If you are prepared for a test, you will do better than if you aren't prepared*. Really "knowing your stuff" means that you have learned your material, i.e., you can apply and use it in a meaningful way.
there are exceptions such as severe test anxiety brought on by non-academic factors.
It's also important to recognize that different courses require different kinds of learning. The 3 most common types of learning used in university are:
For information on 3 types of learning, go to the TOOL:
The strategies in this section include how to:
Preparing for different test types such as multiple choice, short answer, and essay exams will be covered in the next section.
Step 1: Be informed about the exam
Step 2: Be strategic
Step 3: Select and organize key information
Step 4: Review
What do I know already?
Do a "data dump". Write down everything you know about the course. The goal is to jump-start your brain and get you thinking about the subject matter.
What does the professor expect me to know?
Look at the course objectives on your course outline or syllabus.
Are any topics or sections given more emphasis? For example, a topic that has been covered for a number of weeks needs to be prioritized.
Does my professor have any special interests that might influence the topics, format, etc.?
What are the ‘logistics' of this test?
What can past assignments and tests tell me about this test?
Look at old exams, assignments, and tests for questions types, topics, and key concepts.
What do I still need to complete?
What other study aids do I need?
Here are four steps to help you select the right information to study.
i. Identify the key ideas
Prepare a summary sheet for each major topic covered in the course.
ii. Understand the key information
Research shows that students who generate their own test questions perform better than students who answer prepared questions or just read. Generating and answering your own questions helps you to elaborate on the key ideas, going beyond surface reading and rote memorization.
For details of the research study go to:
How Students Can Best Prepare for Tests & Exams (57 KB)For more information on elaborating go to:
iii. Organize the key ideas with their supporting information
How do the key concepts interrelate?
What supporting information do I need to help me understand the main idea?
Use a Cornell note and/or a concept or mind-map to connect and distinguish key ideas from supporting points. For information on how to make and use a mind map or Cornell notes as a study tool, go to our online READING & NOTE-MAKING module.
iv. Remember key course information: To remember and recall the material on the exam, you will need to review, review, review and then self test. Continue to Step 4 for more information.
To facilitate understanding and learning, regular and systematic review during the term is necessary. Although students know the value of reviewing, due to such things as poor time management and procrastination, many students leave reviewing till just days before a test. Self-testing should also be applied during your review of materials so that you can gage the extent of your learning. Keeping up with readings, and regular review also greatly reduce stress!
What is Review?
Review is a two-way process of information gathering and information using.
Information Gathering ↔ Information Using
During the review process you switch back and forth between these two functions.
Read through all the sources of information: lecture notes, books and articles, labs, old exams, handouts, workbooks, study guides, etc.
Test your understanding of the information. Use a variety of strategies while you review. The strategies you choose will depend on the nature of the material, and your learning style.
Some popular review strategies:
Adapted from: Fleet, J. et al (1990). Learning for Success: Skills and Strategies for Canadian Students. Toronto, ON: Harcourt Brace Janovich.
Organizing a Study Schedule
With a well conceived and realistic study schedule, it is very possible for a student to prepare for many exams at the same time and have time to take care of their other important needs, i.e. sleeping, eating well, and exercising. The TOOLS below will assist you in this task. Good luck!
Reasons students cram may include: a preference for doing things at the last minute; can't seem to get organized in advance; an unreasonable course load; or an extenuating circumstance has arisen. Students who cram are risk-takers with their academic success. Why?
Dire consequences of cramming include:
Ok, but let's get real. Most students have to cram sometimes. With this in mind, go to the TOOL mentioned below for helpful hints to maximize your learning when cramming.
With the large volume of information university students must learn, there is no avoiding memorization. Students with good memory strategies find retaining and recalling information much easier. Memorization is a SKILL, not a talent, so you need to have good strategies and practise them regularly.
For more excellent memory strategies, go to the TOOLS section of our online READING AND NOTE-MAKING module.