College Hack #1: TAP the Test

One of the biggest barriers to attending Campus Bible Study (i.e., generic for whatever faith group you’re with) is the need to do a little schoolwork. Students often moan about projects and studying for exams, and attendance always dips during finals. Christian college students need to fellowship, evangelize, and serve. Not study. OK, some study is mandatory. Unfortunately, failing out is an even more surefire way to miss Campus Bible Study.

If only there were a way to make the business of A’s more efficient, so Christian students could get back to being “on mission” (that’s what you’re all focused on, right?). Well there is. Time to get savvy. There are tricks to success that are rooted in solid research. Powerful ways to shorten study time while simultaneously raising grades. Here is the first. 

TAP the Test

This does not mean you should steal the exam key. “TAP” refers to transfer appropriate processing or “TAP.” This is the idea that retrieval is enhanced when the format is the same as the format used when the memory was originally encoded. Simple concept really; the best way to study is the way that matches the format of the test. If the test is multiple choice, you need to learn facts using flashcards (so you will be able to recognize the answer). If the test is short answer, you need to generate answers to lists of questions from the material. If the test is essay, you need to write practice essays. This is a powerful effect. Studying in the wrong format can actually reduce your performance beyond what you would have gotten from merely reading the material.

Your top question regarding the exams should be “what is the format of the exam?” If your professor looks offended you can reply “I’m not asking you to pre-chew my food! Don’t tell me what’s on the test! Just what the format is going to be—so I can be sure study correctly.” Better yet—read the syllabus. The exams should be described in black and white. Then reverse engineer your study style to match the format of the test.

Highlighting and re-reading earns C’s

This is a surprise; there is no value to repeatedly reading or highlighting while you read[1]. However, nearly everyone re-reads the book or their lecture notes. This is the #1 strategy that students report when surveyed; the “go-to” study technique. Bad idea.

A major caveat is in order; if you never read the book or your notes (writing is not really reading, is it?) then really re-reading might be the first-reading for you. That is OK. You can’t study what you never read. But reading is for making flashcards like “coffee is for closers.” You read to make study materials. It is far better to make your study strategy match the test format than to mindlessly repeat things over and over and over like a mechanical monkey banging those cymbals together.

Think about it; was there ever a test that just involved reading the material one more time? No there was not. All tests are multiple choice, short answer, or essay. Mostly.

So go study smarter and then come back to Campus Bible Study. We miss you. Don’t you love God?

[1] Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willinghamd, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14, 4-58.

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