It’s your first week of college and you’re a little scared, though you haven’t admitted this to anyone yet. Your teachers are talking about midterms already, so you know those tests are going to be hard. Pretend I’m one of your teachers (I was a college instructor for many years), and let’s assume you’ve asked me how to study for a big college test. I’m going to share with you my own personal secret for success.
1: Get ready
Half the excruciating pain sometimes associated with a big college test is knowing it’s coming and you’re not ready. So, as soon as you hear there’s going to be a test, midterm or final exam, put the name of that test on your calendar. Now you work backward: the day before your test you’re going to cram so don’t make any plans. The week before the test you’re going to study, so allow studying time at night. And the month before the test you’re going to take all the notes you possibly can.
2: Get set
Now dear student, I’m going to show you how to get a good grade on the monster test. The secret to studying effectively for a big college test is to personalize your notes. If you will take this extra study step, you will do well!
What I want you to do is take your notes from class and from your highlighted textbook (or if your textbook is online, print out those pages you’ve underscored) and sit down at a table—give yourself lots of room. Now you’re going to copy the key notes on a piece of paper in your own handwriting.
“What!” I hear you saying, “Are you kidding me?”
No, I’m not. Copying key passages in your own hand will “glue” this material in your mind. Try it! Now I don’t mean type your notes—it’s too easy to just glaze over the stuff that way. I mean copy each key sentence in handwriting-get it?
As you study you’re going to go over your handwritten notes until you know them. Each time you think you’ve really mastered a key fact, cross it off.
Dear student, I know this is a lot of work. But there’s something about writing sentences down in your own handwriting that is irreplaceable in the compendium of studying tips. It will work, if you do it carefully.
Remember those points you underlined in your class notes and from your textbook? Those points you circled because they were difficult, and you didn’t really understand them? They’re probably going to end up on your handwritten log, standing alone, not crossed off. Pay attention to them! If you still “don’t get it” ask your teacher. Teachers are paid to help you understand, and honestly, they don’t mind.
Okay, you’ve got your handwritten list which you’ve been going over every day or so for the past month. It’s now one week till the test. You have a pretty good idea of what you know and what you still don’t know.
THE LAST WEEK: Go over all the notes once a night, even those points you’ve crossed off as mastered. Copy the points you have not crossed off—the difficult stuff—again, on a new sheet of paper. Go over that 2nd list at least twice a night.
THE DAY BEFORE THE TEST: Go over your master list once. Make sure you know everything on the list that you have crossed off as “mastered”. Study your 2nd list of difficult points, calling again for help if necessary. Keep at this all day, and slowly develop a 3rd list of those points you still don’t know. (Hopefully by now it will be short!) Now, go to bed early. Do not, I repeat, do not stay up all night studying. A good night’s sleep is necessary to pass a big test.
THE DAY OF THE TEST: Set your alarm for 6—or whatever time will give you at least two hours of studying before the test. Skim through all the notes once, the 2nd list twice, and your 3rd and final list of difficult points right up until you walk in the door of the classroom. Literally. Short term memory is remarkable.
ON THE TEST: Go through the test and answer everything you know first. Skip over things you don’t know and come back to them—sometimes there will be clues to answers in other parts of the test. Keep going back over the questions until you have answered every one. Do not leave anything blank. Guess, if you have to (say a prayer first, of course!) but fill in every answer.
Remember, your teachers want you to do well. And if you will take the time to do this extra studying, you should have success in passing the test.
(By the way—you can use this for the GRE, SAT, and all other monster tests.)
Good luck to you, dear student!