• Study Skills

    The Best Way to Prepare for a Test

    The best way to prepare for any test is to do your best work in the classroom and at home.

    The students who do best on tests are those who:

    • do all assigned class work,
    • do all assigned homework,
    • pay attention in class (to the teacher and classmates), and
    • correct all errors completely and immediately.

    Every assignment you choose to ignore and every mistake you leave uncorrected will come back to haunt you on the test! The best way to be ready for a test is to work hard all week long in class and at home.

    Preparing to Study

    First, collect all your review materials: textbooks, workbook pages, worksheets, projects, homework assignments, quizzes, writing assignments, and class work exercises. See if your teacher will supply a study guide.

    Next, if you have a study guide, skim it over and decide which of the review materials you need and which you don’t. If you know that vocabulary will be on the test, for example, you should definitely look at any quizzes, worksheets, or text pages (glossary!) related to vocabulary. Remember that this site has several built-in glossaries:

    If any of your materials aren’t needed, put them out of your way. If any of the materials are repeats (such as a quiz on “the four parts of the heart,” and a worksheet that contains the exact same information), keep only the book or paper that is easiest to read and remember. A workbook page with two answers wrong, for example, is not as helpful as a quiz where all the answers are right!

    Now, you are ready to use more specific strategies (listed below).

    P.S. Just a reminder. Studying does not start the night before the test. The best students study all week long, every chance they get. Studying can happen for just minutes at a time

    • in the car, at the breakfast table,
    • while waiting on line in the grocery store,
    • while waiting on the playground,
    • during commercials, and
    • before bedtime.

    If you are planning on studying for an extended period of time, see the next section called Studying Smarts.

    Studying Smarts

    You can study almost any subject, anywhere, for a few minutes a day. But if you are preparing for a test, you will need to eventually sit down and really “hit the books” if you expect to do well. When you need to really study, with total concentration, here are some points to remember:

    1. Be sure to bring home the papers, notebooks, and textbooks you will need to study.

    A handy trick: Write yourself a message on the next blank column in your Homework Notebook. The next day when the teacher says, “Let’s copy the homework,” you’ll open your notebook and immediately see the reminder. The note might read:

    Bring home Science textbook and experiment folder.

    Ask teacher if there will be an essay question on the test.

    2. Study in a private place. The kitchen table is where most kids study and it’s usually the worst choice! There’s too much going on there! Instead, study in your own room, den, or parent’s office space where you won’t be disturbed.

    3. Make sure your study area is well lit, and equipped with everything you will need: pencils, pens, markers, highlighters, index cards, paper, and pencil sharpener. If all your supplies are ready, you won’t waste time looking in the couch cushions for a sharp pencil.

    4. If you’ll need someone’s help, make a schedule:

    “Mom, I need you to quiz me on my seven times facts. If I go and study them now, can you quiz me in fifteen minutes?”

    “Dad, when this show is over can you please come in and look at my story? I’ll get the whole rough draft done so you can help me fix the spelling.”

    “When I get these flashcards done, can you quiz me on them until bed time?”

    5. Work only 20 to 35 minutes at a time. Take a break to get a snack, use the bathroom, listen to a CD, shoot hoops, etc. The break should only last 5 to 10 minutes; any longer and you’ll never get back to studying. (This is exactly how Mr. Schoch works at home, but he works for 50 minutes at a time, and then takes a break if needed).

    6. Use a timer or an alarm clock to focus. Say to yourself, “I will study nonstop for twenty minutes. When the timer goes off I will take a five minute break. I will have a snack and then get back to work for another twenty minutes.”

    7. Keep one sheet of lined paper handy. Every time you get to something you don’t understand, write it down. Write down the page where you saw it. You can ask a parent about it later, or ask the teacher about it when you get to school. Your friends may be equally confused!

    8. Finally, keep the right attitude about studying. It won’t be easy, and it won’t always be fun, but if you approach it with a positive attitude, you’ll learn more, and the time will go much quicker. Below are some examples. Look at the same exact situations as viewed with a negative attitude, and then a positive attitude.

    Negative Attitude

    Positive Attitude

    I can't play anymore. I have to go study for my stupid test.

    Let's play for just a half hour. I want to study some of my Science before supper.

    If I don't get a good grade on this test, I'm going to get a bad report card.

    If I do well on this test, it will really bring up my grade in Math.

    If I don't finish this assignment, I can't go to soccer practice.

    If I study some of this tonight, I can go to soccer practice tomorrow.

    I stink at this. I always get the whole test wrong.

    I wrote down everything I did wrong on the last test. I'm going to avoid making the same mistakes again.

    Studying Vocabulary

    1. One of the best ways to study vocabulary is to make flashcards(you can use index cards, or regular paper cut into smaller rectangles). On one side, write the vocabulary word. On the other, write its meaning.

    To make your flashcards really effective, also write the word in a sentence to show how it’s used, AND write down the page number where the word appears in the textbook.

    The more information you put on the flashcard, the more you will remember! And flashcards are great because you can use them almost anywhere:

    • during commercials while watching TV;
    • in the car on the way to dance or soccer practice;
    • at the breakfast table while you’re eating cereal;
    • in the doctor’s office or in the check-out line at the grocery store; or
    • during lunch to quiz a friend.

    If you have a whole set you don’t want to lose, you can rubberband them together. Another neat way is to punch holes in the corner, and then connect them with yarn, a big paper clip, or a twist-tie from a garbage bag.

    2. Put the vocabulary words in categories (groups) which will help you to remember them better. For example, if your chapter is about Pilgrims, farming, and the growth of towns, then you could arrange your vocabulary words like this:
















    3. Have a parent, older sibling or friend quiz you. They can use a worksheet or the glossary in the textbook to check your definition. They can also write down all the words you miss so that you can go back and review those later.

    4. Type out all the words and meanings on the computer. If you do half and your friend does half, you can print them out or email them so that each of you will have a full set.

    5. Figure out the base words (root words) of longer words to help you remember their meanings:

    • fertilizer comes from fertile
    • circuit is related to circle (electricity travels in a circle)
    • perimeter is related to meter, which means to measure
    • memorial is related to the word memory

    Studying for Spelling

    1. One of the best ways to study spelling is to make flashcards. See #1 under the section called Vocabulary.

    2. An even better way to practice spelling is to simply write and rewrite the words! It’s definitely not exciting, but the reason many teachers assign words to be written three times each is because that’s the best way for students to remember how to spell them. To make life more interesting, you could write them in different color markers, write them on the sidewalk or on a board in chalk, write them in script, or type them on the computer.

    3. Most teachers give Spelling pretests. Pretests are cool because they let you know right away which words you don’t know. Definitely study those the most, and give the others less attention.

    4. Tape record the whole list of words. Then, play it back to give yourself a “test.” Use the book to check your answers when done, or have a friend, parent, or sibling check.

    5. Have someone make you a “horrible” spelling list. This is a list of all your words spelled totally wrong, like this: appel, bunanna, oranj, paer, peech. Your job is to rewrite the list and make it correct.

    6. Figure out the base words of longer words to help you remember their spellings:

    • memorial = memory
    • national = nation
    • computation = compute
    • competition = compete

    7. Write all the words crossword puzzle style, overlapping letters as you write the words vertically and horizontally.

    8. Spell words aloud backwards. That will prove if you really know them.

    9. Fast with your hands? Like to challenge yourself? Get two or three sets of foam or magnetic letters (usually sold at a dollar store). Spread them out on the table and let a parent or sibling say one of your words. See how fast you can spell the word by moving the letters. If you get a few more sets, you and a parent or friend can race each other.

    10. Carry your list with you everywhere, especially in the car. If you work on it over the week, you should never need to spend more than five or ten minutes studying spelling words the night before the test.

    Studying Facts

    1. Once again, one of the best ways to study facts is to make flashcards. See #1 under the first section called Studying for Vocabulary. Put a topic on the front of a card, and related facts on the back. See the examples below.

    Front of Card: Harriet Tubman

    Back of Card:

    1. a runaway slave
    2. conductor on the Underground Railroad
    3. went back to the South to free other slaves
    4. was never caught

    Front of Card: Three Functions of Skin

    Back of Card:

    1. protects bones and organs
    2. keeps out dirt and disease
    3. maintains proper body temperature

    It is best to number the related facts; that will help you to better remember.

    2. Make up an acronym. An acronym is a word whose letters stand for other words. If you wanted to remember the names of the Great Lakes, for example, you could use the acronym HOMES:

    • Huron
    • Ontario
    • Michigan
    • Erie
    • Superior

    A trick like this is called a Mnemonic (neh MON ik) device.

    3. Make up little stories or tricks to help you remember facts. If you needed to remember that Lake Superior was the largest of the five Great Lakes, for example, you could say, “The biggest lake is really Super(ior)!”

    4. If you can never remember 7 x 8, just put those two numbers in order with the two before them: 5,6,7,8 or 56 = 7 x 8

    5. What if you had to remember the month that started each season?

    You could draw a picture of a clock.

    If you divide it into four pieces, and label 12, 3, 6, and 9 at their normal places, the numbers shown are actually the numbers of the months when the seasons start!

    Fall starts in September (the 9th month), Winter starts in December (12th month), Spring starts in March (3rd month), and Summer starts in June (6th month).

    Note Taking Using Self-Created Prompts

    Content textbooks (Science, Social Studies, nonfiction articles relating to Comm Arts and Math) are divided into sections to help the reader recognize the main ideas being presented. Each section’s subtitle states the main idea, and supporting details are embedded in the text of the section. Subtitles are usually printed in a different font or in a different color for easy identification.

    Your first task is to turn each section heading into a question. For example, if the first heading reads “New Jersey’s Earliest People,” you would write:

    New Jersey’s earliest people were ______________________________.

    The answer, of course, will be written down to complete the sentence once you have read that section. By the end of the lesson or chapter, you will have recorded the main ideas and important details from each section.

    The Key Word Strategy outlined below is somewhat similar, but records a greater amount of information in more detail.

    Notetaking Using the Key Word Strategy

    The Key Word Strategy is one of the first taught to fourth graders, and one which they truly begin to internalize as the year progresses. Directions are given to students as follows:

    1. Read the paragraph.
    2. Select three to five words or terms which you believe are most important in that paragraph. (Optional rule: any bold faced word must count as a key word).
    3. Record those on the left side of the paper.
    4. On the right side, use those words to write a one sentence summary of the paragraph.

    Page 131, para. 1





    John Smith

    North America




    The explorer John Smith sailed up the coast of North America and found many landforms such as bays, forests, and capes.

    Page 131, para 2


    John Smith





    John Smith told others about the land and later the land became a new settlement for around a dozen people.

    Studying Topics and Main Ideas

    The topic tells what you are talking about.

    Some possible topics: gymnastics, bravery, your brother, Africa.

    The main idea tells the point you wish to make about the topic.

    So if your topic is skating, it is possible to express many different main ideas about that topic. For example:

    Skating is easy to learn.

    Skating is not just for kids.

    Skating can be done on the ice, on a hard floor, or on the sidewalk.

    1. Write down a list of your topics, and underneath each take notes about what you should know about that topic. You can use the “who, what, where, when, how, and why” questions to help you. For example:

    Topic: Immigrants

    Who: Who were they? They were people who came to this country from another country

    What: What difference did they make here? They brought new types of food, clothing, art, etc. Many immigrants, like Albert Einstein, also made important contributions to our country.

    Where: They first had to stop off at Ellis Island, and then later many of them lived in New Your City’s Lower East Side.

    ...and so on.

    2. See the flashcard idea under the section called Studying Facts. This is a great way to be sure you have organized all of your topics, main ideas, and details.

    3. Reread all the questions in the text (especially those at the end of each lesson). They will help you to understand what is important. If you answered the questions already as part of an assignment, review that carefully.

    4. One of the best resources for reviewing main ideas is to find the section at the end of the chapter called Chapter Summary (sometimes individual lessons also have Lesson Summaries). As you read each sentence there, you should be able to add on a sentence of your own to prove that the summary sentence is true. For example, the book might read:

    Calcium is an important mineral for a healthy diet.

    So you then prove this fact is correct by writing

    • Calcium helps keep our bones and teeth strong.
    • Calcium can be found in many dairy products such as milk and cheese.

    If you can provide evidence for each sentence in the Chapter Summary, then you have a good understanding of the chapter’s main ideas.

    (A parent can print each Chapter Summary sentence on the front of a note card, and you can then write the “additional facts” or proof on the back).

    5. A really cool and challenging way to study a lesson is to write down what you think are the ten (or twenty) most important words. Then, use those ten or twenty words to write a summary of the lesson. This short summary is cool to carry around and review, much like an index card. If your friend does one lesson, you can do another.

    Taking the Test

    1. Quickly skim through the whole test. Get an idea of how many questions, and what kind of questions, you must complete in the given time.

    2. Decide which parts will need the most time (usually essay questions). Be sure you leave time to get to those.

    3. Always read directions carefully. Look at any examples. If the teacher reads the directions aloud, DEFINITELY follow along! Sometimes the teacher gives more hints, OR answers, OR tells you to change the directions! If you don’t follow along, you may lose points!

    4. Attack the easiest questions first. If an item is too hard, SKIP IT AND GO ON! Why? Because

    • you don’t want to waste time,
    • you may find easier questions which you can get correct,
    • you may find the answer somewhere else in the test, and
    • once you tackle the easy questions, you will have more confidence for the harder questions.

    5. When answering a multiple choice question, always read every choice. Sometimes the first choice you read sounds good, but the last choice may be better!

    6. A great idea for multiple choice questions is to use the process of elimination. All you do is get rid of the wrong answers first, until you are left with only one correct answer, or at most a couple of good choices.

    7. Matching requires a similar approach.

    When matching, do three things:

      • lightly draw lines to match your choices before you write the answer’s letter on the line, and
      • when you think you are totally done, sing the alphabet song in your head to check that you used every letter; many students accidentally use two letters twice, and then totally skip another letter!
      • cross out each answer as it is used; this will also help to prevent you from using each answer more than once

    8. If you get answers wrong on Fill in the Blank and True-False sections, then you definitely need to put more time into your studying. These are two of the easier types of questions, and you simply must know your material to do well. Mistakes on True/False quizzes also occur if you read the questions too quickly or carelessly.

    When answering essay questions, first create a quick outline to help you organize your thoughts. Be sure that you have three ideas that will support your main idea. And don’t forget the closing sentence!

Last Modified on September 9, 2006