How to Stop forgetting What You Studied When You Take the Test

It happens to the best of us: We study, study, study for that big test, we think we have down all the information–and then we forget it. It’s frustrating, and unfortunately, it’s not entirely preventable. However, there are steps you can take to minimize the brain freezes. Here are some things to try.

During your study sessions, don’t keep going for hours at a time. Instead, take several short breaks. To achieve maximum recall of the material, study in 20 minute chunks of time, and then take a break for about five minutes. During the break, walk around a bit and let your mind wander. When you return to studying, review and ask yourself what you just studied. If you can’t remember it, then go back over that material again.

Talk out loud. Seriously, sometimes if you give yourself a vocal lecture on the material, using your own words, it helps to solidify it in your brain. So ask yourself questions about the material, and then answer. Out loud.

Teach the material to someone else. It’s a known fact among educators that the person who learns the most about any lesson is the one who teaches it. That’s because, to truly be effective at teaching, you have to know more about the material than the person to whom you’re teaching. If you ever find yourself not knowing how to explain something to the person, you probably need to study it some more.  Try a study group.

Make sure you get enough sleep before the day of the test. You have to have adequate sleep in order for the brain to operate correctly, and to have maximum recall. If you don’t get enough sleep, it will interfere with your memory (In fact, there have been some studies that suggest that during sleep, memories become consolidated). Resist the temptation to stay up all night cramming for a test. This will probably hurt you more than it will help you.  See our Post on What to do Before a Test.

Know what to eat right before the test. The key is balanced. You don’t want to be hungry, but you also don’t want to be stuffed (When you’re too full, there’s a chemical reaction in your body that makes you sleepy. That’s NOT what you want to experience right before taking a test!) Also, fatty foods tend to induce sleep. Be careful with coffee. If you normally have a cup in the morning, then go ahead–but don’t drink too much. Over-stimulation causes many people to make dumb mistakes on tests.

Learn some memory techniques (“mnemonics”). There are different opinions as to which mnemonics system works best. One is to use an acronym (the funnier the better). Another is the counting system. That is, if you have a list of items to remember, put them on a numbered list. Then think of a word that rhymes with that number: “sun” for 1, “shoe” for 2, “tree” for 3, and so on. Then imagine the item by that number in some funny scene with that picture. For instance, if number 3 is the Space Shuttle, you’ve already established that “three is for tree,” so picture a space shuttle stuck in a tree. Then when you see 3 on the test, for that list, it should remind you of a tree–and then of the Space Shuttle in it.  More about memorizing

These suggestions won’t ensure an A on the test. They will, however, help you forget far less than you would have otherwise.  See our Ultimate Guide to Test Preparation.

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5 Comments

  1. Gloria

    i read somewhere that 1a 10 to 15 minutes sleep break helps the brain tremendously to refresh itself. since then i take very short naps in between extended reading sessions

  2. Alf

    A friend of mine stuffed himself with food shortly before his exam. he failed because he was so uncomfortable.

  3. Tim

    the night before the test is not the best time for extended study. it helps to be well fed and rested the day before a big exam.

  4. Jon

    I summarize my notes and the textbook – then summarize the summary – kepp reviewing until I am sooo sick of looking at it I can’t stand it – when I am totally sick of it I know I have actually got it

  5. Pete

    Memorizing is a little over rated I think – you have to memorize some things like dates and formulas for sure, but for most subjects you have to learn the whole thing.

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