The college experience is a great one. Your basic needs are taken care of, you're in charge of your daily schedule, you're surrounded by people with similar interests and lifestyles, and you probably even enjoy some of the academics. But one element remains constant and continuously causes problems for students: tests. You'll encounter every sort of test at college, and doing a few little things will allow you to perform well without sacrificing your social life.
Remember to get a good night's sleep prior to your test. Double-check that your alarm is set so that you wake up in time to eat a good breakfast on the day of the test. Remember that taking good care of your body will help your brain work better. You want to give yourself every advantage to do well.
It will help if you know what kind of test you will be taking. If it is going to be a short-answer test, you need to be able to explain concepts briefly. If it is a multiple choice or fill-in-the-blanks test, you need to know names, dates, and vocabulary. Usually the professor will tell you the format of the test ahead of time, but if not, feel free to ask for this information. Even if the professor denies your request, he may offer some other helpful hints or study tips.
You should also have an idea of what the professor wants from your test responses. This is determined somewhat by the type of test you will take, but often professors are looking for something specific. Sometimes they will tell you exactly what they are looking for — the personality differences between two literary characters, for example. But most of the time, you'll be on your own in this regard. To accommodate this situation, review your notes and identify themes and concepts the professor spent considerable time on, and places where lecture notes and readings overlap. These are all indications that the professor thinks that this material is especially important and is likely to include it on the test.
Once you have identified what you need to study, review your notes and pertinent readings. Go back and rewrite your notes, creating a master study sheet just for this test. Make summary sheets of important information, flash cards of dates, facts, and people, and then shuffle them and quiz yourself. This is a great time for your study group to work its magic. You can quiz each other, come to consensus about what is important to study, and give each other moral support.
The Day of the Test
On test day, be certain to answer easy questions first. This will give you more time for the harder questions and may help jog your memory. Don't spend too much time on any one question. If it is proving to be difficult, move on and come back when you have finished the other questions. Also, remember that there is never a prize for being the first person done with a test. You should not rush during a test, but if there is a time limit, keep an eye on the clock. If you finish early, go back and review everything. If you find yourself running out of time and know you will not finish, work on the questions with the highest point values or those that you know you will answer correctly.
What if I get nervous during tests?
Some anxiety during tests is natural. If this happens to you, take your mind off self-defeating thoughts, picture your flash cards and rehearse key concepts, and take several slow deep breaths. Focus on the item in front of you instead of how you are doing overall. If anxiety is a recurring or overwhelming problem, visit the counseling center for advice.
Take Time to Review
When you get your graded test returned to you, go through it carefully. You want to find the answers you missed and relearn that material. You also want to make note of the items that surprised you. Why didn't you anticipate that material would be on the test? More importantly, why did the professor include that information on the test? The answers to these questions will help you better prepare for the next test.
If you have been spending enough time studying throughout the course, and not just for the test, you should be able to take a test with confidence and do well. However, if you are not getting grades that reflect the work you put into the course, then talk to the professor to get suggestions for what you could do differently. Remember, he also wants to see you succeed. If your professor is not available, find a tutor or other assistance, perhaps from the advising center or learning support center on campus. It is your responsibility to make changes if you want to improve, but don't get discouraged and give up. After all, you were admitted to your college because you have the potential to succeed there.