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5 Tips for Acing Tests at University

January 16, 2020

For some university students, consistently acing tests or exams may seem impossible. Studying in itself can be arduous, and just the suggestion of a test may spur anxiety. Yet, tests are inevitable aspects of university, and the sooner you embrace that fact, the better you can perform in your classes. Fortunately, there are a few strategies you can use to become a better test-taker and score your best. Discover some practical approaches below.

Plan for Predictable Possibilities

University exams often contain predictable components. For example, most exams contain an essay, short answer section, and critical thinking questions. These are test components that require more time and thought than multiple choice questions. They’re also the areas where most students struggle. You can prevent failure by planning ahead for these exam components. Since most professors provide essay and short answer prompts prior to the exam, outline your answers to them during the study process. Additionally, make lists of questions that could possibly appear on your exams. These lists can be used to create flashcards for faster, easier studying. Quizzing yourself using flashcards is simple and one of the best ways to retain material.

Divide Major Concepts into Smaller Ones

Some major concepts or topics, such as WWII, have so much information to cover that studying them will feel daunting. To approach these complex topics, simply divide them into smaller ones. Try dividing them using only the most important concepts covered in class and in the textbook. Then, after narrowing the topic down to the most important points, study each point individually. Focusing on one concept or group of material at a time makes studying a broad topic less intimidating. It can also make it easier to retain and recall that information later. Highlight important sections or details for each smaller topic and create or find relevant questions for the material. Remember, most textbooks provide questions and answers for important topics. These questions could also act as a study guide. Just be sure you’re incorporating material from your class notes, too.

Learn the Test’s Structure

Knowing a test’s general structure can help with studying and test preparation. In some cases, professors are more than willing to share this information. If possible, consider asking about the test’s:

  • Format: The format refers to the test’s layout or how the questions will be structured. It also refers to the types of questions that will be asked on the test (i.e. multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, true/false, short answer or essay questions, or a mixture of multiple types).
  • Duration and procedure: This refers to how long the test will be, as well as how much time you’ll have to complete certain sections. Procedural information refers to how the test will be administered and covers any rules you must follow before, during, and after the test (for example, which type of calculator you’ll be permitted to use for a math exam).
  • Topics: The topics are simply the concepts and/or chapters covered on the test.

Although most of this information is typically covered in class prompts, it never hurts to ask. Your professor may be able to provide some additional information or tips that could help you prepare.

Study Every Day Before the Test

To ensure you learn and retain as much information as possible, start studying at least a week before a major test. Spreading your review out across a week will prevent exhaustion and cramming. It will also leave you enough time to create an intelligent study plan. With a good plan in place, you shouldn’t feel overwhelmed or stressed, which is important since minimizing stress will help you retain and recall information. Identify the toughest concepts to grasp or personal areas of weakness, and plan to study those concepts first and most often. Of course, concepts that are easier to understand or recall should be studied later, too.

Review Key Concepts Right Before the Test

Reviewing key concepts just before a test can improve your memory and boost your confidence. Grab a buddy and  use flashcards to quiz yourself a few times before the test starts. Going over the material refreshes your memory and prepares your mind for critical thinking and the challenge ahead.

Of course, where you choose to study is as important as how you study. For instance, our St. Catharines student housing provides residents with the option to study in the privacy of their own rooms or in one of our study rooms. When choosing a place to study, just be sure it’s free of distractions and stow your mobile devices if you’re tempted to surf the web instead of focusing on the task at hand.

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