Preparing for Tests

Studying for a test begins the moment you first open your textbook or take notes in a course. All lecture notes, reading notes, and textual markings should be set up to help you review for tests efficiently. If you get in the habit of reviewing class notes daily and weekly, then you will have seen the material four times (reading, lecture, daily review, weekly review) before studying intensively for a test.

Predict Test Questions

Tests from earlier in the quarter are the best source of information. What subjects did the professor test you on? Which did they omit? What kind of question was asked (objective, short answer, essay, application)? Is the professor more interested in detail, main principles or both?

Other sources of information include:

  • The professor's hints in class ("The most important point is ..." ; "This will be on the test.").
  • The way the professor presents material. Do they spend a lot of time comparing and contrasting political figures, theories, etc.? Expect a compare/contrast question on the test.
  • The teaching assistant's instructions during quiz section.
  • Study sheets provided by your professor.
  • Review sessions provided by the professor or TA.

Review Your Graded Tests

It is important to figure out why you got a wrong answer. Try to reconstruct your thought process. What led you to choose the wrong answer? On an objective test, if you wavered between two answers, and then chose the wrong one, why did that happen? What would you have needed to know to choose the right one? Do you need to change the way you study for the next test?

Look for patterns. Do you always miss the same kind of problem? If you aren't sure why you're getting things wrong, ask your professor to help you figure it out, or discuss it with a study partner or friend.

When You Study

  • Make a study guide. List the topics you need to review and organize the material that covers each topic.
  • Review your notes and textbook.
  • Review material topic by topic. Synthesize information from diverse sources. Outline answers to possible test questions.
  • Use study aids such as organizational charts, graphs, summary sheets, vocabulary sheets, and flash cards.
  • To help your memory, recite the information you are learning, perhaps by reading an organizational chart aloud, or by writing a summary and then reading it aloud, or by simply summarizing as you speak.

Strategies for Different Types of Exams

  • Study groups are very helpful when preparing for exams. You master something by teaching it to others.
  • Essay exams: predict questions, make study sheets, outline answers, memorize outlines.
  • Objective exams: learn important concepts in each unit and memorize facts.
  • Problem-solving exams: list different types of problems; work examples of each type, outlining each step of the solution and explaining the principles involved.
  • Open-book exams: organize your materials so it's easy to look things up. Then study as for any other exam.
  • Take-home exams: work out a schedule; map or outline an answer, synthesizing from various course materials; draft your answer; revise.
  • Performance tests: have short, frequent practices.

Adapted from Active Learning: A Study Skills Worktext by Rory Donnelly (1990).