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10 Simple Ways to Ace Your Next Test

a.jpgWhether you’re in high school, college, trade-school, or a pro-cert program, tack this list on the wall in your study area as a reminder of 10 simple things you can do to ace your next test.

1. Replenish Your Fuel: My psychology professor once said, “John, you’d be amazed at how much glucose energy the brain burns when you’re studying.” To eliminate the fuzzy feeling that descends upon your mind after a long time studying, replenish your fuel by eating a small snack. Avoid refined sugars (which can cause a sugar high and subsequent crash), but do try cheese or tuna on wheat crackers or a slice of apple.

2. Avoid the Last-Minute Cram: If you’re a whiz at pulling all nighters and last-minute study binges, knock yourself out. Otherwise, know that procrastination is a silent, passive killer of grades. Determine how many days of lead-time you need to do well on a test (through trial and error), then plan accordingly. If time management is a problem, buy a calendar and pre-schedule study days to prevent overbooking yourself.

3. Be Alert: Sometimes, our schedules force us to study when we’re tired, but studying when you’re alert will increase your retention and effectiveness tenfold. If you can’t study at the time of day when you are naturally most alert, try waking yourself up before hitting the books. Go for a walk to get your blood pumping. Caffeinated beverages (coffee, Diet Mountain Dew) work too. Just don’t overdo the caffein and sugar — otherwise, you’ll crash. (Heed your doctor’s orders regarding caffeine.)

4. Organize Your Study Area: A study area should have clean work surfaces (for ease of reading and taking notes), readily available supplies (to reduce time wasted hunting for paper or pens), ample lighting (to reduce eye strain), and an ergonomically correct chair and work area (to reduce fatigue).  

5. Eliminate Distractions: Televisions, radios, and distracting conversations have little place in an optimized study area.

6. Practice: If the test you’re taking involves the application of skills (such as math or programming), make sure you’ve mastered the work prior to the test. 

7. Memorize: Unless you’re naturally gifted at acing tests through casual reading (without attempting to memorize), you will benefit from flash cards, mind mapping, my simple memory technique, or whatever memorization strategy works for you.  Find a technique you like, then stick with it.  

8. Take Good Notes: Read every line of text and ask yourself, “Could this be on the test?”  As the semester progresses, pay attention to the way your teacher structures her tests because this will help you refine your note taking skills.

9. Replicate the Test Environment: It’s a little known fact, but if you replicate the classroom test environment in your study area, the familiarity and mental associations between the two environments can actually help you score higher on the test. Most of us can’t duplicate the classroom environment completely, but every similarity helps: posture, lighting, orientation of paper and pen, and so forth. Another helpful tip is to maintain a consistent level of mental awareness between test and study time — in other words, if you guzzled a Diet Mountain Dew while you were studying, try guzzling one again during the test.

10. Defeat Negativity: Some students become easily discouraged when they can’t solve a particular problem or memorize a certain date.  Internal voices of doubt rise up, crush will power, and open spirals of despair.  If you’re the type of student who discourages easily, keep telling yourself you can do it.  And the truth is, if you believe you can do it, most of the time, you really can.

Well, there it is. My top ten list of simple study tips. Tack it on your cork-board. Show it to a friend.

And good luck on your test.

Categories: Study Smarter


12 Responses to “10 Simple Ways to Ace Your Next Test”

  • […] course, most of this really is common sense — but sometimes, common sense is just what we need. 10 Simple Ways to Ace Your Next Test Enjoy. There are a few things I left off this list: Finding a tutor, for example. […]

  • Ryan says:

    Excellent list. I would say that we learn the most important study habits from trial and error, but I know it often takes a list like this to keep yourself on track. Eating those “refined sugars” is a weakness I share with many other people.


  • JohnPlace says:

    Excellent observation, Ryan. Through trial and error we can take someone else’s “common sense” list and transform it into our very own study-power routine.

    I used to gobble a bunch of refined sugar too — and it did wake me up — for about a half hour, after which I’d find myself all fuzzy-minded and searching for my pillow.

  • The King says:

    I think the distraction part is what gets most students, atleast all the people in High School that I know. For example, right now I’m supposed to be studying for my SAT II Physics, instead I’m browsing around the net. There are just so many things to distract us and we’re students with an attention span of a fly.

  • JohnPlace says:

    Ah, lack of focus, one of the fabled causes of procrastination:

    11 Causes and Cures for Procrastination

  • Duncan says:

    You have to think more outside the box. I heard recently of some college administrators who were upgrading your past scores for a fee. I know, I think they got caught, and some folks will be found out.

    There are some non-cheating ways you can try. Take advantage of the halo effect. If you always do well, your professor will be more likely to pass a marginal answer, figuring that you did know the answer, but were pressed for time.

    Find out what books the professor reads. Often most of the questions come from a few sources. Try to get into their head. If you add some mention of their pet projects in your answers, you can impress them and win points.

    Try to get your paper near the bottom of the stack. The professor starts of alert and critical as they mark the papers, but may get tired and skip reading all the details near the end.

    Good luck!

  • JohnPlace says:


    While I understand that reasonable people may disagree, my personal feeling is that we’re better off trying to master the material than resorting to tricks.

    I’ve spoken of the halo effect before, though I didn’t call it that, and I agree it can be a good thing. But I cannot personally condone paying for grades, and mentioning the professor’s pet projects seems like energy that could better be spent covering the basics.

    I suppose one should find a way of earning the grade he desires that’s morally agreeable to him; hopefully a way that’s agreeable to the school as well.

  • […] of others, slower to anger and worry, and more productive. This is because when you are happy, your brain actually works more effectively. As you cannot cry and laugh at the same time, so you would not be […]

  • Robert says:

    this list help me as my s.a.t!

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