Mayo's Clinics

Oct 19, 2017, 23:49
Mayo’s Clinic: Helping Students Prepare for Tests

Mayo’s Clinic: Helping Students Prepare for Tests

Dr. Mayo finishes the final installment of his test-taking series with strategies for reviewing, practicing and relaxing before tests.

By Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT

Taking tests can be a very high-anxiety activity for students. It ranks up with public speaking as a challenge and one that most students would like to avoid at all costs. However, there are ways we can help reduce anxiety by teaching strategies for reviewing material, helping students learn test-taking skills, and suggesting ways to relax before taking a test.

Learning Ways to Review
One way to help students involves teaching ways to review material on a regular basis, such as reading and rereading books or notes every day, writing flash cards or reviewing notes highlighted with different colors.

Rereading books and notes every day helps students remember the material. One strategy is to review the reading material one day, review notes the next day, and take off one day a week. Even if it only involves 15 minutes a day, it helps them to think about the material and familiarity builds knowledge.

For some students, making flash cards to learn vocabulary – and there are lots of words in our field – and concepts or basic recipe information can be helpful. Writing out the flash cards helps students focus on the information and that in turn helps them remember it. Flash cards can be carried around and reviewed at any time whenever they have five or 10 free minutes. It is also more effective than several-hour study periods.

Study groups are another way to learn material. Talking about material with other students helps them realize what they understand and what they are not clear about. Asking each other questions assists all participants since people remember over 90 percent of the material they teach others.

A fourth strategy involves creating sample test questions. This practice encourages students to review the material from the perspective of what is important and what is trivial. Looking over the material and considering what might be on the test is a way to identify key concepts and practices; it also helps students frame the material from several perspectives. As a faculty member, you can encourage this practice by assigning students the task of coming up with test questions. It helps you see if they understand what is important and it helps them study at the same time. If the questions are good, you can even use them – or some form of them – on actual tests.

Helping students learn to study and review is very helpful; teaching test taking skills can also make a real difference for students.

Practicing Test-Taking Skills
We can also help students by helping them learn test -taking skills. Some of them have not learned good test-taking skills in secondary school and may need some assistance. Techniques include reminding them to:

  • Ask about the type of test a teacher will be giving
  • Reading the directions on the test at least twice and slowly
  • Reviewing a test and its structure before taking it
  • Writing down key formulas or statistics on scratch paper before taking the test
  • Answering easy questions first to build confidence
  • Answering questions with many points first to get the most points correct, and
  • Practicing by taking as many tests as possible.

Take a look at my recent column for more information, Part 2 in the Art of Testing – Test-Taking Skills.

Besides helping them with test-taking skills, as instructors we can provide information about how to reduce the stress involved in taking tests, especially where scholarship funds require certain grades.

Decreasing Stress
There are many ways students can diminish the stress they face when taking tests. A simple strategy includes arriving at the classroom early so they are not worried about things like having the materials they need, worrying about traffic or parking or public transportation, or even getting across campus. Once in the classroom they have a chance to breathe normally and take a small break – maybe even a five-minute meditation – to relax and refocus.

Encourage students to build their confidence by imagining they receive the test back with a good grade. They can also think of success in other endeavors and bring that successful feeling to the test-taking situation. Students may find they can focus on how much they have learned in the course so far. All of these tactics are designed to improve their confidence and diminish the nervousness associated with taking tests.

One thing I offer is to teach any idea or concept before the test in case they are facing a memory lapse or brain freeze and cannot remember it at that minute. It often reminds them of what they know and improves their attitude when taking the test.

Summary
I hope these thoughts will help you assist your students in leaning to better study, improve test-taking skills, and overcoming test anxiety.

Please see the other articles in this test-taking series:
Test Creation is Creative and Useful and Developing Fair and Engaging Tests

Next month, we will move to a new topic and discuss the value of and ways to use the syllabus; a timely topic at the beginning of the academic year.

If you have suggestions for other topics or teaching practices you want to share, send them to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and I will include them in future Mayo Clinics.


Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT, is retired as a clinical professor of hotel and tourism management at New York University. As principal of Mayo Consulting Services, he continues to teach around the globe and is a regular presenter at CAFÉ events nationwide. 

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