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Test Taking

Taking a practice test for one hour is usually a far better way to learn and lock in memories than one hour of regular studying. Another very useful way to prepare for a real test is to use a checklist that helps you assess whether or not your studying has been effective. The following checklist was developed by Richard Felder for engineering students, but works well for other subjects too.

So how do you prepare for a test? Do whatever it takes to be able to answer yes to most of the questions on this list (all but 3 or 4). If this seems like too many items start with a few and add more as your academic year progresses.

  • Did you make a serious effort to understand the text?
  • Did you work with friends or classmates on homework or check your solutions with others?
  • Did you try all homework questions on your own before working with others?
  • Did you actively participate in discussions - asking questions and contributing to answers - about homework with others?
  • Did you consult with your teacher or tutor?
  • Did you understand all of your homework solutions?
  • Did you ask about homework solutions that you did not fully understand?
  • Did you try a practice test?
  • Did you attempt to outline solutions for different types of problems without doing the actual calculations?
  • Did you go over the material with friends or classmates and quiz each other?
  • Did you attend and participate in any review sessions?
  • Did you get a good night's sleep before the test?

Hard start - jump to easy

This is a different approach to test taking and may be difficult to embrace at first because it seems counter-intuitive.

First, get an overview of your test by taking a quick look at all the questions. Start working on the hardest problem, but be ready to pull away after only two or three minutes if you're not getting anywhere. If you feel intimidated after the hard problem, switch to an easy one and try do do as much as possible. Then go on to a second hard problem, but switch to another easy one when you feel stuck. This technique helps your brain work more efficiently because it activates two different modes of thinking (focused and diffuse) and allows them to work simultaneously. The hardest part is to make sure you let go of the hard questions after only a few minutes. It may be quite difficult for some, so practice this idea when doing homework and chapter tests.

This method will often result in at least an attempt at all questions and helps prevent brain blockages that can eat up valuable time.

Stress and panic

The key to getting past those panicky feelings is how we react to them. Rather than thinking that your stress is because you're afraid and can't do something, try to accept that you have those feelings because the test is important and you are anxious to do well. When you are in the test and feel nervous, close you eyes for a few seconds and take a few deep breaths (from the belly). Remind yourself that you have successfully completed these types of questions before. Rehearse this breathing technique from time to time when you are doing homework or taking your practice tests.