Test Taking Tips for Students

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Test taking tips for students. Whether it’s an ACT, SAT or third grade pop spelling quiz, some kids, no matter how smart they may be, have a tough time taking tests.

I spoke to tutoring expert and Virtual Nerd co-founder Leo Shmuylovich to get some test taking tips for students and how to help students prepare for exams and take tests more efficiently.


Lisa LaGrou of Oakland County Moms – How long is the most efficient attention span when studying? Is there a point where it is beneficial to take a 5 minute break and then come back to the material?

Leo Shmuylovich, Virtual Nerd Co-Founder – I think most students struggle with not being able to stay focused for more than 5-10 minutes at a time, so the issue of students not taking enough breaks is one of those “nice to have” kind of problems. If you find that students are working in a distraction free zone, free of Facebook, IMs, and texts, and spending an hour or more at a time before taking short breaks, then you’ve got an ideal study situation. The key with taking breaks is finding the point where additional work is counterproductive. For some students working on the same problem for 10 minutes can be enough to push them over the edge, and in those cases I recommend taking a break from the problem and working on something else. But the key metric isn’t time, its attitude. When frustration, stress, and distraction are elevated, then you’ve got to start thinking about taking a break!

Lisa LaGrou of Oakland County Moms – Are study groups helpful, or can they be detrimental?

Leo Shmuylovich, Virtual Nerd Co-Founder – I’m a fan of study groups in principle, but in practice they can certainly be detrimental. I love the idea of students learning from their peers, and if students engage in teaching and problem solving during the study session, the benefits can be enormous. But the big downside of study groups is that it’s very easy to end up unconsciously copying everyone else’s work without actually learning anything. Students end up getting perfect homework grades but poor test scores, and it comes down to losing out on the opportunity to independently think through their work.

Lisa LaGrou of Oakland County Moms – Some kids are intelligent but notoriously “bad test takers”. Do you have any advice on how to turn a kid around who may know the material but doesn’t perform well on test day? Do you have any other test taking tips for students?

Leo Shmuylovich, Virtual Nerd Co-Founder – The first thing I do is try to have kids gain a sense of superiority over the test. As quickly as possible, I track down an old test, and we go through it problem by problem, without any regard for time. We tear apart the test, looking at not just the questions, but also the answers. You can learn a lot by looking at the wrong answers, and thinking about what mistake you would have had to make in order to pick the wrong answer. This process demystifies the exam, and once we get through that process, students are in the right mindset to attack the test with a fresh perspective. If you know that the test expects you to make certain mistakes, you’ll start being hyperaware. It takes time to get there, but in my experience this technique works really well, and at least get students believing, sometimes for the first time, that they could actually answer every question on the test.

Leo Shmuylovich just completed his Ph.D in Physics from Washington University in St. Louis. He has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Cornell University, having graduated Magna Cum Laude in three years—and he was named a Merrill Presidential Scholar, one of the university’s highest honors. As a tutor and lecturer for The Princeton Review, he taught MCAT Physics and Biology classes, as well as SAT Math classes, to hundreds of students. He’s also worked individually with students on SAT, SAT II, AP exams, and science and math courses at both the high school and college level.

For more test taking tips for students, visit virtualnerd.com.

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