Doing Better on Tests

The Life and Arts section of the Wall Street Journal ran an interesting article by Sue Shellenbarger entitled, “The Smarter Ways to Study.”

The article begins by saying many students this fall will plunge into marathon study session that run late into the night.  Is rereading text books and highlighted notes the best way to study for a test?

New research has shown that it is not, according to Ms. Shellenbarger.  Those students that excel on tests and the SAT and ACT are not those who study the longest.  The best approach is to plan ahead and quiz yourself on the material.  Better yet use a group of friends to do the quizzing.

High achieving students take charge of their own learning and ask for help when they are stuck. Those who asked instructors for help during office hours were likely to get A’s, but fewer than 1 in 5 students do so.

That activist approach reflects what researchers call self-regulated learning, the capacity to track how well you’re doing in your classes and hold yourself accountable.  Re-reading text books and highlighted notes may help in recognizing facts, but may not help in storing it in the memory.  The author likes quizzing themselves or each other as a better approach.  Students who formed study groups and quizzed each other weekly on material presented in class posted higher grades than others.

Taking practice tests for the SAT and ACT was helpful not only in recalling facts and concepts, but in easing anxiety on testing day.

Studying in general tends to be more productive when done in short segments of 45 minutes rather than for several hours. One simply cannot wait until the day before a test and put in the “all nighter.”

Group study habits can be learned.  You do not need to be a NASA engineer to learn how to study, but you must be motivated.  A parent, teacher or mentor can help.  So can your friends.

Finally, the author lists five tips for honing sharper skills.  These are:

  1. Find out what the test will cover and the kinds of questions it will include.
  2. Start at least a few days before the test to plan how and when you will study.
  3. Identify helpful resources such as practice tests or instructors’ office hours to assist with material you don’t understand.
  4. Practice recalling facts and concepts by quizzing yourself.
  5. Limit study sessions to 45 minutes to increase your concentration and focus.

Change bad habits and make studying fun by engaging with your parents, teachers and friends.  Remember, people want you to succeed.