8 tips for superb test preparation

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.

EP047: 31 Must know formulas for the ACT

There are a number of formulas that are absolutely essential to success on the math portion of the ACT. It is, however, not only important to memorize them; the onus is on students to develop a deep and sincere understanding of how to apply them. Join Huzefa as he goes through each of the formulas with a succinct explanation of how to apply them, along with the sharing of an article on precisely how to go about effectively understanding these various formulas.


EP046: Flocabulary - learning with music

This episode features Ike Ramos from the revolutionary education company Flocabulary. Ike Ramos is both a District Sales Manager and Artist at Flocabulary. Ike attended the University of Texas at Austin, where he received his bachelor's and honed his skills as a DJ, producer and MC. While in Austin, he released several projects and shared stages with many hip hop legends including Method Man, Guru, Buckshot, Lil Wayne, Rakim and others. Ike explains the merits of learning with music, and describes exactly how your kids can use music to aid their education.


Ep045: Why student blogging matters

Student blogging is a widespread trend in schools across America. It is a fantastic way for kids to get more engaged in the writing process as well as reflect on things they have learned in school or elsewhere. Huzefa shares the many benefits of blogging by sharing two articles on the topic, one written by a precocious 8th grader who successfully launched and ran a school related blog.


EP044: 7 reasons why schools reject applicants

Join Huzefa as he discusses the top 7 reasons why schools will reject applicants. This discussion has relevance to students applying to private middle and high schools, colleges, and graduate schools.


EP043: 8 reasons why water is important

Huzefa discusses the importance of drinking plenty of water each day, and moreover, the dangers of being dehydrated. Huzefa also shares precisely how much water kids should be drinking on a regular basis in order to be healthy.

EP042: Is coffee good for studying?

After taking a break from coffee himself, Huzefa shares his thoughts along with two articles on the pros and cons of coffee. One article espouses 7 benefits of drinking coffee, while the other provides 10 negative effects of the beverage. Take a listen, read the articles, and decide for yourself.


EP041: Gamification: pros and cons

Huzefa discusses the new trend of the gamification of education across all subjects and topics. He shares from several articles on edublogger to provide a thorough and well rounded perspective about the pros and cons of gamification.


EP040: Magoosh on the new SAT

Huzefa is joined by Chris Lele, a GRE and SAT expert for the revolutionary standardized test prep company called Magoosh. Chris discusses all of the changes on the new SAT as well as his recommendations for studying as well as whether or not to take the SAT along with the ACT.


What is a "genius?" The 10 highest IQs alive today

Living in Los Angeles has its perks. One of those perks is meeting incredibly talented actors and comedians on the regular. After a brief show at Santa Monica's Westside Comedy Theater, I had the privilege of meeting Neel Nanda, a rising stand up comedian who has had already had a number of specials on Comedy Central. In one of his jokes, Nanda implored audience members to stop calling rappers geniuses. This was of course a tongue in cheek request, but his facetious remark was based on the numerous references to Kanye West as a genius. How could Kanye be considered a genius, Nanda wondered, when a line of his lyrics reads "Leave a pretty girl sad reputation/Start a Fight Club, Brad reputation." Okay. In contrast, Praveen Kumar Gorakavi, a certified child prodigy, derived a mathematical formula for perpetual calendar calculations at age 13 and developed a low cost artificial leg at age 15.  We really have to stop calling rappers geniuses.

But what is Neel really alluding too? Surely we all recognize that Kanye West is a larger than life figure to say the least, achieving musical fame and success at the at the upper most echelons of the entertainment industry. But is he a genius? Well that depends on the definition of the word. The term "genius" is thrown around modern parlance in a cavalier fashion to denote greatness of any kind. When a person writes an excellent book, produces a beautiful song, or solves a difficult math problem, he or she may be referred to as a genius. But is there a concrete rubric we can rely upon to accurately make this assertion? Well, not really. But there is one scale, one metric that is more or less universally accepted as a valid measure of mental horsepower: Intelligence Quotient. Intelligence Quotient, or IQ, is tested in many different ways. The most commonly administered test comes from the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale. All of the available tests generally measure basic psychometrics using questions that involve math, verbal abilities, and spatial reasoning. The various raw scores are taken and then measured against folks of similar age. The general score bands and their supposed meanings or classifications are as follows (according to www.wilderdom.com):

  • Above 200: Unmeasurable genius
  • 180 - 200: Highest genius
  • 165 - 179: High genius
  • 140 - 164: Genius
  • 120 - 140: Very superior intelligence
  • 110 - 119: Superior intelligence
  • 90 - 109: Normal or average intelligence
  • 80 - 89: Below average intelligence
  • 70 - 79: Borderline deficiency
  • Under 70: Deficiency

Using these general ranges, we have an actual numerical score that classifies individuals as geniuses. Do you have an IQ above 140? Then you are a certified genius regardless of the works you have produced. While IQ tests may be imperfect in many ways, it seems that they currently offer the best methodology to identify a genius on a relatively stable scale. Want to know what an IQ test question looks like? I'll give you two (courtesy of http://www.free-iqtest.net/):

Which one of the five choices makes the best comparison? PEACH is to HCAEP as 46251 is to:

(A) 25641

(B) 26451

(C) 12654

(D) 51462

(E) 15264

Mary, who is sixteen years old, is four times as old as her brother. How old will Mary be when she is twice as old as her brother?

(A) 20

(B) 24

(C) 25

(D) 26

(E) 28

If you want to know the answers, I'll provide them at the end of the article. In the meantime, let's look at an inspiring list of the 10 highest IQs in the world today.  What I love about this list is that the individuals contained herein work in an array of different fields and specialties. Without further ado, I present you with the modern day IQ dream team.

10. Gary Kasparov (IQ: 190) - Gary is a chess wunderkind and is famous for drawing against a chess supercomputer that calculated over 3 million moves per second. Chess is widely considered one of the most intellectual games on the planet. Accordingly, it is no surprise that one of the champions of the mental sport makes this list of intellectual juggernauts.


9. Philip Emeagwali (IQ: 190) - Philip is a Nigerian born engineer and scientist. He famously won the Gordon Bell Prize in 1989 for "price-performance in high-performance computing applications, in an oil reservoir modeling calculation using a novel mathematical formulation and implementation." Not too shabby.


8. Marylin vos Savant (IQ: 190) - Marilyn is the writer of a widely read column called "Ask Marylin." She is famous for accepting and solving all sorts of puzzles and riddles sent in from her loyal readers.


7. Mislav Predavec (IQ: 192) - Mislav is a math professor in Croatia who also owns a prestigious trading company.


6. Rick Rosner (IQ: 192) - Rick is a pseudo-celebrity of sorts, appearing on several talk shows and game shows, including a short visit on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." Rick is well known for practicing and mastering IQ tests by studying myriad practice problems. His past jobs include stints as a dancer and bouncer (among other things).


5. Christopher Langan (IQ: 195) - Chris is my favorite of the bunch. He comes from a tough background where his intelligence was essentially a bane, the cause of many beatings from fellow classmates who were jealous of his mental prowess. But that all ended when Chris began working out and putting on muscle mass to dissuade his would be assailants. He now bifurcates his time between working on a ranch with his wife and developing his comprehensive model of everything called the Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe. He also worked as a bouncer once upon a time.


4. Dr. Evangelos Katsioulis (IQ: 198) - Dr. Katsioulis is an esteemed medical doctor, known for his support of gifted individuals in Greece.


3. Kim Ung-Yong (IQ: 210) - Kim is a civil engineer today, but as a child, he was considered a step ahead of all other child prodigies. At the age of 3, he could read Korean, Japanese, German, and English. Moreover, he was capable of solving complex calculus equations.


2. Christopher Hirata (IQ: 225) - Chris was invited to work with NASA at the age of 16, and went on to receive his Ph.D in mathematics from Princeton University at the age of 22. He currently teaches astrophysics at the California Institute of Technology.


1. Terence Tao (IQ: 230) - Terence is the genius of geniuses. He became the youngest full professor at UCLA , and currently works on "harmonic analysis, partial differential equations, additive combinatorics, ergodic Ramsey theory, random matrix theory, and analytic number theory."


Answers to IQ test questions: E and B.