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by Dr. Emily Levy

Related: exams, tests, tips, strategies, students, studying,

  Taking end-of-the-year exams can be one of the most daunting aspects of school. Many students lose well-needed sleep and cringe at the thought of the big test day arriving. By learning some helpful test-taking strategies, students can improve their performance on these exams, while helping to strengthen their overall study skills.

Column-Style Study Guides
   Learning large quantities of information can be overwhelming for many students, especially when it comes from densely written texts. A helpful strategy for learning this information is to create column-style notes to serve as study guides. Say, for instance, a student needs to learn a textbook section about World War I. Before taking any notes, she should read that section, one sub-section at a time. The student should highlight the main idea of each sub-section in green, or if there is no explicit main idea written in the text, she should write an implicit main idea in the margin and highlight that in green. The student should then highlight the important details in yellow, trying to highlight only information that is very important, and only words and phrases whenever possible. Once the student has finished reading the section, she should create a column-style diagram that might look as follows:

Topic: World War I

MAIN IDEAS              
sub-section 1

• Important detail
• Important detail
• Important detail

sub-section 2

• Important detail
• Important detail
• Important detail

sub-section 3

• Important detail
• Important detail
• Important detail

   On the top of the page, the student should write the topic of the section — in this case, World War I. The main idea of each sub-section should be written in the column on the left in her own words (Causes of the War, Battles, etc.), and the important details from each sub-section should be written in the column on the right. Note that for the important details students can feel free to use abbreviations, symbols, contractions, or any form of shorthand they find helpful. Students should use this strategy for each section of text that they are required to learn. With this technique, they are able to “chunk” information that was once overwhelming into smaller, easier-to-understand bits of text.

Memorizing Terms
   Students are often required to memorize large quantities of vocabulary words or terms. Without a photographic memory, this process can be tough. The three-tier note card strategy can be a helpful tool for learning these words and terms. The trick is to write the word or term on the front of the card and then create three horizontal columns on the back of the card, as follows:

Front of Card:


Back of Card:




   The student should write the definition on the top part of the back of the card, in his own words. In the second (middle) section, the student should write a sentence with an association to something in his life. In the bottom section, the student should draw a picture annotating the sentence. For example, if the vocabulary word is digress, the student would write that word on the front of the card. On the top section of the back of the card, he might write “to stray or deviate.” In the middle section, he might write the following sentence: “Every time my friend Sally tries to tell a story, she digresses from the main point.” In the bottom section, he might draw a picture of Sally with a word bubble coming out of her mouth with “blah, blah, blah” written inside. Using this strategy, students learn to link random vocabulary words and terms to various people and events in their lives.

   Students should try to avoid cramming these methods a day or two before the exam. To ease anxiety, they should start applying these strategies well in advance of the test day. By using these techniques, they can become active rather than passive learners, and help prepare not only for one particular exam but for all future exams (and there will be many!) to come.

DR. EMILY LEVY is the founder and director of EBL Coaching, which offers one-on-one tutoring and intensive summer programs. For more information, call 212-249-0147 or visit www.eblcoaching.com.

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