Self-Testing: the most efficient way to prep for exams

by Michele Pavitt

For a new approach to preparing for tests, please view this 4-minute video from Cornell University: The Key to Tests.

This quick video makes a dramatic point: It argues that the best way to study for a test is to self-test or PRACTICE. And the most important thing to practice is whatever you will be ASKED TO DO on the test.

Think about how you would prepare for a piano recital. You would practice the piano, right? So if your math instructor will expect you to solve problems on a test, you should practice solving problems as you study for the test.

This approach might require more effort than simply skimming (or staring at) your notes. It will almost certainly result in a better test performance, however.

You might be wondering about how to follow through on this advice. If you need to practice answering questions, solving problems, or writing brief essays – how could you find suitable questions, problems, and essay prompts? Excellent question! Here is a list of possible resources:

  • Ask your instructors if they could provide earlier versions of exams that you could use for practice.
  • If your instructors can’t provide practice versions of tests, ask them for advice on finding sample questions and problems for self-testing.
  • Look for extra problem sets in your math textbook or online math lab.
  • Check the end of textbook chapters for key terms and review questions.
  • Review your syllabus for the main themes covered in the course. Write yourself an essay prompt based on those themes.

As mentioned in “The Key to Tests,” the self-testing method isn’t necessarily easy. It requires you to engage actively with the course content. But once you’re facing that exam, you’ll feel more confident if you have practiced the skills in advance!