Test preparation starts when you read or listen and take notes. The Cornell notetaking method has been suggested because it sets you up for studying. Starting with your notes, you identify essentials, and consolidate what is really important to know on summary sheets.
Sift through your notes from class, articles and textbooks to identify and highlight the most important concepts and facts.
Place the consolidated, highlighted material from your search for essentials on a new sheet, following the same Cornell format (details on the right side, and questions or key words summarizing the details in the left 2 inch column).
If you have access to different colors of text on the computer or pens if doing this on paper, decide on a color coding scheme and apply it to your notes. Your scheme will depend on what kind of class it is, but some students use yellow for main idea statements, blue for key concepts, red for names, dates or specific details that must be commited to memory, green for an application or explanation of an example, and so on.
You then are ready to test yourself by lining up the summary sheets so as to cover the "details" side of the notes, and try to answer the questions or explain the keywords in the "main idea" column. The process serves as a way of learning the material, as well as a "self-test" to check what you know. You continue studying until selected information is committed to memory.
It is a good idea to devise a set of questions that you think will be close to those on the quiz or test. You set yourself up for success in many ways by attempting to answer these to the best of your knowledge. First, you have at your fingertips the relevant vocabulary, which is a big part of what you are tested on. Second, you practice thinking through how to answer good questions, which makes it much easier when you are trying to produce an answer in writing under the pressure of a timed test.
After testing yourself using the summary sheets, you can identity the ideas, names, or facts that defy memorization. Make a list of these and create mnemonic devices to aid retrieval. Options:
Acronym, a word in which each letter stands for something Example: "HOMES" = Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior
Easily-remembered sentences in which the first letter of each word represents something crucial to recall Example: "My Very Energetic Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas" = Order of planets from the sun
Combining sound alike words with visualization works to pair items, such as an author with a contribution. Example:
Robin Norwood wrote Why Me, Why This, Why Now? You can visualize a robin sitting in a tree in some woods, with a sign labeled "Nor" (pointing north). The bird is singing, and the words of the song appear in a bubble (like in the cartoons): "Why Me, Why This, Why Now?" This connects right brain images with verbal or linguistic information to promote multi-sensory learning and cross-hemispheric processing.
Note: A resource suggested for those who want to practice how to create mnemonic devices is Dr. William Browning's book, Memory Power for Exams (Lincoln: Cliffs, 1983). It provides instruction and practice exercises in devising memory devices in several subject areas.