Honors Chemistry
Chemistry CP
AP Chemistry
Test Success
About Dr. V.

Study Strategies


So...you just checked your assignment sheet, and you have a big test next week!  Oh no!  You ask yourself, "Where do I begin?  It all seems so overwhelming." 

Here are some simple steps to help you get ready for that big test, small quiz, or whatever in-class assessment is coming up.


  • Collect your study materials.

There are so many resources available for you!  Whether you are working with a group or as an individual, you will best use your time when you can find everything you need.   Try to keep all of your class materials together.  You might want to designate a certain place in your home, such as a basket on top of your desk, for all your school materials.  A three ring binder (I suggest a large one, since we'll do a lot this year) is probably the simplest way to organize your notes and handouts.  You'll also need a calculator, paper, and something to write with.  (Remember, you can't use graphing or programmable calculators on classroom tests.  Make sure you know how to use your calculator BEFORE the test begins.)  When you're done, put all of your assignments together (maybe in a designated folder) so you can find them easily when it's time to turn things in.  It's also a good idea to have a regular place to study and do your homework.  Pick a location where you won't be easily distracted and have plenty of room to spread out.  Some people like to work at the kitchen table; some people like to sit on a bed with a lap desk.  You should turn the TV off, but some people work better if quiet (unobtrusive) music is playing in the background. 

Start studying for the test 3 or 4 days (at least) before the test date.  Give yourself adequate time to digest all the material.  Cramming really doesn't work.

Obvious materials include your textbook, class notes and handouts, and old tests and quizzes.  Your textbook has a great deal of information, including background material, sample problems, and review questions at the end of each chapter.  You can find almost anything using the index.  Complete homework sets, either from the book or handouts, can provide useful overviews of each chapter section.  The review sheets are posted on line and given out in class.  The Internet is another valuable resource.  The assignment sheets include a number of (pre-screened) websites relevant to the unit.  The on-line homework site includes the main homework pages as well as lecture help pages (which provide complete solutions) on a wide variety of problem types. 

It's also important to keep up with class.  If you miss a class, make a point of checking in with the instructor to find out what you missed and get any handouts.  Make up pop quizzes as soon as possible, so you can get objective feedback on whether or not you understand the concepts.  Get the notes, or listen to the appropriate podcast, and go over any questions you have right away!  Instructors who have multiple preps and  many students simply aren't going to be able to track you down to remind you of all this--it's YOUR grade, and YOUR responsibility.


  • Form a study group.

Study groups can be a powerful strategy for test success, especially for people with strengths in interpersonal skills.  Study groups are most effective with four to six members.  Choose your study partners carefully.  For a successful group, all  members need to be dedicated and motivated.  Pick people you know you can work with.  Devote this time to studying, not socializing.  Set clear group goals and choose a set time and place to meet.  For best results, your group should meet consistently (say, weekly) throughout the year, not just the evening before the big test.

Before the group meets, each group member should make questions and answers to ask the group.  One particularly effective strategy for a study group involves working together to make practice tests, in which every group member writes a variety of possible test questions in different formats (with answers) and shares them with the group.  Group members can take turns being the leader.  Group time can be used in a number of ways--checking homework, checking for understanding of materials, solving challenging problems, preparing for tests and quizzes, and (gasp!) ongoing review of material.


  • Use a variety of strategies.  Focus on active study strategies; just reading won't do.  (I know...it feels like studying, and you can spend hours doing it, but it simply isn't an effective study strategy.)  Pick up a pencil, and start writing!  Summarize, condense, link, solve, connect, outline--anything that gets you mentally engaged with the material.

It can take some trial and error to find the right combination of strategies for you.  Also, what works in one class may not be enough in another.  More challenging material and classes emphasizing critical thinking require more sophisticated strategies.  Here are some suggestions to consider.

  • Start with a quick Active Study Checklist or the Study Skills Checklist to identify any areas  you may need to work on.

  • Do your homework the day it is due, and do a thorough job.  Make this a regular habit.  As best you can, set aside a regular time for this.  If no homework is assigned (which won't happen often), or you finish it quickly (for CP:  30 minutes; for Honors:  45 minutes), use this time to review your class notes.

  • Take outlines of assigned reading material to use later. (This is only useful if you take notes as you read the first time.  Don't start this the night before the test!)

  • Keep a running list of key terms, definitions, and formulas.  Try making a 5 x 8 card for each unit, including only the most essential concepts, equations and topics.

  • Find out as much as you can about the format of the test.  Will it be an in-class essay?  100 multiple choice questions?  A mix of formats?  Look at previous tests if you have them, or ask your teacher during the review session.  The more you know about what to expect, the better you can prepare.  Ideally, you should prepare differently for essay tests, which tend to emphasize application of material by drawing conclusions, making comparisons, or analysis, than for multiple choice or other short answer formats, which tend to emphasize recall of information and specific content knowledge.

  • Look over your homework sets.  (This only helps if you do your homework consistently and thoroughly.)

  • Redo practice problems from class.

  • Use on-line problem sets for instant feedback--it will help you to better assess what you really know vs. what you still need to learn.

  • Make up your own problem sets. Try to do them with your study group.  Try to think how a teacher might approach the material in terms of developing new or more challenging questions.

  • Skim your class notes.  If something is confusing, read in more detail, then consult your textbook.  Don't reread the entire chapter the night before the test--you don't have time for that!

  • Make a list of questions you have.  Find someone, a classmate or your instructor,  to go over the questions with you two or three days before the test.

  • Finish the review sheet before the review session.  Circle the problems or questions that challenged you, and then be sure to ask for extra help on those problems!

  • Check off the unit objectives as you are able to meet them.

  • Flash cards are useful when you need to memorize a group of facts.  In my experience, most students overuse flashcards.  I recommend them only for certain topics in this course:  the names and symbols of the elements, and the formulas and names of the polyatomic ions. 

  • Write out your own summary of how to solve a certain type of problem.

  • Teach someone else how to do a particular problem type.

  • Summarize a set of notes or text in your own words.

  • Make your own concept map showing links and connections between concepts and terms from the unit.  Alternatively, include words defining the connections between terms and concepts in the concept map from the beginning of the unit.  (Visual learners benefit a lot from this strategy.)

  • Make up silly sentences, acronyms, songs and rhymes, or other mnemonic devices to help you remember connections between concepts.  Share them with your friends and classmates.

  • My German professor in college recommended studying one topic for 30-40 minutes,  putting it away to study something else for a while, and coming back to the original material later in the day or in that study session.  That way, you're reviewing the material, which is more efficient in terms of learning.

  • Take occasional breaks.  If you work diligently for 45-50 minutes, take a 10 to 15 minute rest, then get back to work.  But this really means diligent work.  Time watching TV, surfing the web, instant messaging your friends, or talking on the phone does not count as study time!

The Night Before the Test

    Make sure you have all of the materials you need for the test--the basics, like a calculator and something to write with.  (I'll always provide periodic tables and other reference materials you may need for the test.)  If you started studying a few days ago, you should have a pretty good understanding of the material now.   Focus on anything that is still giving you trouble.  Your main goal is to review.  Make sure you put your (non-graphing) calculator and a pen or pencil in your backpack.  Try to get a good night's sleep, and avoid foods loaded with sugar and caffeine, which may interfere with your sleep.

The Day of the Test

    Be sure to eat a good breakfast (this advice applies to any day, really.)  Get to class on time.  Avoid asking last minute questions--you will just get yourself flustered and unnecessarily anxious.  If you know it, you know it, and if you haven't learned it yet, a question as the test is being handed out won't be much help.  (Note:  As a matter of policy, I don't answer last minute questions!) Stay calm, and be confident.  If you have prepared thoroughly, you shouldn't have anything to worry about.  No single test is that important; remember, I assess your progress in a variety of ways.

Test-Taking Tips


Need more advice?  Check out these sources.

How To Study  From a computer science professor at SUNY Buffalo

Study Tips written for college students

Study Strategies in Chemistry  This site (written for a college chemistry class) has some useful insights into test preparation

Active Learning

Test Anxiety

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