Wonder why some students seem to always do well on tests while others struggle? The common--albeit lazy--answer is often "they're just smarter" or "they're really interested in the material."
The reasons students do well on tests actually has more to do with the way they define the word "study," which actually has two definitions:
1. Look at closely in order to observe or read.
2. Devote time and attention to acquiring knowledge on an academic subject.
Which most accurately reflects how you study?
If, when your teacher says, "Okay guys, you've got 15 minutes to study before the exam starts," and you proceed to stare at your notes--skimming, rereading, and "going over stuff in your head,"-- then you're doing the wrong kind of studying.
If, on the other hand, you join up with a couple of classmates and ask each other questions, write down key ideas, discuss ways to remember important concepts--in other words, actually devote time and attention--now you are really studying.
Think of the first definition like watching TV. You're sitting back passively, letting the content wash over you.
The second is more like playing a video game. You're interacting with the material, manipulating it, making meaning as opposed to "going over stuff."
And be careful about over-digitizing your study session. You can make online flashcards, but print them out when it's time to study. It's fine to look at videos to review, but take old-fashioned notes as you watch. The research, overwhelmingly, supports the importance of speaking and writing the old-fashioned way as you study. This helps to rewire the neural pathways that have been short-circuited by all of your texting, Instagramming, and Snapchatting.*
In summary, to do better on exams, do so with the second definition in mind:
1. Devote time. Never wait until the day of the test to study; your brain processes while you're sleeping. Think of it as a computer emptying the trash.
2. Devote attention--activate the material through speaking, writing, drawing, etc, preferably with other human beings.
It's amazing how just knowing the meaning of a word can change your approach. Now stop studying (#1) this blog and start studying (#2) for your exam!
*For a haunting, impossible-to-refute argument on this subject, check out Nicholas Carr's book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.