This article appears in Make the Grade.
Benjamin Franklin said it best: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
“Proper preparation means everything. In order to earn a target score, establishing a game plan and sticking to it are critical to achieve success,” said Jonathan Chiu, national ACT and SAT content director for The Princeton Review.
Sound study habits like good organization, time management and studying in the proper environment will help a student learn material and succeed, said study and life skills expert Rick Kamal, president, EduNova.
How to start
Get started by figuring out the test format.
“The only way that a student can expect success is when she knows what to expect on the test — both in terms of layout and content,” Chiu said.
Make a study plan and mark down specifically when you’ll be studying.
“That helps you keep your eyes on the prize,” Kamal said.
Create a comfortable study workspace such as a quiet room at the library or in your home with music playing in the background, Kamal said. It should be free from distractions and interruptions. Don’t forget to shut off your phone.
Different study strategies work well for different kinds of students, but for standardized tests “the key to success is being able to identify — and rectify — errors in thought processes or test-taking skills that are applicable to any given test,” Chiu said.
What’s better, to study alone or in a group setting? Use whatever works best for you.
“Some students may prefer group settings so that others can help explain why an answer choice is correct; others may prefer the solitude that working alone affords them to be more focused in their preparation and practice,” Chiu said.
Re-reading content doesn’t necessarily translate into better preparation if the student has difficulty understanding the content or identifying what she’s doing incorrectly.
“For example, if I were to read a passage about how the hydrophobicity and topography of a synthetic polymer substrate affects cell affinity for attachment and proliferation, I could repeatedly read the passage but still not pull any take-away messages from it,” Chiu said.
Do homework better
When faced with chapters to review, homework, study guides, practice tests and more, some students are unsure how to prioritize their time, but Chiu recommends that practice tests and completed homework should be reviewed before taking an official test.
One thing many students overlook is how to go about finishing homework. It “doesn’t simply mean doing all the questions one sets out to do or is assigned by an instructor,” Chiu said. “Rather, finishing homework means doing all the questions and checking the answer key to see which questions are correct and spending time trying to understand how and why mistakes were made. Only by diligent review and analysis of completed work can appreciable score improvements be made.”
Lastly, don’t forget to hit the pillow. A good night’s sleep can translate to improved academic performance, according to findings published in the Journal of Sleep Research. Consistent optimal sleep gives a student energy and the abilities to focus, concentrate, retain information and problem-solve.