The Most Difficult Exam Question: What Is the Best Studying Method?
Keenan Harrell, a junior at Cary High School in North Carolina, purchased test-prep books and exposed himself to a “relentless and repetitive” series of roughly 30 practice SAT college-entrance exams during his junior year. He recalls, “I just took it over and again till it got almost aggravating.”
It paid off to practice. Mr. Harrell, now 19, has been accepted to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a school he had aspired to attend since third grade. On the SAT, he received 1800 (out of 2400) score, up from 1200 on the PSAT, a preliminary test taken during his sophomore year.
Mr. Harrell admits that taking pretests “felt like hard work,” but that witnessing continuous gains in his results increased his confidence. According to Paul Weeks, vice president of educational services for the ACT, which produces and administers college-entrance exams, practice tests can also aid with test-taking skills such as pace.
Practice exams help master test format and tempo.
Sleep affects exam performance in two ways that aren’t obvious. The night before the test, review the most difficult material shortly before going to bed. According to Dan Taylor, director of a sleep-and-health-research lab at the University of North Texas in Denton, this strategy makes it easier to recall the content later. Also, don’t study by waking up earlier than normal; this may disrupt the rapid-eye-movement sleep that benefits memory, he advises.
The all-nighter, a frequent study habit, is a horrible idea. According to Pamela Thacher, an associate professor of psychology at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., based on a 2008 survey of 120 students, 60 percent of college students stay up all night at some point throughout the academic year. For up to four days, it also impairs reasoning and memory.
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Believing in Yourself
To free working memory and avoid distractions during the examination, write down your concerns and anxieties before the examination.
Remind yourself of established personal attributes and strengths that can lead you to success to battle self-doubts (such as “I’m lousy at arithmetic”).
Prepare for all of the pressures you’ll face on exam day, such as driving to the testing location or visiting a new testing room, by practicing in advance.
Rather than memorizing information or rereading textbooks, put yourself to the test by remembering large concepts.
Prepare for the examination by visualizing yourself quietly and confidently answering questions.
It is common knowledge that you should have breakfast on the day of a major exam. According to a study, high-carb, high-fiber, slow-digesting foods like oatmeal are the best. But what you consume a week ahead of time is also important. When 16 college students were assessed on attention and cognitive speed, they performed worse after being served a five-day high-fat, low-carb diet rich in meat, eggs, cheese, and cream. According to Cameron Holloway, a senior clinical researcher at the University of Oxford, pupils who ate a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables maintained their weight. He claims that the brain demands a steady supply of energy and that it “only has a finite backup battery.”
While many teenagers believe they can study better while listening to music or messaging their friends, research shows that information studied while distracted is less likely to be remembered later, according to Nicole Dudukovic, an assistant professor of psychology at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.
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College students were asked to categorize and judge photos of over 100 different products as part of her study. Then participants were asked to recollect which photographs they had already viewed and how they had classified them; half of the time, they were also instructed to listen to and respond to a set of rhythmic noises. When the students were assessed later, they were more likely to retain what they had learned accurately because they were not distracted.
“Students have this notion that they can do it all,” says Dr. Dudukovic, “and they aren’t being disturbed” by music or sounds from a busy cafe. However, she claims that while the sounds may “make them feel more comfortable,” they will not help them ace the midterm.
Bryan Almanza claims that he scored poorly on the PSAT as a sophomore in high school because he didn’t know how to prepare. He slept poorly the night before and barely ate a bowl of cereal for the morning. Mr. Almanza, 18, a senior at Campbell High School in Smyrna, Ga., says certain difficult physics questions on the test made him worried and preoccupied. He recalls thinking at the time, “I’m going to fail.” His school’s test-prep program advised him to get plenty of sleep, eat a healthy meal, and pace himself during the exam. He improved his SAT score greatly by remaining calm, cheerful, and focused.
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How to Get Rid of Test-Day Nerves
On exam day, even when pupils are completely prepared, anxiety can be a significant factor.
According to Richard Driscoll, a Knoxville, Tenn.-based clinical psychologist who has studied text anxiety, an estimated 35 percent of students are so apprehensive before high-stakes tests that it affects their performance.
Julie Hartline, a lead counselor at Campbell High School in Smyrna, Ga., helped develop a three-week program last year to teach juniors anxiety-reduction techniques to help them cope with their worries.
Preparing for a test does not begin the day before or the week before. You’re already doomed if that’s required.
According to Dr. Driscoll, one soothing technique that has been proved to increase test scores is to teach yourself to think differently about the test ahead of time. Imagine yourself in a hard and stimulating position, such as a soccer player scoring a goal or a mountain climber reaching the top of a slope, he says. Then shift your focus to the testing room and imagine yourself in the same situation. You’ll be able to conjure greater confidence on test day if you practice.
According to Sian Beilock, a cognitive performance researcher and author, eliminating “novelty and stress on the day of the exam” can also help minimize choking under pressure. If you’re taking the exam somewhere new, go see the room beforehand.
If you’re still worried, Dr. Beilock, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, recommends setting aside 10 minutes ahead of time to jot down your concerns. Before their first high-pressure exam, she and a colleague examined 106 ninth-graders for anxiety, then asked half of them to spend 10 minutes writing down their thoughts shortly before the exam. The pupils who completed the writing activity were just as successful on the test as those who had remained calm throughout. However, nervous pupils who did not complete the writing task performed worse. Dr. Beilock claims that writing out one’s anxieties helps to unburden the mind.