How to Do Your Best on Every College Test

When it comes to student stressors in college, tests rank pretty high on the list. Fortunately, there are proven strategies individuals can use to feel more at ease and perform their best on exams. Find practical test-taking tips that students of all learning styles can use to succeed on exams in any college class.

By Douglas Fehlen


1. Participate in class.

Oftentimes the best way to prepare for tests is to simply show up to class and pay attention. Many professors create exams based on material covered in lectures, seminars and labs, so students who are consistently present have an advantage. Class time can allow you to engage with key ideas, even if you haven't completed all the reading for a course.

2. Use a planner to manage time effectively.

In college it can seem like there isn't enough time to do everything. Preparing for all of your classes can seem like too much, especially when you'd also like to participate in extracurricular activities and have a social life. Keeping a detailed planner can allow you to block out time for each of your commitments, including exam preparation, and ensure that a test doesn't sneak up on you.

3. Review a little bit every day.

Going over your lecture notes at the end of each class period can help you transfer information from your short-term to your long-term memory. This quick form of review only takes a few minutes, but it can save you the hours of time it might otherwise take to cram for an exam. Plus, you're more likely to retain the information after a test is over.

4. Keep your syllabus, handouts and past tests and quizzes.

For midterms and finals, all class materials are likely to be fair game. Looking over handouts and past tests and quizzes may allow you to recognize recurring themes that are likely to appear on your upcoming exam. Use your syllabus as a guide to make sure your study materials cover all of the information addressed in class.

5. Try switching things up.

Contrary to popular belief, you may retain information better by changing study locations rather than studying consistently in one place. Researchers at UCLA suggest that memory is rejuvenated by new settings, making it wise to sometimes veer away from your usual study spot. It has also been shown that studying one topic in a certain location can be of benefit. Just be sure to regularly change up study topics, moving to a new location when you do.

6. Take care of yourself.

You may know from experience that completing an all-night cram session to prepare for an exam is rarely effective. Getting an appropriate amount of sleep is necessary for you to be at your best on test day. In fact, tiredness negatively affects concentration and memory retention. A healthy diet and regular exercise are also crucial toward getting your brain working at full capacity.

7. Be prepared at test time.

If a test is to be held at a different time than your usual class period, be sure to note that in a planner right away. The same applies for a change of venue - you may even want to check out a new location beforehand to get a sense of the classroom before the test. On the day of the exam, bring extra pencils or pens, a calculator, notebook paper or any other materials you may need.

8. Take deep measured breaths.

Test anxiety is a real phenomenon that can affect you no matter how prepared you might be on the day of an exam. Controlling your breath is an easy, effective relaxation strategy that can help you calm your nerves and do your best. If you're feeling stressed, take a 5-count breath in and a 5-count breath out, repeating the action 5-10 times or until you feel in control.

9. Skim and skip.

When you get a test, immediately skim through all of its pages so that you can estimate how much time you have for each question. When you encounter problems that are particularly difficult, you may want to skip them and return to difficult questions only after you've completed those that are easier for you. This can help ensure you get credit for answers to all of the questions that you know.

10. Know your study strategies.

Whether you learned them from a past teacher or discovered them on your own, you likely know what study methods work best for you by now. It never hurts to test out new strategies (like some of those on this list), but don't forsake practices you know work well for you. Using flashcards, creating mnemonics and teaching material to others are only a few of the time-tested strategies you may utilize.

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