Nail Your Next Exam

Nail Your Next Exam
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If you are in school, needing to take an exam for a grade analysis, or just trying to move to a new level of education for your job, ideas for assessing what you know follows.  Every time you complete a written paper, ace a test, or prepare a speech you are paving the way toward making yourself a more informed, and thus, more interesting and valuable person, student or employee.  Of course, the better you can accomplish the tasks that teach you how to learn, the more irreplaceable you become. If you learn how to study effectively, how to find information quickly, and sort out your thoughts handily, the better you can present your viewpoint.

Study Habits

Study habits are more than just sitting up the night before and trying to cram in information.  Study habits teach you how to not only prioritize but show you what’s important, how to manage your time, and how to better remember important facts and key ideas.  Once you’ve nailed down these concepts, the skill set you’ve mastered can help you navigate most any task or test. 

Overtasked, Over-Stimulated

Today it is not uncommon to multi-task using multiple forms of technology such as computers, videos, radios, cell phones and Google.  Research has had a go at what makes people good multitaskers and tested thousands of study participants to realize these things: how well they ignored irrelevant information, what degree of organization their working memory operated under, and how quickly they could switch between tasks.  It may come as no surprise that those who routinely dallied in multi-media stimulus, consistently underperformed against those who did not regularly multi-task. According to Forbes magazine, “As of late, smart companies are focusing on the merits of undivided attention, realizing that productivity and multitasking are at odds with each other.”  What you have been doing, in a nutshell, is switching between tasks and giving less than 100% of your attention at a time.  The real name of the game is focus.


Benjamin Franklin—a very prolific writer among other things—once said that one should read with a pen in hand and keep small notes about what you will find.  This technique not only helps to formulate questions but imprint ideas on your memory for some future occasion.

Not everyone learns the same way.  Some people like to: hear information, others want to read the facts, some like to be read to or listen to a class lecture, and still others are visual learners and favor looking at pictures or diagrams.  And finally, there are those kinesthetic learners.  They do best with hands-on work or with being able to touch something in order to really comprehend it.  And then you can factor in—whether your style is to do your best thinking in a group or in solitary mode.  Although you probably use more than one style of learning, one particular type may dominate.  Identify what that is and use it to your advantage.

Set Goals

After you identify which style of learning is best suited to you and can model your learning style to it, set a goal.  Learning helps you to achieve some purpose. By knowing what that is, you can write it down in a prominent place and use it to motivate you.  Look at your goal every day. Even if it is a personal goal, say, finishing your bachelor’s degree for a better job, also tack up why you’re doing this—to increase your income or start a family, whatever.  Finally, be sure to set up a reward for when you’ve met your goal.

Time Management

Prioritize, schedule tasks, kill distraction, delegate, say, “No.”

Studying requires a daily commitment and that means you will have to set aside a certain number of minutes or hours each day and post it on a calendar.  These regularly scheduled commitments will have to share time with your other daily must-dos, so pick out a time when you feel you will be in the best frame of mind.  Schedule that same block or study time for each day—just block it out. If the task is large, break it down into smaller parts. Just remember to leave enough time so you are not having to do the entire task in a cram—that defeats the purpose of nailing your next exam.


Television, music, noise; talk, ringing phones including wrist phones, alarms, reminders; email, deliveries, interruptions; meetings, animals, children; deadlines, commitments, papers due.  Have we left anything out? Eliminate these distractions in some way, or your scheduled time will soon become procrastination and needless stress. Sit down with the intention of giving this study your full cooperation.  Perhaps it will be: Topic, research, outline, write and revise. Schedule that and commit to it.


Concentration takes practice.   Action video games are great for focusing.  It helps to stimulate a working path but, it does not give you a bigger working memory.  Researchers still don’t know how to help people build a bigger working memory.

Also, studies show it is better to study in shorter chunks.  This is much better than memorizing something in rote—the problem which, is that as soon as you are finished with the memorizing, you might forget the information.  People learn better by breaking something into reasonable sized chunks and it is called, “chunking” coincidentally!  The ability of the brain to order things is a natural phenomenon. Sequence learning or putting things into a hierarchal process is a key component in the cognitive process.  Also, a chuck typically has an association with the other elements in the group—say, if you are memorizing a phone number you begin with the area code, then split the remaining numbers into two bite-sized chunks.  The learner’s memory with this methodology is less likely to be overloaded.

Researcher Lauren Resnick has found out what studying does to the brain—specifically the growth of dendrites and neurotransmitter receptor sites and the formation of neural networks when we think and learn.  This then, is the basis that makes long term memories more accessible. And two fundamental ideas play a part in this: 1.) repetition, and 2.) connecting new knowledge to previously learned ideas, an association.  Whether you use a picture, a mnemonic, or a silly phrase to help remember your chunk—do what feels more normal for you.  And it’s been said that your emotional investment has a great deal to do with what you remember. Look for a story that is meaningful to help jog your memory.

In closing, don’t just rush through your assignment and if you have trouble getting the concept, seek outside help or do additional work beyond what is needed.  That’s the whole idea of doing the study—to understand the concepts being taught and being able to recall them. It may be more timely but you will most likely nail your next exam.


Berwick, Donald et al. How to Increase Your Word Power. Cincinnati: Reader’s Digest, 1971.

Bodden, Valerie. Improving Study Habits. Mankato, MN: Creative Education, 2015. Book.

Oakley, Barbara PhD, & Terrence Sejniwski, PhD. Learning How to Learn: A Guide For Kids And Teens. New York: TarcherPerigee, 2018. Book.

Wood, Ernest. Concentration: An Approach to Meditation. Wheaton, IL: 2001. Book.

Altman, Ian. “Is Multitasking An Asset Or A Liability?”

Fonollosa, Jordi et al. Learning of Chunking Sequences in Cognition and Behavior

William, David K. “10 Proven Time Management Skills You Should Learn Today”

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