Forget reading the textbook; it's useless. To study for tests, take tests. Yes, it's really that simple.

You might be thinking "of course, that's obvious," but it's a practice strategy that can be employed more often. According to a study by Curtin University, an Australian public institution ranked in the top 2% of universities in the world, students who studied by taking practice tests that mimicked the actual examination did significantly better than their counterparts who did not. (1)

Put this strategy into perspective; if you had to complete a full marathon, and the only preparation you did was read books on the physics of running, you would most likely fall short of the finish line.

Or, pretend someone hands you a violin, and tells you to play the first section of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. You've only heard it played, but can you play it yourself?

Now imagine having to take the SAT, ACT, MCAT, IMACAT, or any other cringeworthy test without having seen them previously. Maybe you did, and maybe you did really well (you can stop reading this article now, hot shot). You would not know the structure, the types of questions, or how to pace yourself.

Reading tests are an exception to this argument; if you're expected to memorize cold facts straight from the book, definitely read the book. Or, don't. At least read the summaries.

Thus, a golden study strategy for all students:

  1. Take practice tests.
  2. Do practice questions.
  3. Take another practice test, having learned new material from the practice questions.
  4. Review class notes.
  5. Go over points that the professor emphasized.

The last one is often skipped; professors want you to do well (for the most part). Sometimes, they will even tell you exactly WHAT to study, and how to study for an upcoming exam. Real life example: math professor tells class to review the easily accessible 2014 midterm in preparation for the 2015 midterm- the 2015 examination contained the same structure and types of questions as the past year's test. Example: chemistry professor loves free energy diagrams, and always uses them in class- in reviewing notes, I student makes sure to highlight free energy diagrams- sure enough, the chemistry midterm has a whole page of free energy diagrams.

Case in point: take tests to do well on them, and pay attention to what your teachers emphasize; they're the ones making the tests, after all.

1. Sly, Leith. "Practice Tests as Formative Assessment Improve Student Performance on Computer‐managed Learning Assessments." Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 24.3 (1999): 339-43. Web.