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How to Ace the Test

A step by step guide on how to do better in every exam.

Image by Akram Huseyn

Step 1: Start Studying Early

The key requirement to ensure you ace the test is to start studying early. This recommendation is based on research that showed that people who study 12 hours over 4 weeks were better able to remember information long term than people who studied 12 hours all in one week. This is likely because spaced learning allows for a learning and memory retrieval process that strengthens long term memory. We recommend that you start studying no later than two weeks prior to your exam. This timeline is best for the retention of information, and allows ample time to  review content for your exam and see it multiple times.

Step 2: Repetition

Build into your schedule repetitive review of information you previously studied. A key part to ensuring that you remember information is to see it multiple times in different forms at different times. If you followed the previous step you would have already seen the exam content one time. The next few times could include a review of high yield information, practice questions, topics you are weak on etc. The difference should be that the second or third review should be a different format. For example, in a table format, question and answer format, or topic map. Changing the format removes the monotony of studying and also helps you to see the information in different context. Also, consider spacing the time between each review. Some people use the rule of 3s ( 3 mins, 3 hours then 3 days) or some choose arbitrary times like 1 day then 1 week. Figure out what works for you. The longer you wait the better, but don't wait too long as there are studies that suggest that waiting too leaves room for the brain to abandon information causing you to have to relearn it. 

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Step 3 : Planning

An important part of acing the test is to plan, plan and plan. If it wasn't clear, this is a crucial step of the process. Planning gives you the chance to see ahead how much time you will need to study. The first thing you should do is to create a list of items that you need to do before the exam. This could include, reviewing lecture slides, reading the chapters of a required text book, or re-watching lecture videos. Whatever it is, create a list of all the lectures, chapters or documents that you need to review. Once this is done, estimate the amount of time this would take to complete each task and keep a rough estimate of this in mind. Some students do a initial review of one lecture and base their estimates from this. This method will ensure your timelines are realistic.

Organizing the Calendar

Step 4: Create a Schedule

Create a realistic schedule of the next two weeks of studying. Some people prefer to put the items in a planner or on a calendar. Whichever you choose, create a day by day schedule of what you will get done each day. The key is to be REALISTIC. Refrain from being too ambitious so as to avoid loosing motivation due the your inability to complete all the tasks. Contrastingly, try not to be too conservative to ensure that you are able complete the tasks in time. Don't forget to schedule in all your breaks and your self care sessions to ensure you have a balanced life. 

Step 5: Make an Exam Prep Strategy  

After you have prepared for the exam. Repeat the same steps over and over again. Don't be afraid to make small tweaks to the routine to meet the needs of each class. For example, studying anatomy might take way more time and you might need more than 2 weeks to study the information. Find your rhythm for each class and stick to what works. Explore some of the evidence base study techniques you can use to ace the test. 

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Couple Meditating

Step 6: Create a Test Day Routine

One of the most common struggles people have with acing exams has nothing to do with how much they study. It's their mental state on the day of the exam. Studies show that nervousness and test anxiety are the most common reasons that students do not perform well on exams. This is why we recommend this important step to exam takers. Create a test day routine that has the ability to calm your nerves before an exam and prepare your mind to perform at a high capacity. Test day routines can include, going to bed early the night before, eating a great breakfast, playing music (lofi or instrumentals) to get in the zone, praying before the exam, avoiding talking to anyone before entering the test room, or stopping studying atleast one hour before the exam. Whatever routine you choose, it should be something you look forward to before an exam. Under no circumstances should you go into an exam stressed or panicked. This will actually decrease your performance, except in the case you are one of the rear people that actually perform best under pressure.

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