wikiHow to Pass an Exam

Three Parts:Studying SmartPrepping Yourself for the ExamTaking the Exam

In life, there aren't any paper tests. But in school, they seem to be all the time. It should be so simple as to read the material and go to class, but sometimes that's not enough. We'll cover how to study effectively, how to get your brain going, and what do to during the test to ensure that you pass it with flying colors. See Step 1 below to guarantee that you knock this next one out of the park!

Part 1
Studying Smart

  1. 1
    Organize yourself. Before you start walking the road to success in the exam, you'll be a lot more productive (and a lot less distracted) if you get organized. Before you sink into the couch and are past the point of no return, think about the following:

    • Make a schedule. Your life is probably jam packed with hobbies, social obligations, and a whole bunch of stuff you'd rather be doing. So make a schedule and stick to it.
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    • Get all your papers. Even those assignments you completed a long time ago may come in handy. It's vital to have the most important thing of them all - your syllabus.
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    • Get everything you could possible need. From paper clips to highlighters to extra pillows, get it now.
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    • Have water, something healthy, and something not so healthy (recent studies say dark chocolate increases cognitive function![1]). If you're feeling sluggish, have some caffeine. Don't feel bad about the extra large latte -- caffeine (at least in moderate amounts) can totally up your game.[2]
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    Specify your study schedule. So you manned up and set aside a 2 hour chunk this Thursday for studying history. Awesome -- that's step 1. Now actually make it useful! Devote this Thursday to the Seven Years' War. Monday you can read about the French Revolution and next Wednesday you'll make it all the way to Napoleon and his delusions of grandeur. Have specific goals in mind -- whether it be by concepts, time, or number of pages or chapters. It'll seem infinitely more doable.
    • If you have more than one exam to take, be sure to balance them out as need be. You don't need to study the same amount -- concentrate on the harder one. You can use the other subject for a break from the other if you're really strapped for time.
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    Make your notes less drab and dull. The great thing about studying is that you can do it however you want to. So take that naptime of a lecture you were victim of and turn it into something enjoyable. Something that you'll remember.
    • Use highlighters to highlight important information. Use one color for main concepts, one color for vocabulary, and another color for dates, etc. When you go over your notes, they'll be that much easier to skim.
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    • Make your own charts, graphs, and diagrams from the information. Pictures are so much easier to look at and to recall when you're sitting at that desk at test time. 40% of all carbon emissions come from the agricultural industry? Sounds like time for a pie chart.
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    • It may actually benefit you to rewrite your notes. Studies show that exposing yourself to the information in different ways (that is, instead of just reading it, you're writing it, too) makes it stick in your mind longer.[3] But don't rewrite them all -- stick to a loose outline.
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    Mix it up. In one study session, all the science is pointing to studying different concepts in different places. Turns out that when your brain is bored with reading about photosynthesis while sitting in your bedroom that it'll actually do you good to go to the cafe and start reading up on Punnett squares. Here's the gist:
    • Study in different places.[4] Turns out our brains make associations between our surroundings and what's going on. The more associations you have, the stronger the connection.
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    • Study different concepts.[5] You wouldn't expect a basketball player to work on his lay-ups for three hours straight, right? Same goes for students. If you do division problem after division problem, your brain is going to go on autopilot. Work on different concepts to keep your brain from turning to mush.
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    Take breaks. It's not slacking -- it's you supercharging. It's science you can blame -- it says that breaks help your brain get back into the game and replenish your attentional deficits.[6] So take a 5 or 10 minute break every hour.[7] It'll help -- not hinder -- your memory and focus.
    • If you really want to get serious, take that break to do some jumping jacks or go for a quick jog. Getting your blood pumping gets your brain pumping. Also, if you can sneak off to the gym for a bit, even better. It turns out that exercise can increase work stamina.[8]
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    Get the concepts down first. This seems like logic, but too many of us just read concepts over and over waiting for them to cement themselves and magically make sense -- when all we need to do is back up for a second and then let it all fall into place. Before you spend hours reading things you don't quite get, work on the bigger picture. See the painting before you can zoom in on the details.
    • Outlines will help with this -- it's part of the reason your syllabus is so helpful. If you don't already have one, create one. Then you can concentrate on a portion of the outline at a time.
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    Work with a few friends. The best study groups have no more than 3-4 people, and the best study groups are extremely effective (if you work well with people, that is). In order to make sure your study group gets you where you need to be and isn't just you and three friends eating snacks and discussing the latest TV shows, keep this information in mind:[9]

    • Have one person designated as the leader (you can take turns if need be). They have to keep the group on track.
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    • Establish what you're studying and how before you meet up. Having goals makes them easier to reach.
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    • Have everyone come prepared as much as possible. One person who's slacking and doesn't take it seriously will ruin the whole group. If that happens, kick them out. Seriously.
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    • Bring food, drinks, and make it as fun as possible. Quiz each other, start discussions, and make the information interactive. The more stimulating it is, the more you'll remember it when test time comes around.
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    However, it's important to know that it boils down to knowing what works for you. The fact of the matter is that everyone is different. Some studies say that you should study just before bed or just upon waking -- those are times when your brain is the most likely to ingest the information and retain it.[10] Others say that your golden ticket is in the afternoon.[11] Some people work well in groups while others prefer to be alone. At the end of the day (figuratively, not literally), do what seems to work for you.
    • While some studies say that the whole what-type-of-learner-are-you stuff is nonsense, you may want to give it a shot anyway. Do you prefer listening to new content? Reading? Talking about it? Which way helps you remember it? Focus on that methodology when you're studying.

Part 2
Prepping Yourself for the Exam

  1. 1
    Calm yourself. If you get stressed out about tests, the anxiety will the-opposite-of help you. It's in your best interest to be as calm as possible. Here are some ideas to get your zen flowing:
    • Do yoga. It turns out that yoga can help with anxiety and your attention span.[12] And if it burns calories, that's a triple threat!
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    • Do meditation. You probably already know that meditation leads to lower stress levels and less anxiety.[13] Just a few minutes a day may be all you need.
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    • Sniff some essential oils for a blast of aromatherapy. Taking a whiff of lavender or rosemary can actually reduce your test anxiety.[14] Could it be easier than that?
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    Snooze away. In order to function at 100%, your brain needs sleep. Point blank. 8 hours is good spot to aim for, but anywhere from 7-9 should do the trick. If you don't get enough sleep, your attention, focus, and memory all suffer. So don't risk it!
    • In other words, don't stay awake and study all night. You won't be doing yourself any favors, and you definitely won't retain the information you were studying when you were half-awake on coffee and chocolate bars at four in the morning. If you ever find yourself in that position, know that you're better off going to sleep.[15]
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    Think of your body, too. Having the right diet before a test can also be the icing on the cake: if your body isn't feeling up to par, your mind is going to lag, too. Try to stay away from too much processed junk -- crashing from that constant sugar high won't be much fun.
    • Want some diet direction? Go for Omega 3s and 6s. These nutrients found in fish, nuts, and olive oil can actually help with test anxiety.[16]
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    Jog your mind by jogging your body. Scientists are hard at work determining the link between creative potential and aerobic exercise -- turns out doing the latter increases the former for about 2 hours post-workout.[17] So if your brain is feeling sluggish, turn to the pavement or the pool.
    • Even low-intensity workouts can do your test scores a favor. Studies show that those can make you more alert and energized, turning your brain on for test-dominating time.[18]
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    Listen to music. No, listening to classical music won't make you smarter, but listening to music you enjoy can boost your brain potential, sharpening your mental acuity temporarily after listening.[19] So if the latest pop hits still make your toes curl, go for it, but if you prefer listening to melodic, uplifting beats, that's good too.
    • Actually, the above goes for anything. Have your favorite novel on CD? Throw it in. Anything that gets your happy receptors going gets the rest of your brain going as well.
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    Simulate your test environment. Turns out humans really are quite something: we're betting at recalling information if we're in a situation that mirrors when we first had access to it. In other words, did you study for your test in the library, wearing purple, and jazzed up on an energy bar? Then take your test in the library, wearing purple, and jazzed up on an energy bar.
    • It's called state and context-dependent memory. It even holds true if you were to study while drunk![20] So if you have access to wherever you're going to take the test, try studying there at the same time of day, with the same diet, and in the same mood.[21] Yep, mood, too!
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    The day of the test, eat breakfast. You may think sleeping or studying is your best bet, but you've got to take care of your body. Studies show that those who had a complete breakfast before a test have remarkably better test scores. So take ten minutes out of your day to, quite literally, refuel.
    • We're not talking about a donut here -- we mean protein-packed, like eggs, oatmeal, or some low-fat dairy and lean meat. You've got to replenish your blood sugar and give your body some energy in order to do your best!

Part 3
Taking the Exam

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    If anything, be over-prepared. When you sit down for that test, you shouldn't have a thing to worry about. Bring a handful of pencils, pens, erasers, your calculator, some scratch paper -- anything you could possibly need and then some more. Not only will being over-prepared relax you, but when problems do arise, you'll be ready!
    • Have a pocketful of peppermints while you're at it. Studies have shown that taking a whiff of peppermint increases your concentration abilities, makes you more alert, and gives you a tiny boost that can make all the difference. So if the answer is eluding you, pop a peppermint and then take another crack at it.
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    If you don't know the answer, skip it for now. Since your test is timed, the last thing you want to be is preoccupied by the clock. Instead of that ticking getting louder and louder as you stare at the blank question, just skip it. Tackle all the ones you could do with your eyes closed and your hands tied behind your back and then get to the harder questions. Your mind will be primed with everything it definitely knows, making the rest a bit easier.
    • When you've answered all of the easy ones, go for the ones that have the greatest point value. If you don't answer a question that's worth 10% of your grade, there's little hope for the rest of your test. So if you're in that position, weigh your options.
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    Double-check your answers. If there's any chance you missed a question, misinterpreted a question, or just filled in the wrong circle, you'll know you've caught it if you check and double-check your answers (provided you have the time, of course). Also, remember to consider the most important of all -- did you write down your name?
    • Avoid the temptation to change your answers. Often your gut instinct is the right one. If you find yourself checking your answers and wanting to change them, only do so if you've had a revelation you had forgotten about.
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    Keep a positive attitude. You know the whole "fake it till you make it" mantra? That totally goes for test taking. Thinking positive and being confident can actually help you do better -- if for no other reason than it keeps you relaxed (and being relaxed helps your mind think straight). Walk in there with your head held high so you can walk out the same way.
    • Turns out trusting yourself is a big part of the game. When you trust your memories, they strengthen and become concrete.[22] So be confident in your brain! The more you rely on it, the more it can reward you with the right answers. In case you didn't know, your brain is pretty phenomenal!


  • Study in the long-term, not just a day or two beforehand. The more you space it out, the easier it'll be on your brain. So take that periodic table and do one row this week, one row the next, and so on and so forth.[5]


  • Don't cram. You'll feel tired and anxious when the test paper is in front of you, making your score even worse.

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Categories: Tests and Exams