Taking a test can be exhausting. It is not just the written portion that is exhausting, but studying for it as well. Many people think that the key to getting a good test grade is your ability to remember all of the information taught in class -- but that's only partially true. Every single piece of information presented in class was done in such a way that you would understand a few core concepts. Therefore, the key to studying for a test is to identify those core concepts and ensure you know how to apply them.
Identifying the Core Concepts
No test can cover everything discussed during class. Think about it. One chapter in a textbook may have 30+ pages choke-full of facts, figures, and definitions. On the other hand, one test is roughly 2+ pages of questions and blank space. How do you know what will be on those few pieces of paper?
Start by creating an outline. Read the objectives of the chapter in the textbook. Skim through the chapter and your notes from class. Ask yourself these questions:
Review your homework once you have created an initial outline. However, don't begin by re-doing the problem! Instead, look at the problem and ask yourself what that question was trying to teach you. It should teach you some element from your outline.
By the end of this exercise you should have something that looks like this:
What You Know Vs. What You Don't
There is no use spending hours pouring over information you already understand. The time spent studying is inversely proportional to how well you know it:
Compare your outline and homework again. Your homework is an indicator of how you will perform on the test. Ask yourself:
So your outline should start looking like this:
Pink is the "danger zone." You are at a high probability of getting any question containing this concept wrong. Yellow is "proceed with caution." Meaning, you may be able to answer the question but you do not fully understand why. You may do well on the upcoming test, but classes build on the previous chapters. Therefore, you will likely suffer on the next exam if you don't shore that concept up now.
Now that you have a plan you can start studying! Re-reading the same information over and over isn't the best approach. Instead, pretend you are a teacher attempting to present this information to the class. How would you make sense of it? Re-write your notes. Once I finished studying, I had my own study packet that was a hybrid of the teacher's notes, my observations, and information from the textbook.
Another study technique is to restructure the information. For instance, in biology you may want to organize the animal kingdoms into a flow chart. Pick a different color for each group. Tell yourself why you are picking that color, "Plantae is green because it is the plant group; plants are typically green." Even if your teacher already gave you a flow chart, draw it yourself from scratch. Reason through why each group is there and what it contains. It forces you to think more deeply than just looking at words on a page.
Another study approach is to think of examples. One friend told me how she explained the concept of a mole from chemistry as "A mole is to atoms like a dozen is to eggs." She equated the scientific concept to something we are familiar with in our everyday lives. Another friend of mine felt he had a good handle on a concept if he could come up with a joke that made the professor laugh.
Whatever it is for you, find a way to make the material engaging.
Work with Friends
In the beginning it can be helpful to study with someone that has developed great study habits. They can share what works for them and give you new ways to look at material. Learning does not happen in a bubble.
It takes time to develop study habits. You may try everything outlined above and realize you need to tweak a few things to make it effective for you. That's fine. We all synthesize information differently because none of us have the exact same frame of reference.
We would never expect someone to become a professional athlete the minute they pick up the ball. It takes years of dedicated effort to learn the necessary skills. This holds true for academics as well. Keep practicing and don't give up!