7 uncommon test prep methods (and why they work)
By Ryan Hickey, Petersons & EssayEdge
Once you’ve made it into college, you may think you’ve got a pretty good handle on how to study effectively — that is until you bomb an exam after pulling an all-nighter.
The fact is, even the most diligent students could stand to reevaluate their test-prep strategies every now and then. Considering new approaches to studying may be just what you need to improve your performance in the classroom. Here are seven unusual—but tried and true—study tactics you may want to try.
Study right before bedtime
Have you ever fallen asleep watching TV and dreamt about the show? Evidence shows us that our brains create new long-term memories when we sleep, so we’re more likely to remember what we were focusing on right before we went to bed.
Switch it up
Science tells us that changing subjects every 20 minutes keeps our brain fresh. If you’re only working on one subject, try changing strategies. For example, you might review the text for 20 minutes and then go to flashcards and then to rewriting your notes from class. Also, while 20 minutes is the average, your magic number might be different. Some people can’t really concentrate for more than 10 minutes at a stretch, while others can stay on a single topic for a longer period of time. However, research shows us that 45 minutes is truly the top limit for most people.
Consider minor amounts of caffeine in its natural forms
This means coffee, tea and chocolate—forms of caffeine consumption proven safe over centuries of time. High amounts of caffeine and caffeine in unnatural forms (energy drinks, pep pills, etc.) can be harmful. However, studies have shown that mild amounts of caffeine can help us concentrate, make us more creative and slightly elevate our mood. The day of the test, don’t try to make it on caffeine alone and risk crashing. While it can be helpful to have a cup of coffee, chocolate or tea on the morning of the test, also be sure that you have a balanced meal to give you steady energy during a long test.
Focus on… nothing
People who meditate regularly have higher general levels of cognitive functioning. While most of the science focuses on people who meditate regularly, other studies have shown that taking even brief breaks from anything stressful (studying, work, etc.) can lower levels of stress hormones in the body. Therefore, when studying for the upcoming test, take a mini-break every 20 minutes. Chant a mantra. Count your breaths. Or just focus on your significance in the universe. You can also use these strategies on test day when you are switching between subject portions of the test or need a quickie break after a particularly challenging question.
Create a soundtrack
Classical music has been proven relaxing, but that may not be your style. Some people focus better with a steady, strong beat while others find complex rhythms or soaring vocals the best way to literally tune out the world and concentrate on the task at hand. During the test, instead of focusing on the ambient noises in the room, allow your personal soundtrack to play in the background of your mind.
Be a comic genius
This works especially well when you’re memorizing dry facts. Create a silly story or song parody about the information that you are studying. Remember that your artistic genius will not be subject to public scrutiny. No one is going to judge the quality of your endeavors. The only point is that the silliness makes difficult-to-remember information more memorable and easier to recall. Additionally, thinking about something silly while you’re taking the test can help ease some of the stress, place you in a more relaxed state of mind, and help you increase your level of concentration.
Our brains think that things we encounter repeatedly must be important and worth remembering. Because of this, repetition is an extremely important part of the test prep process. For memorizing facts, spaced repetition flashcard apps can be particularly helpful. Also, encountering the same information in different ways stimulates our brains. Read your notes out loud in one test prep session, rewrite them in a different color than the original in the next one, and then add new information into your original notes for the third one. Give your brain multiple opportunities to realize that the information is important and dedicate that information to long-term memory. On test day, you’ll likely be surprised at how much you can remember.
SOURCE: USA Today