Study Skills: GED Test Prep (page 5)
How much time you spend studying each week is important. But how you study is the key to your success. This article shows you how to set up an effective learning environment, determine your learning style, and create an effective study plan.
Maybe it's been a while since you last studied for an exam, or maybe you have never had to prepare for standardized tests like the GED. In any case, you may be unsure about the best way to get ready for these important exams. Fortunately, there are many strategies that can help you learn and remember the material you need to know to succeed on the GED. There are several important steps to take before you begin to study.
Environment and Attitude
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. To study well, you need to be able to focus all your attention on the material. So, the first step is to make sure you have the right kind of learning environment and attitude.
The Right Mood
Studying can bring wonderful rewards. You can gain new knowledge. You can do well on tests—like the GED—that enable you to achieve your academic and professional goals. But it can still be difficult to get in the mood to study. After all, studying can be hard work, and you might be worried about whether you will pass the exam. You may have many other things you would rather do, or you might just have trouble getting started. These are all reasons that may lead you to procrastinate and put off work that you need to do. But procrastinating can cause lots of trouble at test time. If you procrastinate too much or for too long, you won't be prepared for the exams.
One of the best ways to beat procrastination is to use a reward system. Everyone likes to be rewarded for a job well done, and if there's going to be a reward at the end of the work, it's easier to get started. So promise yourself a small reward for each study session. For example, you might promise yourself a trip to the gym or a phone call to a good friend as a reward for an hour of study. You might promise to treat yourself to a movie after you finish a chapter or give yourself a nutritious snack after you finish a difficult lesson. You can also think about the reward you will give yourself when you pass the GED. Make sure this reward is a big one!
You can also get in the mood for studying by thinking about the short- and long-term rewards you will receive for your hard work. Keep in mind the benefits you will receive from your GED study time:
- You will gain or reinforce important knowledge and skills in five fundamental subject areas.
- You will be able to apply to U.S. colleges and universities.
- You will be eligible for jobs and training programs that require a high school diploma.
- You will get the education you need for a successful future.
Remember that while you are preparing for the GED, your attitude is very important. It can dramatically affect how much you learn and how well you learn it. Make sure that you have a positive attitude. You will study, you will learn, and you will do well. Your study time will be time well spent.
The Right Conditions
You can have the best attitude in the world, but if you are tired or distracted, you are going to have difficulty studying. To be at your best, you need to be focused, alert, and calm. That means you need to study under the right conditions.
Everyone is different, so you need to know what conditions work best for you. Here are some questions to consider:
- What time of day do you work best—morning, afternoon, or evening? How early in the day or late in the night can you think clearly?
- Do you work best in total silence? Or do you prefer music or other noise in the background?
- If you prefer music, what kind? Classical music often helps people relax because the music is soft and there are no words. But you may prefer music that energizes you, such as rock and roll. Others work best with music that has special meaning to them and puts them in a positive state of mind.
- Where do you like to work? Do you feel most comfortable sitting at the kitchen counter? At the dining room table? At a desk in your office or bedroom? (Try to avoid studying in bed. You will probably be relaxed, but you may be too comfortable and fall asleep.) Or do you prefer to study out of the house, at the library or a local coffee shop?
- What do you like to have around you when you work? Do you feel most comfortable in your favorite chair? Do you like to have pictures of family and friends around?
- What kind of lighting do you prefer? Does soft light make you sleepy? Do you need bright light? If it's too bright, you may feel uncomfortable. If it's too dark, you may feel sleepy. Remember that poor lighting can also strain your eyes and give you a headache.
- How does eating affect you? Do you feel most energized right after a meal? Or does eating tend to make you feel sleepy? Which foods give you a lot of energy? Which slow you down?
- Can you put problems or other pressing concerns out of your mind to focus on a different task? How can you minimize distractions so you can fully focus on your work?
Think carefully about each of these questions. Write down your answers so you can develop a good study plan. For example, say you work best in the morning but need total silence to work. If you have children, you would be wise to schedule your study time early in the morning before the kids are up or first thing after they leave for school. If you wait until they are in bed, you will have a quiet house, but you may be too tired to study well. Similarly, if you have trouble concentrating when you are hungry, schedule study time shortly after meals, or be sure to start your study sessions with a healthy snack.
The Right Tools
Help make your study session successful by having the right learning tools by your side. As you study for the GED, have:
- a good English dictionary, such as Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition
- paper or legal pads
- pencils (and a pencil sharpener) or pens
- a highlighter, or several highlighters in different colors
- index or other note cards
- folders or notebooks
- a calendar or personal digital assistant, such as a Palm Pilot®
- a calculator
- graph paper
As you gather your supplies, keep your personal preferences in mind. Perhaps you like to write with a certain kind of pen or on a certain kind of paper. If so, make sure you have that pen or paper with you when you study. It will help you feel more comfortable and relaxed as you work.
Learning How You Learn
Imagine that you need directions to a restaurant you have never been to before. Which of the following would you do to find out how to get there?
- Look at a map.
- Ask someone to tell you directions.
- Draw a map or copy someone's written directions.
- List step-by-step directions.
Most people learn in a variety of ways. They learn by seeing, hearing, doing, and organizing information from the world around them. But most of us tend to use one way more than others. That's our dominant (strongest) learning style. How you would handle getting directions, for example, suggests which learning style you use most often:
- Visual. Visual learners learn best by seeing. If you would look at a map for directions, you are probably a visual learner. You understand ideas best when they are in pictures or graphs. You may learn better by using different colors as you take notes. Use a highlighter (or several, in different colors) as you read to mark important ideas. Mapping and diagramming ideas are good learning strategies for visual learners.
- Auditory. Auditory learners learn best by listening. If you would ask someone to tell you directions, you are probably an auditory learner. You would probably rather listen to a lecture than read a textbook, and you may learn better by reading aloud. Try recording your notes and listening to them as one of your main study strategies.
- Kinesthetic. Kinesthetic learners learn best by doing. (Kinesthetic means feeling the movements of the body.) They like to keep their hands and bodies moving. If you would draw a map or copy down directions, you are probably a kinesthetic learner. You will benefit from interacting with the material you are studying. Underline, take notes, and create note cards. Recopying material will help you remember it.
- Sequential. Sequential learners learn best by organizing. If you would create a step-by-step list of driving directions, you are probably a sequential learner. You may learn better by creating outlines and grouping ideas together into categories.
Think carefully about how you learn. Which is your dominant learning style? Keep it in mind as you read about learning strategies in Chapter 3.
Creating a Study Plan
Sometimes, we put off work because the task just seems too big to handle. But you can make any task manageable by creating a project plan. Follow these four steps to create a successful study plan for the GED:
- Get the correct information. Your first step is to find as much as you can about the exams. Get all the details about the GED. Contact your local testing center to find out:
- specific state eligibility requirements (make sure you are eligible to take the exams)
- when the exams will be offered
- where they will be held
- what you need to do to register
- when you need to register
- how much the exams cost
- if you must take all the exams at once or if you can take individual exams
- Find out what you already know and what you need to learn. To create an effective study plan, you need to have a good sense of exactly what you need to study. Chances are, you already know much of the material well. Some of it you may only need to review. And some of it you may need to study in detail. Take the diagnostic exams in Part II to get an idea of how you would do on the exam. How did you score? What do you seem to know well? What do you need to review? What do you need to study in detail?
- Set a time frame. Once you have a good sense of how much studying is ahead, create a detailed study schedule. Use a calendar to set specific deadlines. If deadlines make you nervous, give yourself plenty of time for each task. Otherwise, you might have trouble keeping calm and staying on track.
- Stick to your plan. Make sure you have your plan written on paper and post your plan where you can see it. (Don't just keep it in your head!) Look at it regularly so you can remember what and when to study. Checking your plan regularly can also help you see how much progress you have made along the way.
In addition to these administrative matters, you need to learn as much as possible about the exams. What exactly will be tested on the exams? What subjects? What kinds of questions? Chapter 1 provides general information about the basic structure of the GED exams. Parts III–VII each begin with a summary of the content covered on each exam and the type of questions you will be asked on the exams. Be sure to read these sections carefully.
To create a good schedule, break your studying into small tasks that will get you to your learning goals. A study plan that says "Learn everything by May 1" isn't going to be helpful. However, a study plan that sets dates for learning specific material in March and April will enable you to learn everything by May 1. For example, take a look at the following five-month study plan created by a GED candidate who needs to focus on all GED exams:
Notice how this schedule builds in time to review each subject and establishes different topics to focus on each week.
As you set your deadlines, think carefully about your day-to-day schedule. How much time can you spend on studying each week? Exactly when can you fit in the time to study? Be sure to be realistic about how much time you have and how much you can accomplish. Give yourself the study time you need to succeed.
It's very important that you don't give up if you fall behind. Unexpected events may interrupt your plans. You may have to put in extra time at work, you may have to deal with a problem at home, or you may even come down with the flu. Or, it might just take you longer to get through a task than you planned. That's okay. Stick to your schedule as much as possible, but remember that sometimes, "life gets in the way."
For example, if you have a family problem that's keeping you from concentrating, you may need to postpone your studies to resolve that problem. And that's okay—as long as you reschedule your study time. Better to study later when you can concentrate than to waste time "studying" when you are unable to focus.
So if you miss one of your deadlines, don't despair. Instead, just pick up where you left off. Try to squeeze in a little extra time in the next few weeks to catch up. If that doesn't seem possible, simply adjust your schedule. Change your deadlines so that they are more realistic. Just be sure you still have enough time to finish everything before the exams.
How Do You Know What You Know?
One of the keys to successful studying is knowing what you know, and knowing what you don't know. Practice tests are one good way to measure this, but there are also other ways.
One of the best ways to measure how well you know something is to see how well you can explain it to someone else. If you really know the material, you should be able to help someone else understand it. Use your learning style to explain it. For example, if you are an auditory learner, talk it out. If you are a visual learner, create diagrams and tables to demonstrate your knowledge. Rewrite your notes or make up your own quizzes with questions and answers like those on the exam. Provide an explanation along with the correct answer.
How do you know what you don't know? If you feel uncertain or uncomfortable during a practice test or when you have difficulty explaining it to someone else, you probably need to study more. Write down all of your questions and uncertainties. If you write down what you don't know, you can focus on searching for answers. When you get the answers, you can write them out next to the question and review them periodically. Notice how many questions you answer along the way—you will be able to see yourself making steady progress.
If you are avoiding certain topics, it's a good sign that you don't know those topics well enough for the exams. Make up your mind to tackle these areas at your next study session. Don't procrastinate!
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