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Many people think burning the midnight oil before a test is the most reliable way to get an A.

But is it really the best way?

Sure, short-term memory can help you keep several important facts in your head, like memorizing concepts before a Math test, but if you want to store this information for long-term usage, like being able to use phrases you learnt Spanish class when you transfer to a school in Brazil, you will need some more work. Luckily, I've got you covered.

Your Way to an A+: How to Study For a Test Better

1. No, Long Study Sessions aren't the Key

Your parents probably reminded you before that 'practice makes perfect', but not all at once. Long and focused study sessions may seem good, but chances are you are spending most of your brainpower on trying to maintain your concentration for a long period of time. That doesn’t leave a lot of brain energy for learning. (Unless you're practicing playing Fortnite. But would your mom really allow that?)

2. Mix Up Your Classroom

The first step toward better learning, according to author Benedict Carey of “How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens” is to simply change your study environment from time to time. Let's say, instead of revising at the library, you decide to stop by a cafe. Instead of deathly silence, you'll hear the sound of coffee-stirring, sipping and idle chatting. To the brain, these are new, unique sounds that help you form new connections between what you're learning and what you're hearing. So, when you take your History test and trying to remember So-and-So, you'll think about the smell of coffee and go, "OHHH! Now I know!"

3. Space Out

No, not start daydreaming, but set several different study sessions a week. For example, if your Chemistry test is on next Friday, set aside time for  study sessions every three days. Trust me, it's better to water your lawn for 30 minutes three times a week than 90 minutes at one go. Your plants would thank you for that.

4. And This is the Perfect Excuse For a Nap

Finally, you have a chance to catch up on your 'Z's and you've got a valid reason for it. And you've got an expert to prove it.

“Sleep is the finisher on learning,” Mr. Carey said. “The brain is ready to process and categorize and solidify what you’ve been studying. Once you get tired, your brain is saying it’s had enough.”

But wait! Different subjects need a different sleep schedule! This is what Mr. Carey (my new favorite Science reporter) said: (Blogger's explanation in parentheses)

The first half of the sleep cycle helps with retaining facts; the second half is important for math skills. So a student with a foreign language test should go to bed early to get the most retention from sleep (remember facts better), and then review in the morning. For math students, the second half of the sleep cycle is most important — better to review before going to bed and then sleep in to let the brain process the information (remember how to apply concepts in different questions).

So you've got the secrets of Test Success. Now go get that A+!

(Reference: Article 'Better Ways To Learn' in the New York Times)

Reader Interactions


  1. Some very good advice here. I am actually writing this in a cafe. I find that I do good work sitting in a cafe. I have been going to cafes most mornings for around forty years. I like your idea of changing venues to create new connections. I have definitely felt that myself, but I had forgotten! I started my first book in a cafe in Paris. It was a small cafe, in terms of business, a dying cafe. I was often the only customer for hours at a time. It was a narrow space, dimly lit, with huge advertising posters in the front window even cut down on light from the street. The cafe smelled of the owner’s ever-present cabbage soup. The coffee was truly awful! And yet, there was something about that space that set my imagination free. Writing projects do require sustained writing, but what you say about studying for tests and learning new things is true. Shorter more frequent bouts of learning is better than one long session. Your analogy with watering the lawn is brilliant.

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