If I could only give students one piece of advice about how to do better on tests, it would be this:
Do more than what is asked.
If your math teacher assigns 10 math problems, do 15. If your biology teacher asks you read the chapter, read it and take notes. If your history teacher asks you to answer the unit review questions, do that, and also build your own timeline of the unit. If your Spanish teacher asks you to study some vocab using the Quizlet she’s made, make your own flashcards by hand. If your language arts teacher asks you to read a book, build your own summary of the book as you read it.
Or choose any of the countless other ways to do more than what is asked. What all these have in common is that they’re work, and doing said work convinces your brain to care, causing you to remember what you’re studying.
Doing more than what is asked is how you march down the mastery path. It’s how you form long-term memories. It’s how you shore up holes in the foundation of your upside-down knowledge pyramids. And it’s exactly what you do when learning is your top priority.
Go back and review or practice with the ideas you learned three days ago because that kind of spaced repetition prevents you from forgetting them. Teach the ideas you’re learning to someone else, or at least talk through them in your mind while you’re doing the dishes. Make written product associated with the content: annotations, diagrams, mind maps. Take practice tests.
Now, schools give plenty of homework, so I recognize that this is a tall order, but it is simply the best predictor of success on tests. And, of course, if you’re not even doing all of the homework, this might be a bridge too far. Start by playing the game of school and getting all your work in on time. And then, if you can find the time and muster the energy, do a little more. Even a little bit of extra work is worthwhile. Everything counts.
Chris Loper has been working as a tutor and academic coach since 2014, racking up over 10,000 hours of experience supporting students.
Along with Greg Smith, Chris is the cocreator of Parenting for Academic Success (and Parental Sanity) – a five-part course offered every summer.
Chris’s most recent endeavor combines his academic and habit-formation expertise to help students thrive in college. Visit SmartCollegeHabits.com to learn more.
In 2021, he published a humorous memoir titled Wood Floats and Other Brilliant Observations, a book that blends crazy stories with practical life lessons, available on Amazon and through most local bookstores.
He lives in Issaquah, WA where he is the owner of South Cove Tutoring.