You study for a test, you think you know your stuff, you take the test, and then you fail the test. Does this situation sound familiar? Do you ever think to yourself Ugh, what the heck … I swore I knew this stuff!
Reality check: If you fail the test, then you didn’t really know the material. Obviously there are exceptions to this, like if you have extreme testing anxiety, but in most cases an F means you didn’t know the information well enough — even if you studied and thought you knew it.
Good students know how to know if you’re ready for an exam. They know that studying doesn’t make someone ready. They know that staying up all night reading the chapter doesn’t make someone ready. We are only really ready for an exam if we know the answers to the questions we are asked. I’m going to repeat that because it’s really important:
We are only ready for an exam if we know the answers to the questions we are asked.
So that’s the key. That’s how to know if you’re ready for an exam. If you know the answers, you’re good to go. If you don’t know the answers, then you are not ready. I know that sounds insanely obvious, but let me explain how you can use this information to your advantage.
After you’re done studying — or ideally, while you are studying — you have to test yourself on the material. Here’s how to test yourself so you know if you’re ready for an exam:
How to know if you’re ready for an exam, and 9 ways to test yourself
1. Ask the teacher for extra worksheets or old quizzes. Complete them without looking at your notes.
2. Make your own quizzes using your study guide. Here are some free online quiz-maker sites.
3. If you have a study guide, go through the topics or questions one by one answer them without looking at your notes.
4. Answer the questions at the end of your textbook chapter. Don’t look back at the chapter.
5. Do a Google search for printable quizzes on the material you’re studying. (Yup, you can find teacher materials online.)
6. Ask a friend to quiz you aloud — make sure your friend doesn’t prompt you through the answers.
7. Make flashcards with questions on them — do not peak at the answers on the back. (Try this flashcard method.)
8. Print out blank diagrams or charts from the internet (if that’s relevant to what you’re studying) and try to fill them in.
9. Explain the material clearly to someone who doesn’t know it. If they understand you, you are prepared. If you can’t explain it clearly, you don’t know it.
Whatever method you choose to quiz yourself, you have to be honest when you try to answer the questions. No peeking. No glancing at your notes. No flipping over the flashcard to see the answer and then thinking to yourself Oh yeah, I knew that. Ummmm no you didn’t … otherwise you wouldn’t have flipped the flashcard over. (Ha! Busted.)
I like to think of this analogy, which I’ve used already on a post about test anxiety:
Suppose your coach wants you to run a mile in 8 minutes or less. If you practice every day and you know you can nail an 8-minute mile, then you will know for sure that you’re ready and you won’t be freaking out on game day. But let’s say that instead of practicing a timed mile every day, you only run randomly here and there, and you never time yourself. Then how would you feel going into the race? Uncertain? Of course! Because you don’t know if you can really do it. Taking a test without testing yourself beforehand is the same thing as my running analogy.
It’s a crappy feeling to think you’re prepared for an exam, only to end up failing it. If you take the effort to sincerely quiz yourself first, without peeking at your notes, you’ll definitely know if you’re ready for an exam. (Or, um, if you’re not!)