Studying for tests is something that even top students dread. Tests require more than basic understanding of the material; they require retention of specific information. This guide is intended to help students avoid wasting time with study methods that cost too much time and rarely yield the desired results.
Studying Before the Last Minute
Studying over a long period of time, rather than cramming at the last minute, improves retention of information. This has been shown by many psychological studies, and is a very important key to success on tests (Cepeda et al, 2009).
Waiting until the last minute to study may help a student on some tests, but this approach falls flat when cumulative final exams come. Also, most tests that occur after the beginning of the semester involve material that builds on past knowledge. Students can save themselves a lot of time by maintaining a steady work ethic over time.
Determining the Most Important Topics Before Studying
To make study times efficient, students should determine ahead of time the topics that must be covered in a study session. Many students aimlessly wander through study materials for hours only to find that they miss major subjects that appear on the test. This pitfall can be easily avoided by considering which subjects occupied the majority of lectures and readings. Most test questions do not ask about irrelevant minutia.
It is also important for students to be aware of their weaknesses in understanding or retention of certain topics and to spend extra time on those topics.
Moving Beyond Rote Rehearsal
To best retain information, students should not simply repeat definitions, dates, and names. Rather, they should be aware of the meanings of these things and make relevant connections. This is known as elaborative rehearsal, and has been shown to improve recollection (Gardiner, Gladwick & Richardson, 1994).
It is important to remember that the goal of a test is to assess one’s understanding, not one’s ability to regurgitate dates and definitions.
Being Willing to Ask Questions
In the time leading up to the test, students are free to use any necessary resources in learning the material, including professors and classmates. However, many add to their work load by attempting to find the answers to all their questions alone.
Often, students do not ask questions because they fear asking stupid questions and appearing unintelligent. But being willing to ask questions will save time and effort, and students who pay attention and stay on schedule with class assignments usually ask good questions.
Students should realize what needs to be studied most; they should study over time using elaborative rehearsal, and they should be willing to ask questions. These simple methods, which are supported by psychological research, will help students study efficiently and effectively.
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