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6 Study Skills to Master Before Your Next Test

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Alex Convery
September 08, 2020

Smiling college students using study skills to review material

Imagine it’s test day. Though you’ve known about it for weeks, it wasn’t until the last two days you really buckled down to study. Despite four hours spent cramming in your room last night, you are suddenly drawing a blank. The panic creeps in as you realize you aren’t ready. What went wrong with your study skills? And how can you brush up on those study skills to make sure this never happens again?

Knowing how to study isn't something that comes naturally to everyone. Even students who tend to do well in school might struggle at memorizing a list of dates or a sequence of equations. The good news is you can build effective study skills over time.

By mindfully working on your study skills and recognizing which techniques work best for you, you can build study habits that will serve you well through high school, college, and beyond.

6 Study Strategies for Academic Success

Young woman reading by library shelf

Whether you're getting ready for a final exam, brushing up on content for your own benefit, or prepping for an important standardized test, developing strong study skills that work for your learning style is critical.

Here are six of our favorite study skills:

1. Practice Time Management

It is often tempting to leave studying until the last minute. If you're busy with extracurriculars, work, or other commitments, finding the time to study may not come easily. However, procrastination and, in particular, late-night cramming sessions, can actually be counterproductive.

Studies about memory retention show that trying to cram knowledge during a last-minute study session doesn't help you over the long term. In addition, if you stay up late studying for a test, you're more likely to be tired on test day. That is also associated with poorer performance.

Instead, your best bet to build study skills that pay off is to master the art of time management. Start studying early, and then keep studying regularly to increase your long-term memory retention. This is called spaced out learning, and it's proven to be more effective when it comes to retaining new knowledge.

One way to make sure you use good time management is to plan your study time in advance. Get a calendar, mark important commitments, and then plan study times around them. Once you have these times written down, hold yourself accountable to them to make sure you get the most of your time management.

2. Utilize Effective Note-Taking Methods

Another way to get more bang for your buck when it comes to studying is by learning how to take effective notes. Effective note-taking doesn't just make studying easier later on. The act of writing something down by hand also helps you to learn the information in the first place.

Also, when you're taking thoughtful notes during class, you are more likely to engage in active listening. Active listening is when you think critically about the content and how it relates to your existing knowledge. The more context you have for new knowledge, the more likely you are to retain it.

There are lots of different formats for note-taking, and no single one will work best at all times for all people. Instead, you'll need to try out different approaches to see which work the best for your specific learning style. You'll also need to decide if some techniques work better for some subjects than they do for others.

Like most study skills, note-taking can come down to personal preference, but it's worth spending the time to figure out which methods work best for you.

3. Engage Effective Reading Skills

Effective reading is the literary equivalent of active listening. When you read effectively, you are doing far more than just passing your eyes over words on a page. Effective reading skills are nearly synonymous with strong study skills.

Effective reading is when you engage critical thinking skills to place new knowledge in the context of your existing knowledge. This can happen in several ways. Sometimes, you simply pause to think about how what you've just read supports or conflicts with what you already know. Other times, you might discuss your reading with someone else to get a better idea of what they've noticed or taken away from it.

Study groups are a good way to engage effective reading skills because they provide the opportunity to discuss what you've read. Organizing a group of friends to get together in a helpful study environment and read together with certain questions in mind can help guide effective reading and discussion.

Effective reading also usually involves a form of note-taking. Just like when you take notes during a lecture, note-taking during effective reading helps to internalize new knowledge and makes it more accessible for studying it again in the future.

4. Learn New Memory Tricks

Memory tricks are a fun way to build your study skills. The human brain is complex, but a lot of research can teach us how to optimize our memorization.

One popular memory trick is the mnemonic device. Mnemonic devices are a great study skill for remembering exact processes or equations that might otherwise be difficult to remember. By remembering a silly sentence or phrase, you can encode other related information.

For example, one common mnemonic device for remembering the order of the planets from the sun is the following sentence: My very educated mother just served us noodles. By taking the first letters from each of these words, you can place the planets in order: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Uranus, Neptune.

Visual learners might have a better shot at using visual cues to help with memory. For many people, visual memory is stronger than auditory recall, so creating a visual for certain pieces of knowledge can make them more accessible later on.

For example, if you want to engage visual learning for memorizing a math equation, try writing the equation and then incorporating it into a sketch. Do the numbers become certain animals? Does an exponent become a thought bubble above one of them? Let your imagination be your guide for this creative study skill. Practice the sketch a few times, and then study it some more. Once you can recreate your sketch, you can access the equation at any time.

Memory tricks are a great study technique for remembering highly specific equations, dates, or other facts.

5. Tame Test Anxiety

Test anxiety is often the greatest barrier between you and test success. No matter how hard you study or how well-prepared you are for a test, if you feel anxious on test day, your performance will suffer. Learning how to tame test anxiety is an important study skill to master.

Test anxiety is common, especially on high-stakes standardized tests. One of the simplest ways to tame test anxiety is through repeated test-taking. Take as many practice tests as possible in as realistic a test environment as you can. The more familiar you become with the test, the less likely you are to feel anxious about it.

Another great tool for tackling test anxiety is mindfulness. Recognizing the physical symptoms of anxiety in your body like a fast heartbeat can help you focus on relaxing. If you know your heart beats quickly when you're anxious, taking deep breaths, focusing on your breathing, and visualizing a successful test day can help to slow your heart rate and calm your body.

6. Practice Self-Care on Test Day

No amount of test prep can help if you don’t take care of yourself leading up to the test day. This means that all your studying could be for nothing if you don’t take simple steps to be well-rested and nourished on test day.

It starts the night before your test. Eat a healthy dinner at a reasonable hour, do one last review of your notes, and get to bed early. There’s no need for last minute studying if you’ve done your studying already. Now, make sure you’ve set an alarm and planned your breakfast in advance. Having an easy but healthy grab and go meal will simplify your morning and ensure that your body has the energy it needs to focus on your test. You’ll wake up feeling rested and ready to go.

Quality Study Skills Lead To Test Day Success

Young woman uses laptop to practice study skills in a college library

Building strong study skills is a lifelong investment. When you become an effective studier, you'll do better at every level of learning, from middle school to your days as a college student and even beyond. Managing your time, using effective note-taking and reading methods, practicing memory tricks, and tackling test anxiety will help you become the best student you can be. Then, taking care of yourself on test day will be your final step. Still, these stills may not come naturally and often are best learned with a little help from professionals.

For help perfecting your study techniques, consider enlisting the assistance of a company like TutorMe. TutorMe has professional tutors available on demand for nearly all subject areas. TutorMe also partners with area schools and libraries to make sure everyone can access their proprietary online lesson space. Visit the TutorMe website to start your free trial.