Five Tips to Test-Taking Success from SMU’s Learning Experts

Studying.jpg With the start of the academic year, students face the start of tests – and, sometimes, test anxiety. The keys to test-taking success, say SMU learning experts, are planning and preparation.

Debra Shapira, learning skills specialist at SMU’s Altshuler Learning Enhancement Center (A-LEC), says the earlier students can learn these study strategies, the more likely they are to make studying a habit.

“Mastering different study skills, such as test preparation and good note-taking, will allow students to learn more effectively and efficiently, cutting down substantially on their total study time,” she says. “The upfront investment of time and energy to learn these skills will pay off.”

A-LEC is offering workshops on test preparation, essay exams, multiple choice tests and test anxiety beginning Monday, September 13. Find the schedule here.

Below are Shapira’s five tips to test-taking.


1. Avoid an all-night cram session by beginning to prepare for your test at least five days before the test date. Take the same number of hours in that all-nighter, stretch it over five days, and you could earn a much higher grade. Plan to use an A-LEC Test Prep worksheet to help you get organized, and begin blocking out time every day in preparation for your test.

2. Start by organizing your study material one of two ways: either chronologically (from earlier in the semester to the most recent material covered in class) or by difficulty (beginning with the most difficult material and ending with the easier material).

3. Allow time each day for thorough review – this includes reviewing class/lecture notes, notes from your text(s) and the text(s) themselves. The more thorough your review, the better able you will be to ask questions about confusing topics/content. Make a habit of reciting what you know after your review… If you can’t say it, then you don’t know it! Go back and study again if that is the case. With adequate study/preparation time – at least five days – you should be able to master the material that you have reviewed and feel prepared to take the exam.

4. If you begin the process of studying and start to feel overwhelmed, do not wait to get help! Visit the tutors at ALEC or your professor to see if someone can help point you in the right direction.

5. Remember in the days leading up to an exam, eat well, try to exercise, get plenty of sleep and do at least one enjoyable thing per day. All of these things will help you to feel healthy, less stressed, and more optimistic.

More resources for students

• Make good use of the Altshuler Learning Enhancement Center for learning strategy workshops, individual academic counseling, tutoring and the writing center.
• Visit your professors during their office hours. That’s a great way to get questions answered before a test.
• Use the library. Get out of your room to study and make use of a well-lighted, quiet space on campus.

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