Tests are the measuring sticks of academia. When designed correctly, they can be clean and targeted tools of assessment; when constructed sloppily and without attention to detail, they can evoke feelings of anxiety and concern. As a student, unfortunately, you have little say on how tests are created and administered. Tests are, for the most part, immovable parts of the education system; accordingly, proceed as though you must abide by them no matter their quality or effectiveness. Debating the correctness of a particular answer with your teacher is a last ditch tactic that should be used sparingly to scrape up a few extra points here or there. Your real focus and attention should be devoted to understanding the test format, learning your teacher’s viewpoints (when applicable), and assimilating all of the classroom information across the various streams of educational content.

At the end of the day, teachers and test creators hope that a student’s results on an exam indicate mastery (or lack thereof) over a particular subject area. But this is not the entire story. Tests results not only indicate a general grasp and mastery of a subject matter, but they also tell the tale of test preparation. While some students may initially have a stronger grasp of a subject matter and may even show greater promise with respect to applying new principles, the top scores usually go to the students who comb through the material with a decisive and meticulous study regimen.  In order to boost your chances of a solid score on either a school exam or standardized test, check out these 8 potent tips for test taking success!

  1. Make a study schedule – spreading out the material that you have to study over several days (or several months for major standardized tests) ensures that you are not left to cram the night before. While cramming might work for certain individuals, it is generally a second rate way to prepare for a test. Not only is it less effective with respect to individual unit tests, but it tends to make it more difficult to achieve success on cumulative final exams. Instead of cramming, take the time to set out a workable and relaxed study plan so that you can glide to success with a peaceful mind. Once you design a well tailored study schedule, it is imperative that you stay committed to following it. If you postpone studying on the first day, you will find yourself slowly succumbing to the resistance monster, also known as the procrastination demon. Without a solid stalwart commitment to follow your prospective study schedule, procrastination and cramming are sure to be your default strategy.
  2. Know the format of the test – there are many types of questions that can appear on a test: (a) multiple choice, (b) fill in the blank, (c) essay, (d) short answer, or (e) true or false. Make sure you know what to expect come test day. Once you have determined the format, use those same types of questions during your preparation. If it’s largely a multiple choice test, try answering an assortment of multiple choice sample questions. If the format is an essay, make sure to write out a couple of practice essays on projected test questions.
  3. Know the topics and sources being covered – are you being tested primarily on textbook material or in-class lectures? Should you be looking at supplemental educational videos or excerpts from magazines and books? You need to get a clear picture of precisely what is being reviewed on an exam.  If you are unsure, you can ask your teacher, check the syllabus, or phone a friend (just like on Who Wants to be a Millionaire!).
  4. Practice, practice, practice – simply re-reading your notes and a review guide is not enough. In order to be fully prepared, you need to do practice problems. But even more important than practice problems is checking your work and understanding your mistakes. Each problem you answer incorrectly or incompletely is a golden opportunity to solidify your understanding of a particular concept.
  5. Thoroughly understand the core concepts – the key to getting a great grade is understanding the key concepts and central ideas of a class. Getting an “A” requires more than just memorizing equations or vocabulary words; the onus is on you to understand how to effectively use equations, words, historical anecdotes, or scientific theories across multiple contexts and scenarios.
  6. Create a review guide – one of the best ways to process large amounts of information is by creating a review guide. In law school, students will often create hefty outlines from hundreds of pages of dense reading. These outlines end up being great study tools, but the ultimate value from these outlines is not derived from the finished written products themselves; the true benefits come from the actual process of boiling down massive amounts of information into a concise and comprehensible short form.
  7. Get a good night’s sleep – while pulling an all-nighter might seem like a good choice when preparing for a difficult test, it is actually a terrible idea. Trust me, I know from experience. You will be exhausted in the morning and may have a hard time staying awake during the exam. Moreover, much of the information crammed into your brain during that all-nighter study session will be difficult to apply as your mind will likely be working at a reduced capacity. Granted, there are exceptions to this overarching maxim. For example, if you know absolutely nothing about a particular topic, a hard study session might be the only way you can actually learn and understand the material being tested. But knowing nothing the night before a test is a predicament that most students will hopefully avoid, as it likely means that a student has not kept up whatsoever with assignments and class reading.
  8. Work hard from the get go – the best kind of preparation starts on day one. When you show up each day for class, show up. What do I mean? Pay attention to your teacher, take good notes in class, do your homework, and review all study materials on a regular basis. In the long run, taking 20 minutes a day to study will pay off to a much greater degree than cramming the night before a big test.