When preparing for a multiple choice test, it’s quite easy to relax and think “Oh, this test will be easy because all the answers will be on paper.” Unfortunately, this kind of thinking often sets us up for failure. Professors and teachers are familiar with such attitude, and make the tests even harder and more confusing.
To avoid this, it’s important to study as if the test will have open-ended questions.This means that you have to practice in a way that will let you understand the material, not merely recognize familiar terms on paper. There are a few components involved in this kind of test prep, and if you do a little bit of each, the knowledge and practice will add up in the end to form a bigger picture.
This is the procedure I’ve been going by in the last couple of months, which has been working out quite well for me:
1. Go over and annotate all notes and textbook readings
Start doing this as soon as the quarter/semester/class begins. It’s easy to get behind, but if you review and annotate every evening for 20 minutes, it will be much easier before the test.
2. Create a mind map that links all of the new concepts together and helps you create a bigger picture.
3. Start taking practice tests at least a week before the test.
It will be useless to cram and do five practice tests on a Sunday night, but if you take a test each day of the week in advance, it will not be as difficult and overwhelming.
4. Practice answering open-ended questions.
These have been saving my butt these last few weeks. Even though all of my exams are multiple choice, the best indicator of your knowledge is how well you are able to pull information out of your archival memory and into your working memory. And as a bonus, the more times you do this, the better you remember it in the future and the easier it is to recall again.
5. Identify Key Terms.
It doesn’t matter whether you create flashcards or cover the definitions with your hands: knowing the key terms and formulas is crucial to creating connections between concepts and coming up with “the big picture”. Just remember to actually think as you memorize the terms, because mindless memorization can only get you as far.
To sum it all up, I would like to say that the key to remembering information better and long after the test is to use a technique called elaborative rehearsal. The basic science behind it is easy, though: pay the most attention to the meaning of the words and concepts, link new and old ideas right away, and try to mindlessly memorize things as little as possible. There are numerous sources and articles (1, 2, for example) that show that people who memorized a list of random words by focusing on how the word looks like or sounds like instead of focusing on the context in which the word was given to them, have remembered much fewer words than those who understood the meaning.