Tests bring out the anxiety in the calmest of students. Pre-exam jitters, last-minute cramming, blanking out, and especially failing are all legitimate fears to have. However, by using these simple techniques, you can approach any test feeling well-prepared and confident – exactly the mood your brain needs in order to quickly recall information!
First, know what you need to know. When is the test? Get as much information from lecturers and past students as you can about the test content and what text books to study. Find out the format of the test – is it true/false, essay-style, or multiple choice? Some teachers may even provide you with last year’s exam, or a sample version, to give you an idea of what you’ll be tested on. It’s essential to know what to focus your attention on, lest you get caught up in studying too much of the wrong stuff!
Once you know what to study, it’s important to outline a regular schedule in which to do the study. This will stop you from procrastinating and then cramming. Make sure you set aside a good amount of time to go over the material on a regular basis. Memory recall depends on two main things: regular repetition, and association. Repetition can be done in the form of re-reading and analyzing study notes and text books, using flash cards, or talking with a study partner about the information you’ve learned. To commit information to long-term memory and keep recall at 100%, it’s essential to do repetition directly after the information is first learned, then at least one week, and then one month after.
Associations & Mind Maps
Traditional learning techniques imply that to remember information, all you have to do is go over it again, and again, and again. This certainly pleases the left hemisphere of the brain. However, in order to activate your entire brain and boost memory recall, you need to employ the right hemisphere, too. Associating the information with the senses (taste, sight, sound and smell), imagination, color, humor, and creativity are all essential to quick recall during tests. There are many ways to apply these techniques:
- Mind Maps: a colorful, hand-drawn illustration that ‘maps’ all of the things you associate with a central subject and how they are linked to one-another. It can be as simple or as complex as you like.
- Word Games: Rhymes, rhythm, mnemonics, acronyms, exaggeration and number-rhymes (where “one” is “bun”, three is “tree”, etc). These are excellent ways to keep information in short-term memory for a couple of days, which is what you’ll be accessing during exams.
- Really Think About It: Rather than just taking in the information presented to you, take time out from reading and think about how the information relates to everything else you know.
Prepare Your Body
By staying calm, healthy, and happy, you’ll approach the test with an advantage. Do not spend the days leading up to study by cramming! Not only will this distort the information you already know, it will stress you out. Stress hormones reduce the effectiveness of your memory, so you’ll be doing more harm than good. Continue with your regular study schedule, but allow extra time to go over the material specific to the test.
Eat regular, healthy meals to keep your whole body stress-free and functioning at its best. Try to maintain a healthy diet that includes lots of “brain food” in the form of amino acids (the building blocks of protein), Omega-3 (a fatty acid that is essential for building brain cells), and plenty of fresh vegetables. Drinking green tea regularly has been shown (in some studies) to help with memory, attention, and retention; but you should drink tea regularly and not as a one-time last minute resort—that won’t do anything for your memory.
Get a good night’s rest the day before the test. Your brain uses the night time to assimilate information, create neural pathways, and associate memories – all the things you need to improve your test scores. It can’t do all this if you aren’t asleep! Allow yourself to go to bed an hour or two before you actually have to sleep. Test anxiety may take over and you may find yourself tossing and turning as you struggle to get to sleep. So be sure to give yourself ample time to actually get to sleep.
Directly before the test, try doing some breathing exercises or perhaps some meditation. As cliché as it sounds, taking 10 deep breathes or a little meditation causes your brain to release calming chemicals, quickly turning an otherwise stressful situation into a pleasant (or at least bearable) one. The more positive the test experience is, the better you’ll do!