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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Test Preparation Tips: On the Road to Academic Success

From the Beyond BookSmart Blog

December 4, 2014

I won’t forget the day I took the road test to earn my license. I’d been (reluctantly) attending three-hour classes on Saturday mornings and cruising around with both my mom and dad (who, by the way, took drastically different approaches to educating me on the nuances of driving). By the time my road test came, I’d felt that I had practiced enough, studied enough, and focused enough to walk away with a piece of plastic that would finally give me the freedom to cart myself all over town.

When the state trooper approached my door on test day, I froze. Do you turn your wheels toward the curb when parking uphill, or away from it? How many feet away should you park from a fire hydrant? I’d felt as though everything I’d been studying and practicing had fled my mind.

To make matters worse, the trooper asked me to solve math questions throughout the entire test (my worst subject, mind you). When we pulled back into the RMV parking lot, I thought I’d failed for sure. If not on my license, definitely on the math questions.

The good news? I passed. More good news? The math didn’t matter; he explained that he wanted to simulate how difficult it is to concentrate on a conversation with friends in the car while driving -- and believe me, I refused to drive friends around for quite some time after that.

When I reflect on both the way I prepared for the test and subsequently took it, I realize that many of the strategies I advise students to use when preparing for their academic exams could have helped me on what I’d considered at the time to be the most important test of my life.

Below are three test preparation tips that can help your child stay on the road to academic success.


Imagine a stop light. You know that you stop at red, slow down at yellow, and cruise through when it’s green. If it makes sense to operate your car that way, it also makes sense to manage study materials that way. When your son or daughter has a whole unit to pore over, they can start by color-coding the material. Encourage them to go through their notes and highlight everything in green that they totally know. That's the stuff they don't need to spend a lot of time studying.

Then, use yellow for the things they “kinda-sorta know” to cue them to slow down and review those concepts. Any areas in red indicate a full stop: this content is totally unfamiliar to them. They might even tell you “I don’t remember even learning this stuff.” By color-coding, your child can spend time more effectively by focusing on the red and yellow material the most.

See the next technique for how to make that possible.

Three Days Out

Despite attending classes for weeks on end and driving with my parents any chance they let me, I left all of my review work for the night before my test. This meant I’d had an entire volume of material facing me all at once, creating a heightened sense of anxiety. To help remain calm for tests, use the color-coding to guide your child in creating a study schedule three days ahead of the test.

Day 1: Study the red material only. Day 2: Quiz yourself on the red material and then begin studying yellow. Day 3: Review red and yellow together (hopefully most of it sticks by now!) and review the green zone. This approach will help your son or daughter repeatedly attend to the difficult content across multiple days and reduce the overwhelming feeling of having so much to study in so little time the evening beforehand.

And what should they do if some material from the red or yellow zone just won’t stick? Try strategy number three.


It's the irregular stuff that stands out in our minds, not the mundane. Therefore, creating funny memory tricks can help your child easily access the material when it comes time to take the exam. If I’d done this for my road test, I would have known that the wheels turn away from the curb when parking uphill if I’d remembered it as “up, up and away helps me stay!”

Or, I might have known that you park ten feet away from a fire hydrant with this rhyme and alliteration combo: “Ten feet can clear the street for the fire fighter’s fleet.” It’s certainly much more fun to recall those lines than to try to arbitrarily remember “away” and “ten” as answers.

Want to see if it works? The next time you find yourself parked on a hill, ask yourself about which direction to turn your wheels and see if “up, up, and away!” doesn’t cross your mind.

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