10 Tips for Better Test Preparation

The most important thing you can do for success in college is developing good test-taking preparation skills and habits. Use these 10 key test prep tips.

One of the most important skills to learn in college is how you can best prepare for tests and exams. It's important you find the methods that best work for you -- because everyone learns differently. How do you find the right way to prepare?

Review these 10 tips for better test preparation and use the ones that best fit your academic and learning style.

1. Start Early.
Cramming the night before a test may have worked in high school, but this method will fail you in college. Instead, start studying intently as early as a week before the scheduled exam. (You should, of course, be studying every day between tests, but the vast majority of us do not have the time for this luxury.) The key here is building knowledge momentum leading to the exam day.

2. Dedicate Time to Studying.
It makes no sense to start early if you don't actually use the time for studying. The best students dedicate a block of time to studying -- and having that consistent time earmarked each day helps you avoid other distractions and gives you a reason to turn away requests of your time.

3. Find the Ideal Study Atmosphere.
Besides having a regular study time, it's also important to find the ideal place/atmosphere to study. For some students, the quiet of the library is ideal; for others, it's in their dorms/apartments with their music playing. Find the situation that works best for you based on your learning preferences.

4. Know What to Expect on the Exam.
Studying for a multiple-choice exam is different than studying for an essay exam. Make sure you know the types of questions your professor uses on his/her exams. If not listed on the syllabus, ask the professor for more details.

5. Review Learning Objectives.
Many professors discuss key learning objectives at the beginning of a new section of the course, and most textbooks also list learning objectives at the beginning of each chapter. Use these learning objectives as a foundation for your studying and level of understanding necessary for the exam.

6. Seek Clarity When Uncertain.
If you come across material while studying that is contradictory or confusing, raise the issue with your professor for clarity. Not only will asking the question help you better understand the material (and in theory perform better on the test), asking the question will show the professor your dedication to learning the material.

7. Attend Review Sessions.
If your professor regularly holds review sessions before an exam, make all attempts to attend it -- even if you are confident about the material. Review sessions are an excellent chance to ask key questions, clarify issues, and observe what the professor sees as the most important material. Occasionally, professors even let slip hints about specific elements of the upcoming exam.

8. Consider a Mock Exam.
If you have taken the time to prepare slowly for the exam, one final preparation method that some of the best students use is to take a practice exam a day or two before the actual exam. You can obtain a practice exam in one of several ways. First, some professors put old exams on reserve in the library. Second, some textbooks provide practice exams on their Websites. Third, you can create your own exam. The key here is to test the strength of your knowledge and understanding of the material.

9. Get a Good Night's Sleep.
One of the keys to success on exams is a rested brain. Staying up late the night before -- for whatever reasons -- tires the brain and you'll quickly find your ability to retrieve information diminishing. Instead, get a solid night's sleep. If the exam is in the late afternoon or evening, try to find some time in the day to sit quietly and rest your brain. Eating well also helps your brain function better.

10. Arrive Early to Class.
Finally, the day of the exam is here. The ideal scenario is arriving to class early with all the tools you need (pens, pencils, calculators, etc.). Getting to the classroom early allows you to settle in and mentally prepare yourself for the exam. Avoid getting into conversations with other students about the exam; the key here is to take a few moments to relax so that when you receive the exam you are ready to excel.

Final Thoughts on Better Test Preparation

The most important thing you can do for success in college is developing good test-taking preparation habits -- as early in college as possible. By following the tips in this article, you'll have a solid foundation for doing well on your exams. Finally, by incorporating some of these tips into your regular routine, you will be better prepared for some of the crazy demands on your time in college -- and still be able to perform successfully with your academics.

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key academic terms by going to our College Success Glossary

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