Study Tips for Tests in College

Prepare for Battle, Not for War

How would you prepare for a chess match? Would you pick up a book on advanced chess strategy and read like a fiend? Or would you imagine specific moves and patterns of moves you might make in a match? A recent study indicates that chess players who practice very specific techniques in preparation for a tournament perform equally or better than opponents who prepared by attempting to improve their general skills.

So what does this mean for you and your upcoming Biology exam? Don't read over your notes eight times over…Instead, try to imagine the open-ended questions that might show up on the test and prepare specific answers for each. Operationalizing the information you already know into specific answers will help you access it correctly and efficiently during test time, even if the exact questions you predicted don't show up. Stop practicing becoming a better note reader and start practicing becoming a better test taker. Beneficial information for adult learners or high school or even a current college student, these tips will amp up your test studying abilities.

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Location Mapping

You've heard the professional memorizers (you know, those freaks who can memorize a deck of cards faster than Dustin Hoffman can say “Tuesdays and Thursdays”) talk about creating vivid imaginary scenes which link the necessary information to mind-made images? Most of us struggle with this concept - especially those of us who don't consider memorizing three decks of cards an important life goal.

The trick is to use "loci", or in terms you won't have trouble remembering, map your flash cards to real world, geographically fixed items in your life. The easiest example is your home. Imagine that you are trying to memorize facts about Christopher Columbus. Visualize walking into your home. What do you see? Do you have a picture of an ocean somewhere? Is anything the color of Spanish tile? Do you have a picture of you and your spouse getting "Married" (think Santa Maria). Are there Pinto Beans (Pinta)?

Once you have mapped facts to items in your house, remembering them is as simple as walking through your home in your memory.

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Sleep Soundly

In a very interesting, fairly new study, scientists attempted to determine if certain conditions might impact WHAT information gets processed while you sleep. The six hours of sleep you get a night simply isn't enough to process all of the information you learned during a day into the kinds of memories that will help you ace a test the following day. So, how do you coax your sub and semi-conscious mind into turning six hours of cramming into a lifetime of knowledge?

By attaching specific sounds to images, scientists were able to determine that individuals who encounter those sounds while slumbering remembered images better than those who do not. So, are you studying for an Art History exam and really need help remembering specific artists and their work? Consider recording a handful of sounds that you can play back while studying a specific piece of work or artist. Then, when you go to sleep, play back the sounds on loop (not so loud it will keep from sleeping though).

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Doodle Like a Pro

So, how in the world can not paying attention actually improve your ability to remember your notes during a pre-test cram session? It seems counterintuitive, but in reality you are actually distracting yourself. However, you are diverting your attention just enough to cognitively pay attention to absorb the information.

It seems that students who do not doodle are more apt to daydream or to become distracted by other things that are frankly too intensive on the brain to allow your ridiculously monotone professor's voice to make its way into your brain. Doodling keeps you just distracted enough to stimulate the parts of your brain that would otherwise be dormant, while the part of your brain that is going to play a huge role in whether you pass Literature this semester.

If you want to make your doodling even more productive, consider tying in doodling to your lecture or coursework. Converting language and facts into imagery can help you retain information better in the long run, too. Seen Here:

Brain Food, with a Twist

We have long known that eating plays some role in academic performance, but sometimes we just need to see the n umbers to be convinced. The truth is at nearly every age level, scientists see evidence that eating a solid breakfast improves academic aptitude. Whether you are a child in grade school, a college Biology student or a professional trying to preserve a high level of job performance, there is no question that eating breakfast is valuable.

However, there is proof that the exact way hunger and nutrition affect us differs based on certain factors. For example, individuals who are already under-nourished can expect to see significantly worse outcomes than those who already have a strong baseline nutrition level. Interestingly, men seem to perform better when they are slightly hungry and women perform better when they are slightly full.

These Kindergartners are on to Something

"Power naps" have been all the buzz lately, but a short 20 or 30 minute nap only helps you with your energy level, not with memory retention.

Evidence suggests that a slightly longer nap—closer to 90 minutes—can make your learned tasks immune to interference. When you learn something throughout the day, it is susceptible to being "interfered" by other new information, which could modify or replace what you have recently learned. Taking a longer nap seems to assist in memory consolidation and, in fact, daytime sleep accelerates this process.

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Get Colorful

While this is the weakest correlation on our list of mind hacks, it is certainly worth giving it a shot. For a long time there has been speculation that color plays a role in our ability to create and form memories. Several scientific studies have attempted to draw specific conclusions about the role of color in memory formation. This could come in handy if you are preparing for a test and are looking for whatever advantage you can get.

While science has yet to provide us with that elusive key to instant success, we have learned some interesting relationships that aid memory retention. For example, scientists have discovered that humans have an easier time with remembering images in color rather than in black and white. Sorry, but writing in colorful ink doesn't seem to convey the same outcome. What scientists did discover, though, is that specific colors perform worse than standard black and white. For example, blue and green backgrounds have a depressive effect compared to the standard black on white with which we are familiar.

Image Credits
Dining Room Flickr Creative Commons
Cymbals Cartoon Liscensed from Cartoon Stock
Zombie Cat by !Alphore
Children Napping by Library of Congress - Creative Commons
Brain Image by jkt_de at Morgue File
Angry Chess Kid from
Doodle by Amula

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