on it,
dwell too long on difficult items. Answer or guess, star it, and move
on. Put your time into answering questions you know, not those you
answer questions if you run out of time.
you’ve finished, take a few minutes to review your answer sheet and
ensure no question is answered twice or a line skipped accidentally.
Make sure the bubble you’re filling in is the right one for each
question. When answering multiple choice questions, try to develop a
habit to check every 10th
question or so, that the question number and the answer numbers
you have time, go back and review starred answers. If you still have
time, review the entire test slowly, checking or changing your
answers. Information contained in later questions may have given you
the answer to earlier questions.
The myth that your first answer is likely to be correct is false.
Research indicates that changing answers results in higher test
may be helpful to do essay questions first, especially if they are
worth a lot of points. It’s easier to rush through multiple choice
than to rush an essay. On the other hand, it’s easy to get bogged
down on an essay and cut yourself short for the multiple choice.
Allocating your time gets easier with experience.
essay questions, it is usually wise to express opinions similar to
those of the instructor. You look very knowledgeable if you quote
books and articles or give examples to back up your opinions. Write
assertively, not tentatively. If you’re really stuck, try
re-phrasing the question to something you can answer. You’re better
to write knowledgeably on a slightly altered topic, than to hand in
an essay with little or no real content.
yourself in the shoes of the instructor. What do they want you to
tell them in the essay? Don’t try to impress them with your new
ideas. They want to know you understand the issues covered in class
and are familiar with key arguments and ideas.
The study skills outlined above apply to high school and post-secondary students. For help teaching 8-12 year olds study skills and ways to focus on their homework, check out the Life Skills 4 My Family Program.
This program was developed in Calgary by David Ricketts, Ph.D and teaches both parents and children critical life skills including very structured ways to help children tackle homework independently, fight off distraction, and defeat procrastination.