General Education

8 Tips You Should Never Follow When Preparing for a Test

8 Tips You Should Never Follow When Preparing for a Test
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Matthew Creegan April 15, 2014

Learn from bad advice to help you make better decisions filled with better grades and less stress.

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You’ve passed some tests and other times you've probably missed the mark for a myriad of reasons. There have been numerous tactics you’ve used to study — some leading you to the path of A's and some a bit further from perfection. But sometimes it takes looking at bad advice or bad ideas to help you understand what are the tried and true ways to prepare and pass a test.

Cease to commit these eight common faux pas and you’ll be on your way to academic victory.

# 1. Death by Highlighter

The Mistake: Your fluorescent yellow marker can be a great study tool, but when highlighting key terms ends up with a textbook that looks like it was tossed around at a glow stick paint party, you’re doing it wrong.

The Remedy: Everything in moderation. The point of highlighting is to flag key terms or concepts that need to stick out. A better approach would be to highlight with discretion, or to use more than one color highlighter for different topics you want to remember — for instance, red for dates, yellow for definitions, and blue for equations. Although the textbook is your canvas, remember that less is more.

# 2. Drowning in Details

The Mistake: It’s okay to strive for knowing the ins and outs of a topic, but it’s easy to get lost in the minutia, especially when studying complicated or dense material.

The Remedy: Don’t miss the forest for the trees. Start with key concepts and work your way down to the root of the issue. Remember to draw connections, and understand the big picture without getting caught up in the tiny components.

# 3. Multiple Sources Overload

The Mistake: If your desk looks like a mad scientist’s library when you’re studying, you might want to consolidate a bit. Using different sources to study from will broaden your pool of knowledge, but it could be overkill.

The Remedy: Consolidate as much as you can. Keep all of your notes in one place. A great app to use is Evernote. You can save all of your notes and access them on your computer, phone, and tablet.

# 4. Gabbing With Your Study Group

The Mistake: There’s power in numbers, but sometimes that power can be unproductive. Getting together with your friends to hit the books for a quick study session could result in getting together with your friends — and nothing else.

The Remedy: Unless it’s a group project where the work is shared, and everyone has clearly defined roles and responsibilities, if you find yourself tempted to catch up on the latest gossip or discussing at length last night’s game, it may be better for you to study alone.

# 5. Solely Relying on Memorization and Repetition

The Mistake: There is a misconception that memorizing information word-for-word is all you need to know to pass the test.

The Remedy: Regurgitation is not retention. Knowing what you’re talking about is worth more than parroting words from a textbook. More often than not memorized material will go in one ear and out the other. However, sometimes, you’ll have a test that will require memorization. So for that, mnemonic devices and strategic repetition can help make the concepts stick to your brain so that you can also remember what you learned in the long haul.

# 6. Pulling All Nighters

The Mistake: Empty coffee cups, bloodshot eyes, delirium — all in the name of academia. Staying up all night is not the secret ingredient for absorbing material.

The Remedy: Get enough sleep. It’s proven to help you perform better on exams. If you want to carve out more time in your day for studying, set that alarm clock and wake up earlier.

# 7. Adderall as a Substitute for Thinking

The Mistake: The miracle drug! Unless it’s prescribed to you, leave it alone. These types of drugs won’t boost your brain capacity. Adderall is actually a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. This drug is highly addictive and potentially dangerous; it could cause depression, fatigue, and sleep problems.

The Remedy: There is no miracle drug. When regularly grouped together, regular exercise, a good night's rest, and eating a healthy diet creates the power your body and brain needs to stay focused.

# 8. Cram It All In

The Mistake: Your mind is like a sponge, but that doesn't mean you should keep it empty until the very last minute.

The Remedy: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Try to study a little bit each day. Don’t wait until the last minute; your brain’s memory doesn’t work like that.


Memory Tips and Test Taking Strategies. (2011, September 24). Memory Tips and Test Taking — Study Skills Guide — Academic Support. Retrieved from Cuesta College.

Hom, E. J. (2013, November 6). Adderall: Uses, Abuses & Side Effects. LiveScience. Retrieved from Live Science.

Exercise and study. (2012, August 14). NHS. Retrieved from NHS.

Sleep, Learning, and Memory. (2007, December 18). Healthy Sleep. Retrieved from The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Healthy diet means better school performance. (2008, April 14). Reuters. Retrieved from Reuters.


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