There is a strange irony that most of the best prepared students in class end up the weakest test takers. It actually makes sense when you start digging into the details though. The skills that make a student “a good student” in the traditional sense, are the same things that drag them back when it comes test time. Part of becoming a skilled test taker is related to completely ignoring the “good student” urges (or compartmentalizing them) and starting to focus on a less traditional style of test taking.
“Good students” I use in quotes to emphasize that I’m referring to the traditional idea of good students and not just any student that gets good grades. In this context, a good student gets good grades but a “good student” gets good grades by studying hard and making a large effort to making those grades.
One way to virtually guarantee your success (or at least survival) in any class is to just keep working on a subject until you get it. That usually means sitting down with the textbook and looking down on it until something finally sticks. Some students spend hours and hours on this process just to become sufficient. This is where one of the first things you should learn to become unshakable come test time comes into play.
1. Control Your Obsessiveness
If you sit with a textbook for hours trying to understand a subject then you’re going to be giving every aspect of your anatomy signals that what you’re studying is unbelievably important. It’s going to make it inevitable that you’ll stress when the subject comes up. The bigger you make the assignment seem, the more difficult you’re going to make taking the test. When you step into the test, you’re going to feel those hours of stressing over the subject.
Does that mean you should just walk in and fail without ever learning the subject?
Of course not. While using the 15MSS (15 Minute Study Strategy) that is taught on this blog, this shouldn’t be a scenario you run into very often. By using the right study strategy well in advance of the test, you can prevent this problem from coming up during the test. When it does come up, you’ll have the tools to handle it without turning it into an overly stressful experience.
Even if you don’t go for the full 15MSS, there are better approaches to solving this test preparation problem.
If you’re looking to prepare for a difficult test, instead of stressing obsessively for hours on it, study in regular short sessions. So, instead of sitting for 5 hours trying to learn it. Sit down for 25 minutes trying to learn it. Then an hour later you can do it again. Then repeat that as long as you find necessary. This is dramatically more likely to teach your brain the subject is important but it won’t be giving the same obsessive signals to your body as studying it straight through. You’ll get plenty of breaks and enjoy the process a whole lot more.
2. Focus On Memorization
Once you have the basics of what you’re learning understood, it’s time to forget about trying to develop a deeper understanding on the subject. In an ideal scenario, you should have a basic understanding of the information by the end of class time. By the time you’re sitting down with your study material, you should be able to focus most of your energy on straight up memorization.
If you don’t understand the material by the end of the class then check out our future article (How To Survive A Boring Lecture.)
Memorization is a strategy that helps you control your stress levels. While trying to understand a subject deeper and deeper is a challenge that is constantly increasing in difficulty, trying to memorize a list of facts is a relatively steady challenge. Science has done enough studies on how to memorize information. If you’re looking to stimulate memory, there is a standard set of procedures you need to go through. If you go through them, you’ll memorize it (in the short term at least.)
For more info on that you should read 6 Memory Strategies You Need In Your Study Toolbox.
Understanding isn’t as well understood. It’s not easy to know how well you can creatively think about a subject. What seems like progress may not be progress. What seems like no progress can be tons of progress. This is inevitably stressful and confusing. At a certain point, it’s much easier just to settle in for the sure thing of memorization.
When you step into the test, you won’t have to worry about forgetting the information you should know. (I’ve had so many aha moments on tests that it drives me nuts. After hours of uncertainty about my understanding, when the test comes and I know what I need to know, the pieces seem to fall right into place.) This isn’t a sure thing but once you have the basics of understanding, memorization is the safest place to focus on.
3. No Improvement Mentality
Test time is not the time to be worried about improving your grade.
It’s not an athletic event where stress will help you improve. It’s the opposite.
Worrying about improving your grade during test time is a sure method to stressing yourself out about it. You have limited time. You have limited access to resources. You have plenty of points at stake. You do not need the extra concern of improving your grade.
When you step into a test, only look to hold your ground. If you’re expecting a B on the test then fight for a B. That means, it’s not time to stress about every stupid little question that you can’t answer. When your grade doesn’t require perfection, you shouldn’t be stressing about imperfection.
When you sit down for the test, you know what you know and nothing more. It’s not the time to stress excessively to try and dig up hard to find information you haven’t thought of in years. It’s the time to do what you know you know. Anything extra you can do is just that: extra.
This blog often recommends going into a test with the mentality that your grade is already decided. This is usually a state best achieved by not doing crazy things like trying to cram months worth of studying into a night.
There is nothing (virtually nothing) you can do at that point to improve your grade. If the teacher throws you a question you’re completely unprepared for then you will be screwed. Accept that. That’s okay. You can learn from it. Sitting and worrying about it will not improve your grade. You can’t magically go back in time to study something else. You only know what you know and nothing more.
Accepting this is one of the most powerful ways you can reduce the stress you feel during tests. (It’s not completely true. It might as well be though. Naturally, skilled test takers may be able to improve their grade through a strange mind-over-matter confidence but the average person would get a lot farther just settling in and trying not to screw up the grade they already have in the bag.)
Using these strategies you can make tests your easy class day. On your average class day you’ll be forced to focus on hard learning what your teacher is lecturing. On test day you’ll get the relatively relaxing chance to just review the stuff you already know. That’s an amazing experience that absolutely everyone should be looking for.
Do you want to know how to study in less than 15 minutes a night? That’s what this blog is all about. Be sure to check out the archives, follow along, and read the ebooks in the sidebar for all the dirty secrets your teachers don’t want you to know about.
This is an absolutely essential read for anyone on this blog.
I’m about 4 hours away from something big.
The story began a decade ago when I first started to share my study strategies with other students.
I had figured out the Holy Grail of academic optimization strategies – and every intermediate step to get to it. Using this strategy, I pulled a nearly 4.0 GPA while running a double course load in college – and once I started sharing it.
Droves of them.
And then teachers noticed.
Most of the teachers that were looking out for their student’s best interest got what I was saying and supported the cause. Others… well… not everyone has the student’s best interest at heart.
Early on (even before Smart Student Secrets,) I started writing for average students.
I knew… I was NEVER one of the “smart kids”. I was mediocre at best. And I knew, if these strategies worked for me then they could work for just about anybody. And that’s who I wanted to connect with.
But… There was a problem…
I built an audience giving these strategies away. Sure…
And I’d get messages from them. And we’d talk. And I’d hear their stories.
I’d hear from A+ students that cut their study time by 90%.
I’d hear from B students that took their grades up to A’s.
I’d hear from teachers that were sharing my strategies with their students.
I’d hear from older students how these strategies changed their life.
I love it. I love introducing these strategies that changed my life to other people.
But there was always this… but…
What about the C students?
What about the D students?
What about the students that are currently failing?
Sure… Some would reach out.. but…
They never followed through… They’d take a small step. They’d sign up. They’d learn some killer strategies. Seeing right there how powerful they were going to be…
And then… life kicks in. They lose sight of their goals.
And it’s gone.
Student’s came to this site to improve their life. They see the possibilities. But then… they move on.
In about 4 hours, I’m going to be introducing something – an email subscriber exclusive – that can help change that.
It’s going to make more Smart Students than at any other time in this site’s history.
If you’re ready to take your academic game to the next level – if you want to see it for yourself.
Write your email in the box. Check the confirmation you want emails. Confirm your email. And see for yourself.