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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

7 Best Study Strategies For Dominating That Test


Studying is a skill that most students really suck at. Even the most successful students usually miss the most important factors in learning everything you need to learn for that test. Most students end up just throwing more time into studying while hoping it improves their grades somehow. The truth is, that's one of the least effective ways to improve your test scores.

The best study strategies involve managing the individual tests and your own psychology. Professors don't like presenting the strategies taught in this article because these strategies don't fit with the classic, “work hard to succeed” narrative that school try and fail to shove down student's throats. These strategies can make taking tests one of the easiest parts of your day without requiring any massive investment of time.

1. Limit Your Study Time


The number one problem students have in studying is spending too much time doing it. I know that sounds insane but it's completely true. Virtually every student that studies at all, studies too much. If you're studying right, 20 minutes of studying should wear you out in a good way. If you invest any more than 20 minutes in studying per sitting then you're probably doing something wrong.

Studying too long usually means that your brain isn't actually memorizing much. Most people let their brains phase in and out of study mode while they're supposed to be studying. One second they're thinking about Lincolns assassination and then they're wondering why they love guacamole but hate avocados. That is not productive studying. Other people lose their productivity by throwing on music or talking to friends while studying.

All those activities are doing is increasing the time it takes for you to study. It's better to study focused for less time than unfocused for more time. While it may sound a little bit counter intuitive, one of the best study strategies is to just reduce the amount of time you study.


2. Don't Study If You Don't Have To


Some tests don't require studying. Unless you're fighting for that scholarship and need to ace every test, do not study for easy tests. Whenever you study when it's not required, you train yourself to relax during studying. If you know you'll do great but sit down anyway, it will take significantly more discipline to focus hard on studying. If you get out of your good study habits then it ends up hurting every single test you take in the future. It's not worth it. Study when you need it and no more.

There are some tests that you might choose to study for in the last minute. I don't recommend last night all-nighters but I am a big advocate for last ten minute cram sessions. Right before class begins you can tear through study sessions more effectively than ever. While you may not be able to get away with it for most large tests, many small tests can become no brainers if you wait until the last minute. The best part of this study strategy is it encourages effective studying. Always study like you have only minutes left to study.

Take note that the first two top study strategies focus on working smarter instead of harder. 

How do you know when studying is required and when it isn't? Number 3 addresses that problem.


3. Know Your Tests


Most students can radically improve their grades by thinking about their general test strategies. Every test is different. There is no magical piece of advice that can apply to every professor and every test but no matter what a professor does, there is always a way to benefit from it. No one knows the tests your teachers give better than you. Use that information to pick and choose the right study methods for that class. This probably sounds pretty boring but imagine this:

Compare your teachers old study guides to their old tests. How closely does the teachers test match their study guide? I've seen teachers match study guides they provide question for question. I've also seen the opposite where using the study guide to study would have been a complete waste of time. It usually comes down to the teachers preference. Once you know the teachers adherence to the study guide, you may be able to eliminate 90% of the material you would have had to study.

Using the resources you're provided, there are always a few tricks of the trade that will bump your grade 5 or 10 points without a second more of studying. That makes it one of the best study strategies while being regularly overlooked.

4. Don't Memorize Much


Straight up memorization is difficult. While a few people are great at it, most will always end up struggling. That's why I always recommend eliminating information that you need to study before studying. Most students spend most of their study time studying information that they don't need to know for the test. Not only is that a waste of time but it's completely discouraging when test time comes.

Before you try and memorize anything, try to find specific reasons why you'd need the information. Is the information listed on the study guide? If not, don't waste 20 minutes trying to lock it in your brain. It's probably not on the test. If it is on the test, it's probably not worth all that much if you haven't heard you needed it.

Many students look to gain every single point they can possibly get. That strategy encourages you to focus on millions of tiny details that no one could ever predict. Forget about that. Focus on the obvious points to study for. Accept that you'll lose a few points here and there for the details. Overall, your score will end up higher for it. 

Really... One of the best study strategies is to not need to study it in the first place.


5. Don't Study. Recall.


This point is mostly a play on words but it's absolutely essential you get the point. Most students sit down with their textbook to read and assume they're studying. I've never considered that studying because it's usually very inconsequential in the final test score. When you really want to have an impact on your score you should spend less time with that kind of studying and more time with recall.

Recall is actually remembering the information you studied. Spend at least as much time recalling as reading. Flash cards are the classic example of recalling. When you have flash cards, you either know the information or you don't. It makes you dig in the same part of your brain as you'll be digging from during the test. When you're reading, you may be memorizing some of it but it's impossible to know what stuck and what didn't.

The best study methods require this become a natural habit.

6. No-Stress


I don't care what you have to do to make it work but this is one of the most powerful skills you can learn. Listen to some mellow music. Try meditation. Distract yourself. Do whatever you have to do to not worry about the test.

Worrying about the test is horrible for many different reasons. To list a few:

First of all, when you worry about the test you can't memorize as well. Worry was designed for running away from tigers, not remembering random facts.

Second, worrying encourages procrastination. No one wants to do something that they have to worry about.

Third, when you finally get the test, you won't be able to take it effectively. You'll be stuck in the same habit of thinking about the test and worrying. You'll be too worried to remember anything important.

Virtually every student can increase their scores by 5-10% by just becoming more laid back about the test. This comes down to using the best study skills you've got as effectively as you can.

7. Make The Choice


Laid back is good about the specific tests but never become complacent with your test taking strategies. While you may be able to pass your tests easily now, there will always be harder tests in the future. When you become complacent you will start to make mistakes. You may end up focusing a little less during your study times or you might stop looking out for opportunities to improve.

You'll recognize when this happens.

When it does happen, you have to make a choice. Do you want to get even better or do you just want to survive the rest of your schooling? I can understand why you'd choose either.

Why do I consider this one of the best study strategies?

Many students never take the chance to ask these questions and they end up making mistakes. When tests become easy, the excess time and score can get you distracted from your goals. You need to know what you're looking for when the time comes. Why are you studying for these tests at all? Are you looking to pass the course or make a career out of the information you learn?

Once you start to answer these questions you're able to focus your energy into the most important directions for your life.


These are the 7 best study strategies ranked in no particular order. Some of them are more important for some people than others. Look at your personal test taking problem areas and act accordingly. If you're the kind of student that sweats through their shirt on test day then you will see the most results from number 6. If you're the kind of student that studies for hours on end then try number one out and everything else tends to falls into place. The best study strategy for you is the one that you need most.



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