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Friday, February 21, 2014

How To Pass Any Test (Easily)

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Taking tests can be terrifying. You never know exactly what's going to be on any particular test and most of the study habits people are taught as children are downright wrong. 

Teachers have been telling struggling students to study more, try harder, and pay more attention for years but that advice is bull. Really... This is a teacher's way of saying they don't care enough to find the real problem. 

Studying more doesn't always improve grades. Trying harder, when you're already making an effort, can often lead to excess stress which just kills the grade more. A teacher telling a student to pay more attention is just an admission that they don't know how to stay interesting in class.

Learning how to pass any test is not a difficult thing to do. It's not taught in school because it doesn't fit the traditional education narrative. You might even get the impression that these are a set of secret strategies employed by all the highly successful slackers out there.

Too many students are getting suckered into a culture that encourages work without considering results. When you learn to get more done in less time, you get to do more. You can tutor yourself into making test taking time easy. Many times, you don't even have to study for exams. All you have to do is keep a close eye on the test requirements and know your own limitations.


Scouting A Test


At least a week before any test, you need to be looking at all the information you can find on the test. If it's a standardized test then look it up online. If you have study guides then look them over. If the teacher ever starts to talk about the test, you clean your ears and listen close.

Teachers have a bias in this situation. Teachers look bad when students fail their tests. That means that teachers regularly give away all the information required to pass the test. They may give you multiple chapters worth of dense textbook to read but after you scout the specific information you can narrow it down to pages.

Your first goal in preparing for any test should be elimination. Studying can be stressful. The more information you're able to eliminate from your study session, the better you're going to perform on the test. Students that just sit down with their textbooks to study everything usually struggle the most with the test. It's better to figure out what you know you need to know and focus on that.

Sometimes, this will lead you to missing one test answer that comes out of the blue. That's okay. You're sacrificing one hard point for tons and tons of easy ones. Unless you're looking for a perfect score, you don't need to worry about the information that you couldn't have predicted in advance.

Study Sessions

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I absolutely hate when people say to study more.

That is the absolute worst possible advice in 9 out of 10 cases. Do you study? If you study then you're not studying too little. You're probably just studying with bad habits. First of all, you should not be studying more than an hour a day. NEVER. Don't even do it before a big test.

If you're studying right then after 20 minutes of studying you'll be worn out. Any more studying after that produces diminishing results while encouraging you to develop poor study habits. Worn out studying is a mistake. It's better to study with better habits for less time than with worse habits for longer.

One of the most effective ways of studying is creating multiple short sessions for studying instead of one long one. Your mind needs time to process the information you're trying to remember. Give it that time before loading more information in there.

During those study sessions, remember that reading is not studying. Studying requires recall of the information. Flash cards are a great example of this. Just reading information can help information stick but if you're not 100% engaged in the moment then it's wasted. You can't get away without recall on flash cards. You either remember it or you don't. The recall is the important and stressful part of studying.

Also, never study distracted. When you're studying, do not IM friends. Do not listen to music. Do not daydream. Make sure you have plenty of privacy and quiet. You need to only study. I understand that can be difficult. If you have to then cut your study times down dramatically. Focused study for less time is better than unfocused study for longer. Make it 5 minutes if you have to.

One of the most important reasons to study this way is habit. At first you might not get much out of it but over time you're going to train your brain to study faster. When you concentrate 100% on studying, your brain gets better at it with new habits. Whenever you let yourself get distracted you get out of the habits that let you study fast. Study or don't study. Don't just pretend to study.

What about that test you didn't prepare for tomorrow?

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Do not break the study habit by trying to cram. It's a waste of your time. You
may gain a few points but it's just going to encourage you to make the same mistake in the future.
Study less than an hour in multiple sessions during that period of time. Take enough breaks to know you're not stressing. After that accept that is all you can do. 
The real problem isn't the few points you lose by not studying enough tonight. The real problem is that boatload of points you already lost by not starting your studying a week ago.

What if you don't think you need to study for a test?

Well, if you scouted the test properly then you know better than I do. If you're wrong, it's going to end up biting you but that's a risk that you need to decide you take yourself. There are many of tests that you don't ever need to study for. You probably will end up with a slightly lower grade but it can be very motivating to pass without ever picking up a textbook.

Test Taking Time


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When you're thinking about how to pass any test, the most important factor is not study habits. Yes, study habits are a massive portion of the final grade but most people don't even need to study to pass any test. The vast majority of testing points comes down to a persons ability to manage the test in their own heads.

Stress will completely destroy your final score. You can have all the answers locked up somewhere in your brain but they do absolutely no good without your brain being in shape to find them. Getting worried was intended to let you run from tigers, not to help you find answers tucked away in the nooks and crannies of your brain.

Keeping the stress down usually just requires you keep a clear perspective on every test you take. There is nothing life threatening about failing a test. If you studied enough, there is nothing else you can do anyway. If you studied too little then you're just going to stress out worse if you worry about it. When test time comes, your score has been decided before you even answer the first question.

During the test, if you don't know an answer, skip it until the end. Fighting over a difficult problem can ruin stress levels for the rest of the test.
Don't feel the need to keep stressing about a problem you don't know the answer to for the whole duration of the test. I test take by this philosophy: I either know it or I don't. Almost knowing an answer doesn't count. Every second you stress out trying to find an answer is a second you're learning to stress out during tests. You won't remember the 25 minutes of breezing through the easy answers. All you'll remember is the one answer you spent 10 minutes on to still not get right.

If you use the strategies taught in this article, your grade will surprise you. You can often get away with studying significantly less while improving your grades. You don't need a tutor. You don't need a drug. You don't even have to spend all that much time really trying. You just need to figure out the test or exam, study with the right habits for not too long, and then let yourself pass the test without pulling your hair out.


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