Perfecting Your Study Skills: GED Language Arts, Reading
Thomas Edison said, "Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration." Here is our take on that: "GED exam success is 1% inspiration, 99% preparation." As with so many other things in life, the more prepared you are, the more you are likely to succeed. Whether that preparation involves practicing skills, researching information, memorizing lines, or developing a presentation, you make success possible by doing whatever you can to be ready for the situation.
Where Do I Start?
Chances are that you already have a crowded to do list, and you may be wondering how you will fit in the time you need to prepare for the GED exam. You have a schedule that may include work and family obligations, so you don't have an unlimited amount of time to prepare. The key is to maximize the study time that you do have.
To study means "to give one's attention to learning a subject; to look at with careful attention." Notice that the word attention comes up twice in this definition. How you study is as important as how much time you spend studying. To study effectively, you need to focus all your attention on the material, so your preparation time must be quality time. This section of the book will help you determine the study strategies that are right for you. It also will provide you with techniques for overcoming the two most common roadblocks to successful studying: anxiety and distraction.
Visualize Your Future
If you are ready to prepare for the GED exam, you probably have a specific goal in mind—to improve your career, perhaps, or to get into a college or a technical school. It will be helpful to your studying and determination if you can keep your goal in mind at all times.
Let's say, for example, that you want to continue your education in college. Spend an afternoon on the campus of a nearby college and get a feel for student life there. Sit in on a class; attend a sporting event; chat with some students over coffee at the student union. This will help you visualize what it will be like when you get into a college program—which can only happen after you have passed your GED.
Perhaps you want to become qualified for a better job at your present place of employment. Spend time thinking what that job would be like on a daily basis; how a better salary will help you; where you'd like to travel on vacations. These desires will become a driving goal which will help you to stay focused and determined in studying for the GED.
Visualization is a powerful tool that motivates you to make your dreams a reality. Once you know where you want to be, spend a little time envisioning yourself there. What are you doing? Giving a presentation? Engaging in a conversation with an admired professor? Listening to an inspired lecture? Go over your vision, keep it in your mind, and use it to reinforce your resolution to study. Sticking to a study plan can be a real challenge. You would often rather be doing other things, and unforeseen obstacles may present themselves. You may be overwhelmed at times with the size of the task, or you may be anxious about your chances for success. These are all common problems. This book will show you how you can overcome them.
I Need a Study Plan
The following pages will help you fine tune your study methods so that you can make the most efficient use of your time. The key to success in this endeavor, as in so many, is to take things one step at a time. Break this giant task down into manageable pieces. Your first step in successful studying is to create a study plan.
What Should I Study?
First, you must decide what you need to study. The pretest at the beginning of this book is designed to help you assess your strengths and weaknesses. If you haven't taken that test, do so now. Once you have completed it, review your answers, making a note of any that you answered incorrectly. Then refer to the chart which follows the pretest; this chart will show you what areas you need to concentrate on in your studies.
What kinds of questions did you miss? What patterns do you see? Do you need to work on understanding poetry? interpreting an author's message? Do nonfiction news articles leave you confused? Can you identify different types of figurative language that is used in literature? Once you are aware of what you know and what you still need to work on, you can effectively prioritize whatever study time you have available. Remember, no matter how you scored on the pretest and no matter what your weaknesses are, you will get better with practice. The more you study and the more effectively you work, the higher you will score on the actual exam.
How Do I Find the Time to Study?
Now is the time to create a realistic study schedule. You might be thinking that your life is too full without cramming in study time, too. But maybe you have more time available than you think. Consider your typical daily and weekly activities and determine when you have free time to devote to studying. Do not forget the short stretches—the 10 minutes here, the 15 minutes there. Sometimes you can do your best studying in short bursts. Make a special study calendar or mark up the calendar you use every day with specified study times to keep yourself on schedule. You might not feel like studying, but if you have it already written down as an obligation, you might be more likely to do it. If you cannot seem to find the time, ask yourself what is more important to you in the long run than achieving your goals. Your life may seem quite full, but you are bound to spend some time at less productive activities, such as watching television. You could use this time to help make your dreams a reality.
I Deserve a Reward
One excellent way to keep motivated is to set up a system of rewards. Write down a list of things that you enjoy; they will be the rewards to give yourself when you reach certain study goals. For example, if you keep your commitment to study for an hour in the evening, you can reward yourself by watching your favorite television show. If you stay on track all week, you can indulge in a Sunday afternoon banana split. Think carefully about what truly motivates you—only you know what will keep you on task—and use this strategy throughout your preparation time.
What's My Style?
Another way to make your study time more effective is to think about how you learn the best. We all have certain modes that we employ to make it easier to learn and remember information. Are you a visual learner, an auditory learner, a kinesthetic learner, or a combination of two or all three? Here are some questions to help you determine your dominant learning style(s):
- If you have to remember an unusual word, you most likely
- picture the word in your mind.
- repeat the word aloud several times.
- trace out the letters with your finger.
- When you meet new people, you remember them mostly by
- their actions and mannerisms.
- their names (faces are hard to remember).
- their faces (names are hard to remember).
- In class, you like to
- take notes, even if you do not reread them.
- listen intently to every word.
- sit up close and watch the instructor.
A visual learner would answer a, c, and c. An auditory learner would answer b, b, and b. A kinesthetic learner would answer c, a, and a.
Visual learners like to read and are often good spellers. They may find it hard to follow oral instructions, or even to listen, unless there is something interesting to watch. When visual learners study, they often benefit from graphic organizers such as charts and graphs. Flash cards often appeal to them and help them learn, especially if they use colored markers, which will help them form images in their mind as they learn words or concepts.
Auditory learners, by contrast, like oral directions and may find written materials confusing or boring. They often talk to themselves and may even whisper aloud when they read. They like being read aloud to. Auditory learners will benefit by saying things aloud as they study and by making tapes for themselves and listening to them later. Oral repetition is also an important study tool. Making up rhymes or other oral mnemonic devices will also help them study, and they may like to listen to music as they work.
Kinesthetic learners like to stay on the move. They often find it difficult to sit still for a long time and will often tap their feet and gesticulate a lot while speaking. They tend to learn best by doing rather than observing. Kinesthetic learners may want to walk around as they practice what they are learning, because using their body helps them remember things. Taking notes and making flash cards are important ways of reinforcing knowledge for the kinesthetic learner.
It is important to note that most people learn using a mixture of styles, although they may have a distinct preference for one style over the others. Determine which is your dominant style, but be open to strategies for all types of learners.
I Need a Study Place
So far, you have gathered information about the GED exam, taken a pretest to determine what you need to learn, and thought about techniques that will help you better absorb what you are learning. Now it is time to think about where you are going to work and what kinds of things will enhance your learning experience.
You know that in order to do your best work, especially when you are studying, you need to be focused, alert, and calm. Your undivided attention must be on the task at hand. That means that you have to use a lot of forethought when setting up your study time and environment.
Five Questions about Setting
Ask yourself the following questions to determine the study environment that will be most effective for you.
- Where do I like to work? Where do I feel comfortable and free from distractions?
If you have a desk in your living space, you may be used to studying there, or maybe you usually work at the dining room table or the kitchen counter. If your usual spot is well lit and set up for your comfort and convenience, with all your study materials at hand, then it is an obvious choice for you. However, sometimes it can be hard to avoid distractions in shared living areas.
If you share a living space, you may find it best to study away from home, perhaps at the local library or coffee shop, or to schedule your study time when you know that your study area will be quiet. Remember that you are adding your GED exam preparation time to your usual daily schedule. Will this create any scheduling conflicts with your normal study space?
- What time of day is best for me to study? When am I most alert and focused? Are there potential conflicts with other duties or family members that need to be addressed?
If you are a morning person, it might make sense for you to get up an hour or so earlier than normal while you are preparing for the GED exam. Early mornings are often a time of relative quiet, when you can work without interruptions.
If you do not think so well in the early morning, you can schedule another time of the day as your GED exam study time. Just be sure not to push yourself to stay up extra late in order to study. Studying is only productive if you are focused, and it is difficult to focus when you are tired. (Do not count on caffeine to keep you alert. Caffeine is only a temporary solution that can increase the problem.)
It is wise to establish a consistent time for study if possible (such as Monday through Friday from 7:00 A.M. to 7:30 A.M. and Saturday from 9:00 A.M. to 12:00 noon). Make sure that the people around you are aware that this is your study time. You can expect more support for your efforts if you let family members and friends know that you are working to achieve a goal and that you need to stay focused. Be sure to let them know that you appreciate their support when you receive it.
Set aside a time to study on the same day of the week and time of day that you have scheduled to take the exam. This is the very best time to prepare for the GED exam, especially in the weeks leading up to the test. If you practice taking the test and work on improving your skills on that day and at that time, your mind and your body will be ready to operate at peak efficiency when you really need them. For example, if you are scheduled to take the GED exam on Saturday morning, get into the habit of studying for the test during the actual testing hours.
- How do sounds affect my ability to concentrate? Do I prefer silence? Does music enhance my concentration?
Some people need relative quiet in order to study because most noises distract them. If you are one of these people, you know it by now, and you have strategies that help you achieve the level of silence that you need. Earplugs can be a real blessing. Make sure that your study place and time can accommodate your need for quiet.
Maybe you do not mind a little noise; perhaps you even like music playing in the background while you study. Research has shown that the music of Mozart enhances math performance. Similar results have not been shown for other kinds of music, but if you have music that helps you relax and focus, then make sure that music is on hand when you study. If you have never tried studying to classical music, especially Mozart, now is a good time to try. If you do not think it enhances your concentration, then go back to techniques that work for you. The important thing is to be aware of the effect that sound has on your ability to concentrate. It does not do any good to sit in front of the books and sing along with your favorite CD.
- Is the light right? Does my study space have adequate lighting?
Study lighting needs to be bright enough to read by comfortably. Lighting that is too dim can cause eyestrain and headaches, and can make you sleepy. Lighting that is too bright, though, can make you uncomfortable and make it difficult to relax and focus. You can't control the lighting in many situations, including the exam room itself, but you can create a lighting situation that's right for you when you study.
Experts say that the best light for reading comes from behind, falling over your shoulder onto your book. If that isn't a possibility for you, then at least make sure the light falls onto your books, not into your eyes.
- What about food? Should I snack while I study? If so, on what?
Only you can answer these questions. Does food energize you, or does it slow you down while you digest? If you are not sure, pay attention to how your brain and body feel after eating. After a big meal, many people feel sluggish and sleepy as the blood from their brain and muscles goes to the stomach to aid in digestion. If the only time you have to study is right after dinner, you may want to pass on the second helpings and even on dessert so that you will be more alert.
On the other hand, it is also difficult to concentrate when you are hungry. If it has been a while since your last meal, you may want to snack before or as you study. Generally speaking, snacks are fine. However, you want to avoid two categories of foods: sugary snacks (candy, cookies, and ice cream) and caffeinated drinks (coffee, colas, and non-herbal teas).
Sugar surges into your bloodstream quickly, making you feel temporarily energized, but it leaves your bloodstream just as quickly and you experience a rebound effect of feeling more tired than ever. Try keeping track of this effect sometime. See if you can determine how long it takes you to crash after a dose of sugar.
Caffeine is another trickster. In moderation, it produces an effect of alertness, but it is easy to cross the line into being jittery, which makes it hard to focus and be productive. Also, consuming caffeine in the evening can interfere with a good night's sleep, leaving you feeling tired instead of well rested in the morning. It is best to stay away from caffeinated drinks after lunchtime.
The Right Tools
You can spend hours trying to put a nail through a piece of wood with a rock, or you can get the job done in a few minutes with a hammer. The right tools can make all the difference, especially if your time is limited. Fortunately, you already have one of the most important tools for the GED exam: this book, which tells you all about the GED and the information and skills you need to be successful on the exam. You should also assemble some other important study tools and keep them in your GED exam study area:
- a good dictionary, such as Merriam-Webster's Collegiate® Dictionary, Eleventh Edition
- a notebook or legal pad dedicated to your GED exam notes
- pencils (and a pencil sharpener) or pens
- a highlighter, or several in different colors
- index or other note cards
- paper clips or sticky note pads for marking pages
- a calendar or PDA (personal digital assistant)
Take the time to choose tools that you will enjoy using; they can be a small daily reward for doing your work. Buy the type of pens that you like the most and select items in your favorite colors.
As you gather your tangible tools, you also need to gather your intangible tools: the information that you need about the exam so that you can study the right material in the right way at the right time. If you have not already done so, read the Introduction of this book to learn about the GED exam and specifically about the Language Arts, Reading section of the test. The Introduction discusses what kind of test it is and what your scores mean, and where you need to go to get the most up-to-date information on what you need to do to register, when you can take the test, and what the testing center will be like.
Before you begin to work out a study schedule, spend some time going through this book and familiarize yourself with the specific types of literature and reading that you will find on the test. For example, Chapter 3 introduces you to fiction, while Chapter 5 deals with poetry. Perhaps you enjoy reading novels, but poetry has never been of much interest. You might, therefore, want to spend more time on Chapter 5, familiarizing yourself with the various literary techniques involved in poetry, while Chapter 3 would provide more of a brush-up on fiction.
The pretest at the beginning of this book is also a vital tool in this process, as it will show you what areas are your weakest. If you missed questions that deal with the theme of a piece of writing, for example, then Chapter 3 can help you strengthen that weakness.
The Study Plan
You have thought about how, when, and where you will study; you have collected your tools and gathered essential information about the GED exam. Now, you are ready to flesh out your study plan. Here are the steps:
- If you have not done so already, take a practice test. You can use the pretest at the beginning of this book, or take one or more of the tests in LearningExpress's GED Test Prep. To create an effective study plan, you need to have a good sense of exactly what you need to study.
- Analyze your test results. How did you do? What areas seem to be your strengths? Your weaknesses? Remember that these are just diagnostic tests, so if your results are not as good as you had hoped, do not be discouraged. You are committing to this study plan because you are going to improve your score. Fear and worry are your enemies here; let go of them. Just look at each question as you score it. Why did you answer that question correctly? Did you know the answer or were you guessing? Why did you miss that question? Was there something that you needed to know that you did not know? If so, what was it? Make a list of the things that you need to know and how many questions you missed because you didn't know them. Think of how your score will improve as you learn these things.
- Make a list of your strengths and weaknesses. This will point you in the right direction. Use your analysis from Step 2 of why you missed questions. Now you know what specific reading skills you need to work on, and you know what test-taking skills you need to improve. Do not forget to congratulate yourself for the areas in which you did well.
- Determine your time frame. Decide how much time you can devote each day and each week to your GED exam preparation. How many weeks are there until the exam? Be realistic about how much time you have available—life will go on, with all its other demands—but do not forget to note when you have a few extra minutes. You will learn how to make good use of small windows of opportunity.
Once you know how much time you have, estimate how long you need to work on each specific task. You may find it useful to break it down by question type (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and so forth). You may have to prioritize your work in various areas, depending on how much time you have to prepare and in which areas you can most improve your score.
Break it down. Plan your studying week by week with specific interim goals. For example, "learn everything by April 1" is not a useful plan. But if you plot specific learning goals for each type of literature throughout the month, then your study plan will be a truly useful study guide.
Let's say, for example, that you have eight weeks until your test date. One way to set up your study schedule is shown below.
- Week One: Learn about and practice reading comprehension skills.
- Week Two: Learn about and read fiction.
- Week Three: Continue with reading comprehension.
- Week Four: Learn about and read poetry.
- Week Five: Learn about and read nonfiction.
- Week Six: Learn about and read drama. Review all reading comprehension skills.
- Week Seven: Do two practice tests from LearningExpress's GED Test Prep.
- Week Eight: Review any question types that you do not understand. Get lots of rest!
Naturally, if you have longer than eight weeks to prepare, your weekly schedule will be broken up differently. (And good for you for starting ahead of time!) You may want to work on all your skills each week, making progress simultaneously on all fronts. That is fine too. Adjust the schedule accordingly.
You Are Worth It: Motivational and Relaxation Techniques That Work
Whenever you find yourself tempted to give up your hard work for an hour or two of entertainment, remind yourself that many people never reach their goals because they seem so far away and difficult to achieve. It is important that you break down your preparation for the GED exam into small, manageable steps. It's also important to keep in mind why you are working so hard.
Remember your visualization about getting into college or landing a better job? The more often you practice that visualization, the more real it becomes to you. The more real it is, the more clearly you will see that your goal is within your grasp. Just stick to your plan, and take things one day at a time.
Sometimes your study plans are derailed for legitimate reasons. You get sick; a family member needs your help; your teacher or boss assigns a project that takes more time than you expected. Life happens, but don't let it discourage you; just pick up where you left off. Maybe you can squeeze in a little extra study time later. Keep working toward your goal.
One Step at a Time
Many people get discouraged when the task seems too big; they feel that they will never get to the end. That's why it's a good idea to break down all big undertakings, such as this one, into smaller, manageable tasks. Set small goals for yourself, such as "this week I will learn more about drama." "Learning more about drama" is a much more manageable task than "preparing for the GED exam"—even though it moves you in the same direction. Establish positive momentum and maintain it, one step at a time. That is how you get where you want to go.
Because You Deserve It
Don't forget to reward yourself for your progress. Your daily reward can be a small one, such as sending off a few chatty e-mails or paging through your favorite magazine. Your weekly reward might be something larger, such as buying a CD that you have wanted or renting a favorite film. Your biggest reward, of course, is being able to live out the dreams that you have visualized.
Another way to motivate yourself is to get other people to help you. Everybody likes being asked to help someone—it makes those around you feel important, especially when they are being approached for their expertise in a particular area. You will often be more motivated when studying means that you also get to be with people whose company you enjoy.
You may want to form a study group with one or more of your friends. Maybe reading informational literature, such as news magazines, just comes naturally to you, but you struggle with reading drama. Chances are that you have a friend who likes Shakespeare, but who may need help with reading comprehension skills. You could agree to get together once a week or so for a tutoring and drilling session. You take one subject to study and explain, while your friend explains a different subject to you. Now you are benefiting from your friend's expertise, reinforcing what you know by explaining it to someone else, having more fun than you would on your own, and helping yourself (and your friend) stay motivated to study.
Finally, as you struggle to stay motivated, it helps to check in periodically with your thoughts—the things that you sometimes find yourself thinking when you should be focusing on your work. If you sit down to study, thinking to yourself, "Oh boy, I'll have that last piece of chocolate when I finish this," you are in good shape. If you are thinking, "A TV show that I really like is on now," or "I could get in a few hoops before dark," you could be headed for trouble. It's not that there's anything wrong with television or basketball; it is just that you promised yourself that you would work right now. Often, just noticing such thoughts is enough to keep them in check. "Good try," you can tell yourself, "but you have other commitments, buster!"
If this doesn't work and you are still tempted to ignore your scheduled study time, sit down and think for a moment about why you are working so hard. Use your visualization. Promise yourself a bigger reward than usual when you finish your work. You can do it because you want to do it. This is the person that you want to be: disciplined, focused, and successful.
Another strategy is to trick yourself into a study mode. Start with something easy, such as a brief review of what you have already learned. Starting with a quick and easy task will often ease you into the work and motivate you to continue with your self-assigned task of the day. A review will also reinforce what you already know.
Take Care of Yourself
You may have noticed that the last thing on the sample study plan is "get lots of rest." During the last few days before the exam, you should ease up on your study schedule. The natural tendency for many people is to cram. Maybe that strategy has worked for you with other exams, but it is not a good idea with the GED exam. Cramming tends to raise your anxiety level, and your brain doesn't do its best work when you are anxious. Anxiety produces a fight-or-flight response that sends blood away from the brain to the arms and legs, in case we need to defend ourselves or run away. Without a good supply of oxygen-carrying blood, your brain won't be able to think as well as it should, so it's important to reduce your anxiety about the GED exam by relaxing and changing your anxious attitude to one of calm self-assurance.
How to Relax
If you want to do productive work the night before the GED exam, spend the time working on your confidence ("I have worked hard and I will do well"). Visualize your goal—really see yourself there. Here are some other relaxation techniques that you can use if you find yourself feeling anxious at any time before or during the GED exam:
- Breathe. When most people think about breathing, they think about inhaling. However, when you want to relax, it's more important to focus on breathing out. You want to be sure that you are exhaling completely. It's also important to breathe deeply and to use abdominal breathing rather than shallow chest breathing. Try this: Place one hand on your stomach and the other hand on your chest. Sit up straight. Now inhale deeply through your nose. Try to move your stomach as much as possible and your chest as little as possible. Exhale and feel your stomach deflate. Again, your chest should hardly move. Count slowly as you breathe to make sure that you spend at least as much time breathing out as you do breathing in. This kind of breathing relaxes you. It gets rid of carbon dioxide that can otherwise get trapped in the bottom of your lungs. You can practice this deep breathing anytime, anywhere you need to relax.
- Tense and relax your muscles. As your anxiety mounts, your muscles tense, just in case they are going to be called on to fight or flee. Of course, in the case of the GED exam, you have to fight with your brain, and running away would result in a very low score. So the best thing you can do is to relax. It can be hard to know which muscles are tensed. Many people hold tension in their shoulders or their jaws and are never even aware that it's there. It's helpful to start with your toes and work your way up through all the muscle groups, first tensing (really tightly!) and then relaxing each muscle group. (Tense your toes, and relax. Tense your feet, and relax. Tense your calves, and relax…) Don't forget your facial muscles, especially your jaw.
- Visualize. This is a different exercise from your goal visualization. This time, imagine yourself in a favorite place, a place you find especially soothing and pleasant. It could be a real place or one found only in your imagination. Focus on the sensations of your special place—what does it feel like, look like, or sound like? You want to feel as though you are really there. Take a few minutes just to relax in this place. It's there for you any time you need it, and it will always help you to be calm and focused.
Learning Strategies and Test-Taking Techniques
Sometimes you just get lucky, and this is one of those times. Why? Because the following study techniques are also strategies that will help you when you take the GED exam. The more you practice them before the exam, the more natural they will be on test day.
Be an Active Reader
Being an active reader means interacting with what you read. Ask questions. Make notes. Mark up passages. Don't be a passive reader, just looking at words. Be a thinker and a doer. This is not only a study strategy; it's also an important technique for the GED exam's reading comprehension questions and an essential skill in life. Of course, for the GED, you won't be marking on the actual passage. Therefore, you may want to practice making notes on a separate piece of paper as you read. You should jot down key words, main ideas, and your own reactions to and questions about what you read. On test day, you will write on the scratch paper provided by the test center. You are allowed as much of this paper as you need, so use it.
When you read a passage, such as the ones on the GED exam, ask yourself the following questions:
- What is this passage about?
- What is the main idea?
- What is the author's point of view or purpose in writing this?
- What is the meaning of this word in this sentence?
- Is the author stating a fact or expressing an opinion?
- Is this sentence part of the main idea, or is it a detail?
- How does the author support the argument?
- Why does the author draw this particular conclusion?
- What does this passage suggest about the topic, the author, the future?
The more difficult the passage is, the more crucial it is that you ask these questions (and even more questions) about anything you don't understand. Think about a question as a clue to the answer. When you have asked the right questions, you are halfway to the right answer. These are the kinds of questions that you will need to ask in order to answer the exam questions correctly. In college and in many careers, you will use the same questioning technique to help you comprehend densely written material (of which you will see plenty). It's essential that you practice asking and answering these questions. Quickly—what is the main idea of this passage? Until you become very skilled at asking and answering questions about what you have read, it's a good idea to actually write questions out for yourself. For one thing, the act of writing helps you remember what questions to ask, especially for kinesthetic and visual learners. If you are an auditory learner, you will want to repeat them aloud as you write.
Mark It Up
Get in the habit of highlighting and underlining when you read. When you open your book, pick up your pen, pencil, or highlighter. When you see a main idea, mark it. If you come across an unfamiliar word or a word used in an unfamiliar context, mark it. However, the trick is to be selective. If you are marking too much of the passage, important information and key ideas will not stand out. You need to practice distinguishing between main and supporting details. (You will learn how in Chapter 2.)
You can practice asking questions and marking main ideas and supporting details by going through the sample test passages in this book and in Learning- Express's GED Test Prep. Check yourself by looking at the questions about those passages. How well do your ideas match up with the questions about the passages? Check your answers. Were they correct? If not, why not?
On the GED, you will write the key words and ideas on your scratch paper. You may want to prepare by practicing this technique as you study for the test. Of course, you will also want to practice it with any borrowed books that you use, such as library books.
Don't just take notes; make them. Making notes requires you to think about what you are reading. Asking questions, such as the ones mentioned previously, is one way to make notes. Another kind of note making involves recording your reactions to what you are reading. For example, you may disagree with an author's opinion; if so, write down your reaction. Be sure to say why you disagree or agree, or why you are confused. When you read the kinds of challenging materials that you will find on the GED exam, it should be more like a conversation between you and the author than an author's monologue. So what if the author can't hear you? You can still hold up your end of the conversation. It will be more interesting for you, and you will get more out of what you read.
Another way of interacting with the material that you study is to relate it to what you already know. For example, if you are trying to learn the word demographic, you may know that democracy refers to government run by the people, while graphic refers to information, written or drawn. Then you can remember that demographic has to do with information about people.
Making connections differentiates remembering from memorizing. In the short run, it may seem easier just to memorize a word or a fact, but unless you understand what you are learning—unless you have connected it to what you already know—you are likely to forget it again. Then you will have wasted your study time and failed to improve your test score. Memorized information gets stored in your short-term memory, which means that it's forgotten within a few days or even a few hours. Your long-term memory has to file new information to fit in with your existing information. That means that you have to create connections to what you already know.
Break It Up
You do not train to run a marathon by waiting until the last minute and then running 20 miles a day for five days before the race. Similarly, you cannot effectively prepare for the GED exam by waiting until the last minute to study. Your brain works best when you give it a relatively small chunk of information, let it rest and process, and then give it another small chunk.
When you are studying the various elements of fiction, for example, don't try to memorize the whole list at once. The most efficient way to learn is to take two or three elements—such as characterization and symbolism—and make sure that you fully understand them before tackling the next. Making some kind of connection among the elements in each literary type will help you remember them. For example, you see the connection between plot development within fiction, and its use in drama.
Flash cards are a great study aid for the GED exam. The act of writing on the cards engages your kinesthetic learning ability. Seeing the cards uses your visual learning, and reading the cards aloud sets up auditory learning. Flash cards are also extremely portable and flexible in the ways they can be used and help you work on small chunks of material at a time. For example, you can pull them out while you wait for the bus, or look through a few while eating breakfast.
Remember, your brain works best when you give it small, frequent assignments and then give it time to process each one. Recent scientific studies show that sleep helps the brain process what it has learned. In other words, if you study before bed, when you wake up, you will know more than you did before you went to sleep. It's just one more reason for getting a good night's rest.
On the actual exam, it is important to give yourself permission to take a mini-break whenever you need it. If you need to stretch after every question, that's okay. A quick stretch or a deep breath and forceful exhalation can do wonders to keep you focused and relaxed.
As you already know, it's important to review reading comprehension techniques, improve your critical reasoning skills, and review the different types of literature (fiction, poetry, and so on) as you prepare for the GED exam—but it's not sufficient to do only these things. Like all standardized tests, the GED exam also measures your test-taking skills. In this section, you will learn some of the best test-taking strategies for success on the GED exam.
Get Familiar with the Exam to Combat Fear
In the previous sections, you learned that fear or anxiety is your enemy on the GED exam. What happens when you are feeling fearful or anxious? Your heart starts pounding, sending blood away from your brain to your limbs. Maybe you start feeling a little lightheaded, a little disconnected, or even a little woozy. Are you in good condition for test taking then? Of course not!
There is much truth in the saying that we fear what we don't understand. Therefore, the best way to overcome the anxiety that keeps you from doing your best on the GED exam is to learn as much as you can about the test. The more you know about what to expect, the more practice you have with the exam, the more relaxed you will be, and the better you will perform on test day.
Another way to eliminate a source of test-day anxiety is to familiarize yourself with the location of your official testing site. Take a drive there before test day, so you are familiar with the route.
Taking practice tests and working with the tips and strategies in this book will help you immensely. You will get used to the kinds of questions on the GED exam and learn how to maximize your chances of answering them correctly. You will build on what you already know and enhance the skill sets that you need for GED exam success. By the time you enter the testing center, you will be familiar with the format of the test and prepared for the length of the exam with strategies to help you succeed.
How to De-Stress
It is one thing to be told not to worry, and another thing to actually not worry. How can you stop yourself from worrying? You can start by replacing worried and anxious thoughts and actions with positive ones. The following sections examine some techniques.
Nip It in the Bud
What are you worried about? Maybe you are worried that you don't have enough time to prepare for the test, or perhaps you are afraid that you won't do well on the exam. That leads to anxiety about not getting into the right school or job. Pretty soon, you are convinced that your life is basically ruined, so why not just turn on the TV and resign yourself to a low-paying, dead-end job? Sounds silly when you put it that way, right? But fear has a way of escalating when you do not control it.
The best way to beat test anxiety is to prevent it. Don't let it get a grip on you. Whenever you catch yourself worrying or thinking anxious thoughts about the GED exam, firmly tell yourself that you have nothing to worry about because you are preparing for GED exam success. Of course, for that strategy to work, you have to establish and stick to your study plan. Therefore, beating test anxiety is made up of two components: thinking and doing.
Just Do It
Half the battle with test anxiety is how you think about the test and what kinds of messages you are giving yourself about the exam. The other half is what you do to prepare. These two halves are interrelated: If you are paralyzed by negative thoughts ("I'm not ready; I don't have enough time; I'm not smart enough; I don't want to think about the GED exam"), you are going to have a hard time getting yourself to do the work that you need to do.
On the other hand, if you can somehow get yourself to stop thinking those unproductive thoughts, you can start preparing. The very act of doing something makes you feel better and leads to more positive thoughts, which makes it easier to continue working.
Therefore, it makes sense to just begin work. Start by making a study plan based on the times you have available to study and on your assessment of your practice test results (see the section The Study Plan earlier in this chapter). Creating a study plan is easy. You have time to do it. Once you have it in place, you just follow it. You choose success. If you have not already made your study plan, what are you waiting for?
Once you have created a study plan, stick to it as though you had no choice. Of course, you do have a choice. You are choosing how you want your future to unfold. You are doing this for yourself.
Face Your Fears
Different people have different ways of manifesting test anxiety. You may deal with anxiety by working yourself into a frenzy, limiting yourself to six hours of sleep, and refusing to engage in leisure activities so that you can get more work done. Meanwhile, your anxiety level mounts. Or you may take the opposite approach and put off work because the task seems so large and the time available so short. Of course, the more you procrastinate, the shorter the time becomes. You end up feeling more anxious, so you avoid working and your anxiety level mounts. These two approaches are like two sides of the same coin, and the denomination of the coin is fear. Before you can get work done, you have to face your fears. Admitting that you are worried about the GED exam is the first step toward overcoming those fears.
It can be helpful to write about your anxiety. Start with the basic fear: You are worried that you don't have enough time to prepare. Once you have written that fear down, you can come up with a way to eliminate it. Prioritize what you want to study so that you work on the most important skills first. (Start by working your way through this book.) Look at your schedule again. Where can you squeeze in more study time? Remember that flash cards can be studied any time you have one free minute!
Maybe you've already allowed your anxieties to roam out of bounds by speculating about what would happen if you don't do well on the GED exam. Now you are seeing that this is a mistake, so go ahead and write down your fears of failure. What would happen? Would low scores keep you out of college? No. Perhaps you wouldn't get into your first choice program, but some things in life can't be predicted. If you think hard enough, you can surely remember a time when things didn't work out the way that you wanted them to, but they turned out for the best anyway. It's good to make plans and work to achieve your goals, but it's also important to put your goals and plans in perspective.
If you didn't get into your first choice school, would you be a less worthy person? No. Would your family stop loving you? No. Would the world come crashing down around you? Of course not.
Thinking about your fears in this way helps keep them in perspective. You know that the GED exam is serious business; that's why you are preparing for it. But if you can persuade yourself to think about it as a game that you want to play, you can control your fear and replace it with a simple, burning desire to win. You have nothing to be afraid of now. You just practice and prepare so that you will succeed on the test.
If you were preparing to run a marathon, you would be thinking about how to take care of your body. You would want to eat well, get enough rest, and condition your body for its endurance test. Taking the GED exam is much like running a marathon. You will need to perform at your mental maximum on test day. Your body and your mind both need to be ready. Here are the basics of caring for your marathon machine.
- Get enough rest. Some people need more sleep than others. You know how much sleep you need to feel rested. Is it eight hours, or do you need more? Is six enough, or does that make you feel like a zombie the next day? Regardless of your individual need, make sure that you leave yourself enough time every day to get enough sleep. It's also important to remember that too much sleep can leave you feeling as groggy as too little sleep. Get the amount that you need to feel rested and no more. The best time of the week to study for the GED exam is Saturday morning, so do not sleep through that valuable time. If you regularly get up on Saturday morning and sit down to take a practice test, you will be ready to do your very best when exam day comes.
- Eat well. Athletes have to pay attention to what they eat. A marathon runner, for example, maintains a healthy diet during training as well as just before the race. Your brain also needs good food to function at its peak.
- Exercise. Unless you have a daily workout routine, you may not be meeting your body's need for exercise. Our bodies appreciate a good aerobic workout every day. Exercise helps you sleep more soundly and feel more relaxed throughout the day. Vigorous exercise is a great way to combat anxiety because it releases endorphins, the body's natural feel-good chemical.
If you find yourself having trouble sleeping, first establish a bedtime routine. Maybe a warm bath or a glass of warm milk helps you relax. Whatever you do, do not get interested in a good book just before bed. Anxious thoughts can also keep you awake, so bedtime is a good time to practice a calming visualization or a series of visualizations using the techniques previously discussed.
Finally, if nothing seems to be helping you fall asleep, just get up and study. If you cannot sleep, you might as well be productive.
A well-balanced diet based on the food pyramid will keep your body and brain in top form. You are better off avoiding fast food laden with grease, sugar, and empty calories. Rather than junk food snacks, try substituting the following:
Remember that caffeine interferes with sleep when consumed past midafternoon. It is also an addictive substance that tricks you into feeling more alert. If you feel that you need coffee, maybe what you need is more rest.
Light exercise, such as a walk, can also double as study time. You can study your flash cards during a walk around the neighborhood. You can record information to listen to as you run through the park. Get in the habit of identifying times when you can double up on studying and another activity to maximize your productivity.
If you take care of your body and brain by getting enough sleep, eating healthfully, and exercising adequately, your body and brain will take good care of you on the GED exam. You are in training now: Get with the program.
As we noted earlier, the GED exam, like all standardized tests, will measure your academic knowledge and skills, and it will also measure your test-taking skills. Fortunately, you can use specific strategies on standardized tests to help you determine the right answers to multiple-choice questions on the exam.
All of the questions in the Language Arts, Reading part of the GED exam are multiple-choice questions. The good news about multiple-choice questions is that they provide you with the answer. The bad news is that the GED almost always provides distracters in addition to the correct answer. Distracters are wrong answers designed to look like possible right answers. Here is an overview of the technique for avoiding distracters:
- Read the question carefully. Be sure that you know exactly what is being asked. Many test takers miss questions on the GED exam because they try to answer a question other than the one that is being asked. In particular, look for wording such as "All of the following conclusions can logically be drawn from the passage EXCEPT." Train yourself to notice any word in the question that is in all capital letters. Such a word will often completely change the meaning of the question. In the previous example, if you did not notice the word EXCEPT, you would look for answers that are logical conclusions drawn from the passage, when you should be looking for the one answer that is not a logical conclusion you can draw from the text.
- Write down the key words and phrases in the question. These are words and phrases that help you pick the one correct answer. Think of them as clues, and think of yourself as a detective who must examine each question closely for clues to the correct answer. For example, you might have a reading comprehension passage about improvements in bicycle safety and then the question "The modern bicycle has all the following safety features EXCEPT…" The key words are modern, safety features, and EXCEPT. After you mark these words and phrases, look in the passage for the safety features of the modern bicycle, then choose the answer that is not mentioned in the passage as a safety feature of the modern bicycle.
- Rule out incorrect answers. In the previous example, as you identify safety features of the modern bicycle from the passage, you will mark them off as choices. Consider setting up your scratch paper with choices a through e. If you actually mark an answer as you eliminate it from your choices, you will know that it is not the answer and will not waste time mistakenly considering it again. You may only be able to eliminate one or two incorrect answers, but every wrong answer that you eliminate increases your chances of picking the correct answer.
- Watch out for absolutes. One type of distracter question uses an absolute word such as always, never, all, or none within an answer. It is possible to find a correct answer that uses such an absolute, but if you are unsure, it is wise to avoid an answer that uses one of these words.
To Guess or Not to Guess?
If you do not know the answer to a question, skip it and come back to it later. Once you have completed all the answers that you do know, return to the ones that you left blank. It is important to know that there is no penalty for getting an answer wrong, so you should never leave any question blank. If you don't know, guess. You have a 20% chance of getting a right answer if you just randomly guess, and you increase those odds when you can eliminate some answers that you think are wrong. No matter what the question is, you should be able to eliminate one or two options. If you must guess between two or three possible answers instead of five, you dramatically increase your chances of answering correctly.
If you are reading these words several weeks or more before you take the GED exam, you may want to bookmark this page and come back to it the week before the test. Your study routine during the last week before the exam should vary from your study routine of the preceding weeks.
The Final Week
Exactly one week before you take the GED exam is a good time for your final practice test. Then you can use the next few days to wrap up any loose ends. You should also read back over your notes on test-taking tips and techniques at this time.
During the final week, however, it is also a good idea to cut back on your study schedule. Cramming now will only make you feel less prepared and more anxious. As mentioned previously, anxiety is your enemy when it comes to test taking. It is also your enemy when it comes to restful sleep, and it's extremely important that you be well rested and relaxed on test day.
You want to substitute more visualization and relaxation for studying. Visualize yourself sitting in the testing center, working your way through the exam in a calm and focused manner, buoyed by the confidence that you have prepared for this exam. You remain confident even though you don't know all the answers. When you don't know an answer, you apply the techniques that you practiced as you worked your way through this book. Picture yourself smiling and stretching as you finish the exam, feeling good about the work that you have done. Then imagine the reward that you have waiting for yourself after the test. Don't forget to tell yourself out loud, especially if you are an auditory learner, how proud you are of your hard work and how confident you are of your success. If you sound unsure of yourself at first, repeat your words until you sound convincing—then you will believe yourself.
During that last week before the exam, make sure that you know where you are taking the test. If it is an unfamiliar place, take a test drive so that you will know how much time you need to get there, where you can park, and how far you will have to walk from the parking lot to the testing center. Do this in order to avoid a last-minute rush to the test, which would create additional anxiety.
Be sure to get adequate exercise during this last week. It will help you sleep soundly, and exercise also helps rid your body and mind of the effects of anxiety. However, don't tackle any new physical skills or overdo any old ones. You don't want to be sore and uncomfortable on test day.
Check to see that your test appointment confirmation and your forms of personal identification are in order and ready to go. You will not need anything else because you are not allowed to bring anything other than your pencils in with you to the testing area.
It's the day before the GED exam. You have done your preparation, and you are as ready as you are going to be. Here are some dos and don'ts for this final part of the countdown:
- Find something amusing to do the night before—watch a good movie, have dinner with a friend, or read a good book.
- Get some light exercise. Walk, dance, swim, or stretch.
- Get all of your test materials together: confirmation of your appointment and proper identification, and your sharpened number two pencils.
- Practice your visualization of GED exam success.
- Go to bed early. Get a good night's sleep.
- Study. You have prepared. Now relax.
- Party. Keep it low key.
- Eat anything unusual or adventurous—save it!
- Try any unusual or adventurous activity—save it!
- Allow yourself to get into an emotional exchange with anyone—a sibling, a friend, a parent, or a spouse. If someone starts something, remind him that you have a GED exam to take tomorrow and you need to postpone the discussion so that you can focus on the test.
On the day of the test, get up early enough to allow yourself extra time to get ready. If you have a morning appointment, set your alarm and ask a family member or friend to make sure that you are up. Even if your appointment is later, make sure that you don't sleep longer than you usually do. Too much sleep can actually make you feel tired all day.
Eat a light, healthy breakfast, even if you usually don't eat in the morning. If you do usually eat breakfast, eat whatever you normally eat. Remember that sugary foods are likely to let you down during the exam. Protein, which can be found in eggs and cheese, is more apt to keep on giving your brain fuel throughout the test. If you do not normally drink coffee, don't do it today. If you do normally have coffee, have one cup. More than that may make you jittery.
If you have scheduled an afternoon test, eat a light but satisfying lunch. Be sure not to stuff yourself before going in. Digestion drains blood from your brain, so it is best to eat at least an hour before exam time. Again, it's best to eat protein because that will give you sustained energy. Stay away from sugar— you can always promise yourself a sweet treat after the test.
Give yourself plenty of time to get to the testing center and avoid a last-minute rush. Plan to get there at least 15 minutes early.
Once you are settled at the test center, you will have as much time as you need to run through the testing procedures. They will be identical to the ones that you have practiced in this book. Just before you begin the actual test is a good time to visualize success one more time. Remember to breathe. Inhale fully into your abdomen and exhale at least as fully. If you feel your body tensing up, practice your relaxation exercises by tensing and releasing muscle groups to help them relax. Breathe.
Once the exam begins, quickly skim the directions. You will already know what to do, so a quick scan of the directions is all you need to make sure that nothing has changed.
If you find yourself getting anxious during the test, remember to breathe. If you need to, take a minute or two to slip into your relaxation visualization or your visualization of success. You have worked hard to prepare for this day. You are ready.
After the GED Exam
Celebrate! Reward yourself for a job well done.
In a Nutshell
As you go through this review book, as you make your study plan, and as you prepare to take the GED exam, always remember why you are doing these things. You are doing them for your future and for your dreams, whatever they may be. Whenever you hit a snag, when you feel weary and unmotivated and are tempted to give up, remember why you committed yourself to this path. Call up the vision of yourself, with college degree in hand or doing the job of your dreams. Only you can make that vision a reality, but this book is here to help you take your first step. Read on.
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