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What Test Prep Techniques Are Proven to Work?

These study techniques are all backed by basic science to improve your test day success. And this expert has rounded them all up for your convenience!

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Ryan Hickey
Former Managing Editor
Peterson's
Test takers have their habits: lucky pencils, favorite T-shirts, and mantras like “I won’t mess up, I won’t mess up, I won’t mess up.” They swear by these systems because one time they got an A+ after doing it. If you’re looking for some methods that are proven to be effective, here are nine study techniques that have basis in fact.

  • Have a piece of gum just before the test. Studies suggest that chewing increases blood flow to the brain. So chew, chew, chew your way to a better grade.
  • Stop and smell the roses. Ever smell something that brought memories flooding back—like cookies baking in your grandma’s kitchen? It’s well documented that smells can impact memory. So you could try wearing the same scent while studying as you do on test day. Just make sure you don’t lay it on so thick that you distract your neighbors.
  • Study before bedtime. Common wisdom might be to study your hardest subjects early in the day when you’re most alert. However, you should study your toughest subjects right before you fall asleep because sleep helps you retain memories.  
  • Get good sleep. In addition to studying before bed, you have to follow through by actually getting sleep—and lots of it because memory retention happens best with REM sleep. Pulling an all-nighter will only be to your own peril.
  • Eat the right foods. Avoid fatty foods and carbs that slow your metabolism in favor of fruits, vegetables, and protein. And make sure you have a hearty breakfast the day of a test.
  • Get moving. Don’t have time to exercise because you’re always studying? Take a study break and hit the gym instead of the books. Regular exercise protects your brain health, and it’s recommended you get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week.
  • Sing it out. Ever use a song to help you remember something? Music engages your brain and helps define specific pieces of information in more than one way. The more depth you have on a subject, the easier it is to recall.
  • Sprechen sie Français? Polyglots rejoice! People who learn more than one language do better on tests. This is because they frame information more completely and have access to different points of view when assessing the same topic. So study a language to do better on tests.
  • Reduce your stress factors. If you have test anxiety, make sure you reduce the number of stressful factors in the scenario. If you’re taking a test somewhere you haven’t been before, try to visit the room before the exam. Familiarity reduces stress. Similarly, arriving early will help you remain calm and collected.

Looking for more test prep help? We have an entire section of the website dedicated to preparing you for exams

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