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Graduate Test Taking

Test-taking tips for graduate students

Tuesday, November 14, 2017
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Test-taking tips for graduate students
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If thinking about upcoming exams makes you sweat, you're not alone: up to 41 percent of students are estimated to experience test anxiety, according to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Having to recall complicated and mass quantities of information under a time limit can be an agonizing experience for anyone, let alone graduate students. However, you can calm your nerves and complete your tests confidently with these study tips:

Spread out your study sessions
Graduate students are pressed for time - every waking hour can be scheduled for an assignment, networking event, job or other responsibility. With limited time available to prepare for a test, many people cram all their studying into a large block of time shortly before the exam. However, experts say that spreading out your study sessions helps you better retain information. 

studyThe right strategies can help you study smarter.

A study by Scientific American named "distributed practice" as one of the most effective study methods available to students. Spacing out study time into smaller sessions means your brain has more time to absorb the information. The report from the publication cited an analysis of 254 studies involving more than 14,000 people and found that students were able to recall more information after spread-out study sessions rather than studying in a single, long block of time.

As an article for the Social Psychology Network noted, if you only have 6 hours you can realistically devote to studying, it's better to study in three 2-hour blocks of time over several days or weeks than have a single 6-hour session.  

Get into the habit of reviewing your notes after class
In addition to spreading out your study sessions, make it a habit to review notes from class every day. This helps you better retain information because of a phenomenon called "the Curve of Forgetting." As California State University, Bakersfield explained, when you finish listening to a lecture, in that moment your brain knows 100 percent of the information. However, your level of recall quickly declines if you do not review the information again within a short period of time. If you don't refresh your memory of the material, you will lose 50 to 80 percent of what you learned. However, research shows that if you review the information for just 10 minutes within 24 hours from when you initially learned it, you can raise your recall level back to 100 percent. Then, a week later, it will take just 5 minutes to refresh your memory, with the minutes required to jumpstart your memory diminishing over time. 

To take advantage of this mental process, CSUB recommends that students spend half an hour every weekday and 1 1/2 to 2 hours every weekend reviewing what they have learned. 

Take practice tests 
Taking practice tests has several benefits: You can gain a better understanding of what material you'll need to know as well as familiarize yourself with the structure of the exam. There are practice tests available for the Graduate Record Exam, the Graduate Management Admissions Test and other standardized exams, as well as for professional certification exams, such as those for accounting and nursing. 

Teach yourself, and other people
Along with distributed practice, Scientific American named self-testing as one of the two most effective study methods for students. Quizzing yourself on your knowledge of the material helps improve memorization and make connections between different sets of information, so if no practice test is available for an exam, make your own! 

"Quizzing yourself on your knowledge of the material helps improve memorization."

Research also shows that students who teach someone else the material they are studying score higher on tests, according to Time magazine. This is called "the protégé effect," and the idea is that explaining concepts to other people strengthens our own understanding of the information. Seek out a study partner, friend or family member and try explaining to them the subjects you're studying. It can be helpful to teach both people who are familiar with the subject and people who are unfamiliar: those knowledgeable in the field will be able to help you fill in knowledge gaps, while those unfamiliar will help you ensure you're explaining concepts in a clear and easy-to-understand way. 

Set a time limit for each question
Test-taking becomes significantly more stressful when you realize you have many questions left to answer but only a few minutes remaining to do so. That's why it's a smart idea to quickly go through the test once you receive it, add up how many questions there are and divide by your total allotted test-taking time - leaving 10 minutes of cushion time at the end - to determine how many minutes you can spend on each question. As Social Psychology notes, you can even mark your ideal "finish time" next to each section of the exam to help you stay on track. 

With these tips and strategies, you can study smarter and feel more confident going into your exams. 

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