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3 Techniques for Rethinking Test Prep

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Have a big test coming up? Don’t fret! Rethink the way you prepare with these three helpful tips from Olympia, WA tutor Tali H

In order to make test prep “FUN,” you need to – in a sense – forget that what you’re learning is test prep. It’s all about the outlook, distracting yourself, and actually believing (or finding a way to convince yourself) that what you’re learning is worthwhile.

1. The Right Motivation is Key
Let’s think fitness for a second. Now, say you tell yourself, “I must work out. I need to run five miles, do 100 sit-ups, hold a plank for five minutes, etc.” This sounds like a lot of work. It sounds draining. I’m tired before I even begin. But say you think something more along the lines of, “I must work out. To accomplish my goal, I’m going to play a sport. I’ll join a soccer team.” Although the goal is the same (to work out), the motivation will be coming from different sources. In the first scenario, you’re the one pushing yourself. You have a specific goal to reach that can seem daunting. However, in the second scenario, the motivator shifts from being you, to your team and your coach.

With studying, motivation is key. If you focus on a specific set of goals (a certain number of pages you must read in a textbook, a certain number of practice problems you must do), you’re draining your energy by focusing on trivial elements that don’t matter. Instead, stay motivated by focusing on quality over quantity. Figure out what your main goal is, aside from just the test. Let’s take the SAT as an example test prep scenario. Rather than thinking of it as a test you must pass to get into a prestigious college, think of it as simply a tool to measure your logic. Make the end goal increasing your general vocabulary, knowledge, and logical deduction skills.

2. Work for the Test, Think for the “Party”
We covered that motivation is key. But what are some of the really good ways to motivate yourself? One of the main places I derive my motivation from, especially in tests that apply more broadly (like the SAT and ACT, which tend to test logic and knowledge), is by thinking of what I’m learning as “party tricks.”

Imagine someone who does yoga. They’ve come up on a really tricky pose – say a headstand or an arm balance. What keeps them going (other than the inner passion, of course)? What makes the thought of falling, possibly embarrassing oneself in the moment no more than a fleeting thought? In many cases, it’s the knowledge that once the trick is perfected it will feel great to do and perhaps you can awe those around you, and maybe even become the center of attraction at a party.

Taking it back to test prep, look at what you’re learning as future conversation starters and builders. Turn the words you must learn for English metamorphose from something you’re learning for a class into an enhanced vocabulary that will woo everyone at the next social event you go to. If you’re lucky, it may even land you a better job. Can you comprehend the word S-U-C-C-E-S-S?

3. Compete, Compete, Compete – Even if it’s Just With Yourself
After you find some good motivation, it helps to distract yourself from the thought of test prep as well. One of the best methods for this is competition – especially with yourself. In these instances, it’s mostly about time. Hence, the clock often becomes your new best friend. A big factor in test taking is being able to move quickly through problems, so attempting to beat the clock is not only a good way to compete with yourself but it will also improve your speediness (which is extremely useful on timed tests like the SAT and ACT).

For learning vocabulary or anything with memorization (math facts, the elements of the periodic table, etc.), use Quizlet.com. This site has many different options, all of which are completely free of charge. To start, you must have a set of “cards” to study with. Lucky for users, there are many great sets already created. All you have to do is type in key words in the search bar (for example: “SAT words,” “geometry,” “economics,” etc.). The other option is to make your own set, which I highly recommend. This way you are completely familiar with the words you’re creating and you’re going through the material again to find the words you want to test yourself on (thereby actively determining what’s important to know). You can also type in question/answer pairs that you make up yourself so the “cards” aren’t all just vocabulary based.

Once you have a set to work with, you can use the basic “flashcard” mode to familiarize yourself with the set. You can also do the “learn mode”, which is where you can get competitive (this is an improvement game that doesn’t rely on time). To really compete with yourself, play either “Scatter”, in which the virtual cards are scattered on the screen and you have to match up the two that go together, or “Space Race”, in which the prompt card runs across the screen and you have to enter the correct answer before it gets out of sight.

If Quizlet doesn’t resonate with you, you can also come up with creative ways to challenge yourself by doing it the old-fashioned way: grabbing a set of problems and starting the clock after setting a particular time goal. Also, there are many other websites offering similar games in slightly different formats. In an Internet search, type in “test prep games” and see what comes up (the more specific you get, e.g. ‘geometry test prep games,’ the better your search results will be).

TaliHTali H. tutors in various academic subjects in Olympia, WA, as well as through online lessons. Since 2010, she has worked with numerous students in elementary, middle, high school, and college in both group settings and one-on-one. Learn more about Tali here! 

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