Test-taking is a necessary component of education. It is hard to earn a degree without passing exams. Of course, not every student is comfortable in test-taking environments. Some students sweat with anxiety when they hear the word quiz. Other students perform well on writing assignments and in labs but buckle under the pressure of standardized tests.
Candace Cox-Wimberly is a test-taking expert. As the CEO of I Am a Genius, formerly Ingenuity College Preparatory Institute, she coaches middle, high school, and college students in the art of exam preparation.
According to Cox-Wimberly, successful test preparation starts long before exam day. She says that college students should make a habit of reviewing their course notes at a specific time every week throughout the semester.
“Treat studying like a class and stick to a schedule,” she says. “If you have class on Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., you should block out time to review your notes. That way, you always get your study time in, and you’re always on your A-game.”
She emphasizes that, for this technique to be effective, students must study in a way that suits their learning style.
“Different learning styles work for different people,” she says. “You might be a visual learner or an auditory learner, or maybe your ideal learning situation involves technology or writing. Whatever the case, learn your style so that you can be more effective at studying.”
As Cox-Wimberly points out, identifying one’s learning style helps students take more effective notes—and strong notes are crucial to a solid study regimen.
“If you know you’re an audio learner, you can record your professor’s lectures and listen back to them later,” she says. “Identifying how you learn best is going to help you perform better.”
She advises students to be strategic about where they study, too, whether at home, in the library, or somewhere else. “Location is key, just like in real estate,” she says, smiling.
“Recognize where you do your best learning, where you can focus best, and study there.”
The most important factor, according to Cox-Wimberly, is having a place to study that is free of distraction. “Identify what distracts you, and tell yourself, ‘When I’m studying, I’m going to make sure I’m not interrupted,'” she says. “Remember that this is your time to study and review your notes.”
However, she suggests studying in groups with classmates from time to time, especially before exams. Specifically, she recommends reviewing the course information by “teaching” each other the information. “Take turns being the ‘professor’ and go through the notes together,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to recap the information while seeing it through a different lens.”
This, Cox-Wimberly says, is one of the best ways for students to make sure they truly understand the course material. “Studying isn’t about memorizing information. It’s about retaining it,” she explains. “You should know it well enough to be able to teach it.”
Most importantly, she stresses that rest is essential to healthy study habits and effective test-taking.
Students should get plenty of sleep the night before the exam. But, as Cox-Wimberly teaches us, test preparation happens over long periods. Therefore, students should stick to a regular sleep schedule, getting seven to nine hours every semester.
After all, it takes a rested brain to process and store new information.
“You need time to recharge,” she says. “If you don’t charge your phone, it’s eventually going to zap out. So, you have to treat your body the same way. You need time to recharge your brain, to let it reposition and get ready for the next day.”