We’ve all tried to cram for a test at the last minute and ultimately ended up not doing as well as we would have liked or received the score we needed. While it may always seem like there’s not enough time, there are habits you can form to help you study every day that will make exam time so much easier when it comes. Take some time to prep every day and you won’t have to cross your fingers and hope for the best on your exams. Here are our top four tips to help you ace your next test.
1) Get a Study Partner
It’s easy to get distracted. Be honest with yourself: the five hours you spent in the library were probably mostly on YouTube or Facebook right? Accountability and discipline are difficult to manage on your own, but that’s where a study buddy can really help. Having another person you rely on, and who in turn relies on you, helps you be accountable for the work you do and how well you focus in class and on test preparation.
A study buddy should be someone you get along with, but not someone you’ll waste all your time chatting with when you both need to be studying. That doesn’t mean you can’t be friends; you just need to set aside specific times to meet and study that are productive for both of you. The advantage of having a study buddy is that you can break up the work and readings to maximize your time. Teaching your study buddy the concepts you’ve learned from a particular section will also help you retain the information better.
2) Eat Right and Rest Well
Two of the most important things you can do before taking an exam is to eat right and get enough sleep. Both of these can impact your body and can also be very difficult to balance—especially when you’re busy. Here are a few tips on how to eat right and sleep well in preparation for a big exam.
It’s okay if you’re not normally a breakfast person, but on test day you need to eat something before you take your test. If you don’t want a heavy meal in the morning, grab a smoothie or protein shake to start your day—but please eat something. You can amp up your pre-exam meal by eating foods that have been shown to increase brain function. That’s right, actual brain food does exist. Try grabbing some nuts, an apple, blueberries, salmon, eggs, or even dark chocolate for a boost.
There are also foods you should avoid eating before taking a test. These foods won’t kill your brain, but they might make you sleepy, or groggy. This includes too much alcohol (hangovers aren’t good for tests) and meals heavy in carbs or turkey that can make you sleepy. Lots of sugar is also a bad idea because it can cause you to crash in the middle of your test.
While you might think that staying awake and pulling an all-nighter is the best way to study for a test at the last minute, you might be wasting your time. Studies show that getting sleep will improve your grade more than staying up all night cramming in last-minute information. If you’re not getting enough REM sleep, you’re going to have more problems, not less, in classes and on tests. You should try to get at least 2 nights of good sleep before any big test so your brain is functioning at an optimal level.
Here are some tips for getting a good night’s sleep:
- Put away all screens 30 minutes before bed—The light from your computer or phone can actually disrupt natural sleep patterns.
- Cut out the caffeine—Caffeine too close to bedtime will make it difficult to fall asleep.
- Get at least 6 hours of sleep—You need to make sure you’re sleeping long enough to get some REM sleep.
- Don’t take long naps during the day—It can affect your sleep at night.
- Don’t start studying again!—Just because you can’t sleep doesn’t mean you should go back to studying. Lay in bed, relax, and focus on your breathing until you fall asleep.
Getting the proper food and sleep in preparation for your exams will help you do your best when it comes time to take your test.
3) Take Advantage of Free Student Resources
Most colleges offer excellent study support services that can really help you learn good study habits, pair you with study buddies, find tutors, and get academic advisement. Through your college’s academic support services, you should have access to tutors and advisors who can help you do well on your tests and understand complex topics you may be struggling with. A good student support center can really make the difference for students.
4) Be Prepared
Exam preparation should come long before the night before a big test. Look over your class syllabi and write down all your exam dates on your calendar so it’s not a surprise when they come up. Once you’ve jotted them down, come up with a study schedule for each exam; this way you won’t have to cram come crunch time. Here are a few other suggestions for exam preparation you can use throughout the semester:
- Use old tests to practice—These tools are especially effective for finals.
- Try teaching the material to someone else—Break it down and make it simple. You might even try explaining the concept to a younger sibling so you really have to simplify.
- Get a study group—Odds are if you’re in a group, someone will be able to explain something to you that you just can’t seem to get on your own.
- Take a break—Try using the Pomodoro Technique for maximizing productivity and so you don’t take excessive breaks.
- Eat snacks—Munching on some food while you study can help with concentration and memory. Try the brain-boosting foods we mentioned above, and skip the sugary snacks.
Your college experience should provide you with the tools you need to succeed both in your classes and after you graduate. Still struggling to improve your exam scores? Here are some more factors that can affect your study habits.