Studying for tests is often regarded with dread, and can inspire a truly marvelous job of procrastination, or a “one and done” approach. Most people know and understand that procrastinating, studying too early, or foregoing studying altogether are not ideal test-taking strategies, yet find themselves continuing to employ these habits. While it may be tempting to “get studying over with,” or leave studying until the last minute, both of these strategies neglect one of the most important realities of studying for any test or exam: studying and test review take time.
Studying Too Early
First, a discussion of studying too early. Many people who take exams—and in particular, large-scale exams—know about the exam in question months in advance (or even a year in advance). These individuals might feel that studying early and thoroughly is the best way to prepare for the test, and may study six months before, with the promise that they will study again closer to the test.
Although there is certainly nothing wrong with wanting to prepare for an exam early on, it can be problematic to study many months in advance, especially if you cover all of your material within a month, and if you do not revisit the material later. Starting early is only an asset to your overall study plan if you continue to study consistently—clear up until the time you take your test.
Studying Too Late
Next, there is the possibility of procrastinating, and not studying until a few weeks or even a few days before a test, assuming that the material will be fresh in your mind. While there is no disputing that this is a tempting prospect (and a seemingly reasonable argument), cramming has been proven again and again to not be a reliable and useful test preparation strategy, and will more likely result in fatigue, burn-out, and stress once the test rolls around.
Happily, there is a middle ground between studying too early and too late: long-term, manageable, and consistent studying. Although the human mind is a fascinating and wonderful thing, it is not equipped to handle a large deal of information that it does not use over the long-term, nor is it equipped to recall a great deal of information that has only been introduced within a short time period.
Instead, consistent exposure over the long-term is the best way to make sure you are adequately prepared for your exam. Studying over a period of several months (or even one to two months), with 30 minutes or more per day devoted to active studying—not merely reading material, but quizzing yourself and engaging with study materials like practice exams, objective lists, and reviews—will ensure that you are not only familiar and comfortable with the material, but that you are well-prepared for your test.