Study Strategies & Test Prep

Study Strategies & Test Prep

Review Regularly!

Have you ever experienced learning information initially and then when the test rolled around, feeling like you needed to start from scratch? That's because our brains need regular review to retain information long term! Check out Ebbinghaus' "Forgetting Curve" for a good visual of why this happens.

Study Cycle

Follow this Study Cycle for each of your classes!

Study Cycle

Consider using a graphic organizer to review and study your notes! 

Other Essential Strategies and Tools:

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Half of the battle is attending lectures. But this only gets you so far unless you take good notes to review and study the material. Here are the essential steps to make sure you take meaningful notes from class. 

Laptop or Notebook?

Some professors may have policies on devices during class which should be taken into consideration. If laptops are allowed, you should decide whether you take digital or physical notes faster or more efficiently. But keep in mind, research suggests that taking notes by hand has a positive impact on committing the information to memory. Learn more here. (Effectiviology. (n.d.). Retrieved December 17, 2020, from

Stick to an organization system

Whether you are using digital or physical notes, make sure you label all notes clearly. Include the date, class, and topic so you know what the notes are covering. Also, make sure you use the same system for all classes so you know where everything is located.

If you are using a notebook: Keep separate notebook sections or notebooks for each class and keep all notes for each class together in one space, in chronological order. You might consider using a binder to easily switch papers and handouts around.

If you are using a laptop: Create different folders for your classes and subfolders for your notes. Make sure you save documents and make backup files.

Note-Taking During Class

Do not simply copy the PowerPoint slides. You should write down the terms and vocabulary used, but add any additional information the professor says.
This handout on the do's and don'ts of note-taking gives you some good starter tips.

If you cannot keep up with the notes or get confused, skip a few spaces, and stay with the lecture. Do not stop taking notes.

If you are constantly having trouble keeping up in class, put in more time to prepare before the lecture. Preview the relevant chapter(s) and identify a few sections to read closely so you will already be somewhat familiar with the content prior to hearing the lecture. Also, find a classmate to meet with after class to compare notes. This is a great strategy because it helps you review actively, and each of you may have caught something different, so you can help each other fill in the blanks.

Abbreviations are extremely helpful and can help you take notes faster

Here are some suggestions to use in your note-taking.

Try to take as many notes as possible, but do not be too wordy

Make sure you get the main ideas and add supplementary material to understand these ideas. Refer to this outline notes sample to see how concise your notes should be.


Review your notes within 24 hours of attending the class. Be active as you review your notes, pausing to reflect on the content. Below are some models that might help you in identifying ways to review your notes AFTER the lecture:

Try highlighting keywords in your notes or creating flashcards

These actions can really make a difference in your ability to stay on top of your material as long as you are consistently reviewing notes within 24 hours of each lecture. Don't put this off!

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Watch this tutorial to learn more about strategies for reading efficiently: 

Use The Reading Cycle 

Remember the Study Cycle? Apply this same “before”, “during”, and “after” study strategy to your reading:

Effectively Marking Your Text

Finish reading before marking

Never mark until you have finished reading a full paragraph or headed section and have paused to think about what you just read. The procedure will keep you from grabbing at everything that looks important at first glance.

Be extremely selective 

Don't underline or jot down so many items that they overload your memory or cause you to try to think in several directions at once. Be stingy with your markings, but don't be so brief that you'll have to read through the page again when you review.

Use Your Own Words  

Information jotted in the margins should be in your own words. Since your own words represent your own thinking they will later be powerful cues to the ideas on the page.

Be brief 

Underline brief but meaningful phrases, rather than complete sentences. Mark your marginal jottings short and to the point. They will make a sharper impression on your memory, and they will be easier to use when you recite and review.

Use the SQ3R Reading Strategy 

The acronym SQ3R stands for Survey, Question, Read, Recite, and Review. This 5-step reading method offers an efficient strategy to help you fully understand your reading materials!



Want additional practice?

Consider enrolling in US 2002 Power Reading to practice various strategies to develop effective and efficient reading strategies.

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Here are some essential tips to prepare for a big test or final exam: 

Put in the day-to-day work

  • Keep up with reading that relates to the lecture/that will be tested.
  • Continue to take your own notes.
  • Review all of your notes to make sure you understand everything: if you don't, find out—talk to a friend, go to group study sessions or tutoring, meet with the professor, take the initiative!

Attend class

  • The lecture is set up to help you understand the material and the professor may even give some tips and hints for the test!

Test your vocabulary and knowledge

  • Be able to put them in your own words—don't just memorize the standard definition, especially if that definition doesn't make sense to you.
  • On the test, more often than not, you won't be asked simply to define the word, but to apply the knowledge in an example or to distinguish the term from something similar.
  • Create and take practice tests with these terms. Create your own test in your mind—cover up the definitions and guess the word, the examples, etc. Draw some pictures and diagrams to help you remember.

Studying before the test

  • You can review the material again, and pick out the terms that give you trouble. Do not try to cram all of the material the night before the test!
  • Predict exam questions: Focus on main themes and subtopics of lecture notes, looking at old exams, reading textbooks, using student manuals, and talking with instructors.

Take a look at how our student workers prepare for their exams! 

Final Exam Preparation

Make sure you utilize your Final Exam Plan to break down the work over time and reduce stress.

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Attempt to answer the question without looking at the options

If necessary, cover the answers with your hand.

Answer the questions you know first

Often answers to questions you don't know are supplied in other questions. Go back to answer the difficult questions later.

Analyze the options as true/false questions

In a negatively worded question ("which of the following are NOT"), put a T or F beside each option, then simply select the false statement.

Never be afraid to use common sense in determining your answer

It is sometimes easy to confuse yourself by attempting to recall the "right" answer rather than simply reasoning through the question. Make sure your answer makes sense.

When guessing, do not change answers

Research indicates your first answer is usually best. However, don't be afraid to change answers when you have a good reason for doing so.

Choose answers that are not the first or last option

Research indicates that the option in the middle with the most words is usually the correct response.

Answer all questions

Unless points are deducted for incorrect responses (sometimes the case with standardized tests), leave enough time to answer all questions. Even educated guesses are better than no response at all.

Read through all of the answers

If the first option is the correct one, look at the last option to make sure there is no "all of the above" option. The same is true for the "none of the above" question. It is also a good idea to read all answers before marking yours. Remember, the instructor is looking for the "best" answer. If options appear similar, chances are one of them is the correct response. The same is true for quantities that are almost the same.

Always allow time to review your answers at the end

If you are unsure about answers as you go, mark them for your review at the end. Make sure you have answered all questions!

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While some stress can be a good motivation to study and take the test seriously, text anxiety can have a negative impact on your performance. Symptoms of test anxiety include memory lapse, confusion, rapid heart rate, fast, shallow breathing, cold, sweaty hands, upset stomach, headaches, muscle tension, fear of fainting or vomiting, irritability, tears, and jitteriness. Try out these coping strategies to manage your test anxiety! 

Click on this graphic to learn more:

Managing Your Test Anxiety


Check out some additional strategies about managing test anxiety during the test.

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