The most efficient and effective way to study and prepare for a standardized test may not be traditional methods taught in grade school.  Teachers will advocate that students use a proactive approach to study and understand the material from a theoretical basis before taking the test.  Techniques may include reading the material in detail, taking notes, and drawing diagrams to illustrate the concepts and make connections.  If the main objective is to simply pass the test, then the traditional methods can work to some extent.  However, students all too easily waste time on irrelevant minutiae and in the end fail to reconstruct their knowledge on test day.

A recent study published in the journal Science shows that a reactive approach based on information retrieval is actually more effective method for our brains to remember the material than repeated studying.  This is analogous to taking the test first, getting immediate feedback, and then going back to the material when needed.  In this way students can more easily identify their weaknesses and work on shoring them up.  The process of making mistakes through incorrect answers and the focus of taking a practice test also lead to better absorption of the material.  Really, students should be testing themselves as much as possible.


Test Prep Strategies:

For every standardized test there is a backlog of previous tests available to the public.  You will need to get your hands on these old test questions.  Usually purchasing a review book or enrolling in a review course will do the trick.

To start out it is helpful to do a cursory overview of the material, but don’t get bogged down in details.  You won’t want to spend too much time doing this, since most of your time should be spent on answering practice test questions.

Break up the material into sections based on subject matter.  Most review courses and review books do this already.  That way you can study piecemeal and focus on particular topics instead of jumping around randomly.  Also, trying to tackle all the material all at once can seem daunting, especially in the beginning.   Go step by step, subject by subject so as not to get discouraged.

Don’t become disheartened if you get a lot of answers wrong at first.  Mistakes are the fastest way for you to really learn the material.  Most people tend to remember their failures more than their successes.  Your wrong answers will stick in your brain so that next time you will be better prepared.

For every wrong answer you make, write down the rule or concept that is required to know the right answer.  Go back to the material if you have to see where you erred.  Keep a running log of the correct answers to your wrong answers.  You should review this list several times to really let the information sink in.  Then take the whole set of questions all over again.  Without a doubt you will get instant improvement in your overall score and you will have better absorbed the material.  Repeat this process until you are completely comfortable with the material.


Other tips:

Try to study the core subjects the most and spend less time on areas that are rarely tested. 

For every question first look toward the end to find out what exactly the question is asking.  Then go back to the beginning and read.

Look for patterns in how the test makers ask the questions.  After a while you will see that they ask the same questions over and over again in slightly different ways.

Keep a separate list of things that should just be memorized.  Make flashcards for these if you’d like.

Build up the intensity of your studying as the test date nears, but the day before the test you should do only light studying at most.  You should be relaxed to allow your brain to function at full capacity on test day.  Get a good night’s rest the day before, and the following morning remember to eat breakfast!

As long as you put in the time to prepare, be confident that you will do your best.

Good luck!