1. Read the material once.
The first time you read through the material, whether it is a chapter or an entire book, you should avoid spending time re-reading sections or memorizing terms or concepts along the way. Instead, this step will familiarize you with the material and create a framework upon which you can build your knowledge until test time.
2. Reread and take notes.
After you have read through the material once, you should go back and read the material again. This step might appear redundant at first glance, but you will more easily assimilate information and connect concepts this time because you have already formed a rough picture of the material in your mind. Reading complex sections aloud can enhance your absorption of the information by involving more areas of your brain. To stay engaged and increase your retention of the material, make notes of key points and diagrams along the way. You should also ask yourself questions about the material and write those down to explore later.
3. Test yourself for the first time.
It is time to assess your progress. If you are using a textbook, you are likely to find in-book reviews, chapter tests and cumulative reviews. These can be ideal for checking your knowledge of the material and identifying areas that need improvement. After you write down the sections of the material that correspond to the questions you answered incorrectly, focus on those sections as your prepare to test yourself again.
4. Make study aids.
The study aids you make can vary according to the type of material involved and the type of test you expect. For multiple choice tests, consider making flashcards with index cards. Write down questions and multiple answer choices on the front of the cards and the correct answers on the other side. Alternately, you can write phrases with blanks where words should be inserted and write the answers on the back. Flashcards are also excellent for memorizing math rules and formulas.
If you expect essay questions, you should practice tying related information together. One way to solidify your comprehension of the material is to write out concepts in your own words. In many cases, textbooks list questions at page margins or section endings that you can practice answering. Again, explaining concepts aloud uses some different parts of the brain compared to writing those concepts on paper, and you may find that your mastery of the material will increase if you practice both.
5. Test yourself again
This is your final pretest before the actual exam. After focusing on areas that were problematic for you during the first pretest, you should be able to answer questions on those topics successfully this time. For this second test, include more questions covering those areas as well as new versions of questions regarding the rest of the material.
6. Review your text and notes before the test
As your prepare to sit for the exam, read through the text and your notes a final time. By this point, you should feel comfortable with the material and should only be cementing concepts that are already in your mental framework rather than learning anything for the first time. You have overlearned the material and tested yourself repeatedly, and the actual exam will simply give you the opportunity to prove your mastery to yourself and the instructor.
Use your time wisely
The time you have until your exam must be considered as your prepare for it. The longer you have to study and the more space between your own pretests, the better you will retain the material. Cramming just before the exam is unlikely to produce optimal results. Furthermore, you will be less likely to recall the information later if you learn it over a short period of time.
Take breaks regularly
Just like a muscle, the brain benefits from rest. This means that, if time allows, you should take breaks regularly during extended study sessions. Physical exercise, even a short walk, has also been shown to improve long-term retention of information that has just been learned. Naps can also be a powerful way to recharge your brain.
Besides boosting your ability to retain and recall the material you are learning, the right study approach can help you stay confident during your test. This confidence can help you keep a clear head as you work through the questions. Once you have practiced this strategy repeatedly, you are likely to find that your performance improves not only in school but in virtually any setting where extensive learning is necessary.
Also see: Study Tips