How to Effectively Study for Tests and Exams

The better your study habits are throughout the entire semester, the more smoothly your exam preparation will commence.

The sooner you learn effective study skills and time management techniques, the more you will gain from your studies and the more successful you will be as a student. Studying effectively begins with your organization and attentiveness in the classroom, and relies upon how you handle your course material at home in the days long before exam week arrives.

Be an active learner in class. Participate in discussions, ask questions and take thorough notes. Jot down as much as possible to keep yourself awake and your mind actively engaged during instruction.

Reinforce new material and improve your academic recall by reviewing lecture notes each night after class and revisiting previous reading assignments before moving on to new ones. According to Walter Pauk, reading and study center director at Cornell University, students forget the greatest amount of what they’ve learned -- 46 percent -- within the first 24 hours of learning it. After two to four weeks, they’ve forgotten 79 to 81 percent. Don’t wait for exam week to begin reviewing everything that’s been covered by that point.

Develop a regular study routine to carry out each day in a consistent, distraction-free, well-lit location. Keep the television off, the Internet out of reach and the phone silent and stowed away. Studying in the same exclusive location each day conditions your mind to associate that spot with focused study.

Break large tasks into smaller mini-tasks you can complete in a half-hour to an hour at a time. According to Pauk, students retain the most information from the beginning and end of each study period, so take breaks between tasks -- five minutes after each half hour, or 10 minutes after each hour.

Read and study actively -- aiming not to memorize for short term recall, but to understand for long term knowledge. Think critically and visually as you read, synthesizing new information with concepts you’ve already learned to provide a familiar context that renders facts easier to recall.

Share your knowledge. Join a study group, get a study buddy or just enlighten anyone who will listen. Talking aloud through what you’re learning can help reinforce your own understanding, especially as your listener asks questions for clarification.

Snack smart. Stay away from soda, caffeine, sweets and fast foods, which provide false, short-lived energy boosts followed by sudden, lethargic crashes that make retaining focus a challenge. Instead, drink water and snack on brain foods like fruit, raw vegetables or peanuts. These help you remain alert and energized by keeping your blood sugar high and increasing your brain cells’ rate of oxygen use.

Map out a rigid yet realistic agenda for reviewing topics during the week leading up to exams -- depending on your schedule and the amount of material to cover -- and stick to it. Base the agenda on your study guide if your teacher provides one, or on the semester’s assignments from your syllabus.

Rewrite notes, create flashcards, draft study questions and quiz yourself -- utilize any preferred method that keeps your mind more actively engaged than simply staring at pages of writing.

W.D. Johnson is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and educational consultant. She specializes in writing development, test preparation and college admissions. Johnson graduated as a writing major from the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts in 2008.