7: Studying, Memory, and Test Taking


How to Improve Memory for Studying (7 Powerful Tips)

Do you want to know how to improve your memory for studying?

After all, it’s the 21st century and there’s so much to learn!

There’s too much to study in too little time – especially before an exam .

But it’s not just a time issue.

It’s not just an issue of volume when it comes to so many books and videos to consume.

The core of the problem isn’t any of those things.

The core of the problem is memory…

The things that your brain just can’t memorize no matter how many times you repeat them.

Because you don’t have a strategy for managing your learning and memory.

In this article, I will show you 7 powerful techniques to help you remember what you study. You’ll learn everything far more easily – facts, dates, formulae, equations, whatever.

These techniques will make it far easier for you to ace your next exam .

Yours Free: A Private Course With Cheat Sheets For Becoming A Memory Master, Starting From Scratch.

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1. Ginseng

Ginseng is often recognized for its many health benefits. It’s one of the best focus supplements, as it helps to enhance brain function. Beyond that, it also helps to fight fatigue, so you can be well-rested for your exam even if you spent a few extra hours studying the night before.

Ginseng has antioxidant properties and can help to keep your blood sugar levels in check. That’s important when you prepare for a test, so you won’t “crash” while you’re studying or even during the test itself if you haven’t taken care of your diet properly.

The Top 3 Study Supplements to Boost Exam Performance

When you’re taking a high-stakes exam (whether that’s actuarial exams, the GRE, GMAT, LSAT or college finals), it’s not just about how well you know the material. It’s about how well you can apply that knowledge the day of the exam.

I wrote this article to help you improve your memory, focus and exam-day performance by feeding your brain the right nutrients to perform at full capacity.

I spent the last 7+ years researching and testing supplements throughout college and my actuarial exams, and I’m excited to share the results.

A few ground rules before jumping in:

  • I don’t recommend any supplements that I haven’t personally tested. There are dozens that didn’t make the cut, either from a lack of scientific research or poor anecdotal results.
  • I’m not a doctor, so you should consult a medical professional before taking nutritional supplements.

Why you should take supplements for your exam

You’re studying for a high-stakes exam.

You’ve studied countless hours, and one question can be the difference between pass or fail.

You would be crazy not to do everything in your power to maximize your chances on exam day.

It’s not just about how much you know going into the test it’s about how well you can apply that information on one particular day. It’s all about one performance.

This is like a professional athlete training for the Olympics. Months (or years) of training all come down to a single day of competition. Performing at 99% capacity vs. 95% makes all the difference.

But unlike exam-takers, professional athletes understand the importance of nutrition and stress management for peak performance.

Nutrition and supplementation are just as critical for cognitive function as they are for physical performance. Just think of how you feel after eating a heavy lunch full of refined carbs – you don’t get any quality work done.

I’m sure you’ve had days where you experienced “brain fog”, and other days where you felt “in the zone” and information flowed easily.

Supplements are useful to ensure you can tap into the latter flow state when you need it most. By definition, they are just supplemental – they aren’t a magic fix if you haven’t studied hard.

But again, when one question can make the difference in your score, I don’t know why you would overlook the chance to improve your focus, memory, and stress response.

Top 3 Supplements for Studying and Exam Performance

Supplement Cheat Sheet:

Recommended supplements for studying:

Mind Lab Pro (taken once daily, add caffeine when needed)

1. Caffeine + L-theanine – Improved Focus

  • Safe & well-researched
  • Immediate results – you notice the effect the first time you try it
  • Synergistic – the benefits of caffeine and l-theanine complement each other well

You’re probably familiar with using caffeine to increase focus while studying. However, people sometimes dislike caffeine for its potential to cause jitteriness and anxiety, especially on exam day when nerves are already high.

That’s where L-theanine comes in. L-theanine promotes relaxation without causing sleepiness, so it can be consumed with caffeine to promote attention and focus without the undesirable side effects of caffeine. People typically describe the combo effect as a calm, smooth focus.

Some people even use L-theanine on its own to reduce anxiety before public speaking events or other high-stress environments. L-theanine and caffeine are naturally found in green tea, but the dosage is relatively small and the proportion isn’t optimal.

Optimal Dosage:

Everyone has varying caffeine tolerances and sensitivities, so it is difficult to give a blanket recommendation for optimal dosage. However, you can aim for an L-theanine ratio that is 1-2x that of your caffeine amount (e.g. 150 mg of L-theanine for a 100 mg cup of coffee).

I consume caffeine relatively infrequently, so 100 mg of caffeine + 150 mg of L-theanine has a strong effect. I ramp this up to 200 mg of caffeine and 300 mg of L-theanine on exam day for extra focus.

Especially on exam day when anxiety is high, L-theanine is a great addition to keep you calm and focused. Caffeine and L-theanine can be consumed in a variety of forms, but I typically use the following supplement pills for controlled dosages, ease of consumption, and price:

If you try any of the supplements from this article, you will probably be most satisfied with the L-theanine + caffeine combo due to the immediate effects and low cost. You can also use this combination for other high-stress situations that require high focus, such as interviews.

The stigma around caffeine pills vs. coffee

I am endlessly amused by the stigma around caffeine pills.

“Slow down, you don’t want to get addicted.”

Shortly after making comments like this, people go back to sipping on their large Starbucks coffee.

I take caffeine pills with 100 mg of caffeine, about the same as a medium cup of coffee. But when you pack that caffeine into a pill instead of a drink, people freak out.

The irony is that I’m actually cognizant of how much caffeine I’m consuming. I know the effects of a 100 mg dose vs. 200 mg.

But when you ask most coffee drinkers how much caffeine is in their cup, you hear crickets. They have no idea how much they consume.

If you’re going to consume a drug like caffeine, isn’t it safer to control the amount? To know exactly how much you’re taking, and what your tolerance level is?

Not to mention the economic advantages – it costs me .05 to get the same amount of caffeine that’s in a cup of coffee.

If you enjoy the taste of coffee, that’s one thing. But don’t avoid caffeine pills due to misconceptions about them being more dangerous than coffee. I would argue that the opposite is true.

2. Bacopa monnieri – Improved Memory and Attention

  • Safe & well-researched (more studies than any other supplement on this page)
  • Sustainability – you don’t build up a tolerance, so you can take it daily. Becomes more effective over time.
  • Robust history of usage in Ayurveda medicine

Unlike the caffeine + L-theanine combo, Bacopa monnieri does not have an immediate effect it improves memory after sustained usage (effects are realized after a month or two of consistent supplementation). Think of this like taking a multi-vitamin you don’t feel different immediately after taking the supplement, but you become healthier from regular consumption over the long-run.

This may not sound as fun as the instant-gratification of caffeine, but it has a significant advantage: sustainability. You build up a tolerance to caffeine, so you can’t keep taking it every study session for improved focus. However, you won’t build up a tolerance with Bacopa monnieri, so you can sustain the improved memory over the long-haul (which is especially important since our actuarial exam process spans several years). If this supplement can potentially save me a few hours of reviewing forgotten concepts, I find it a worthwhile investment.

Bacopa monnieri can be supplemented in either pill or powder form, but I recommend the pill form to avoid the unpleasant taste of the powder. Below is the brand I’ve been using for the last two years:

3. L-tyrosine – Improved Stress Response

L-tyrosine has been shown to improve cognitive performance under stressful conditions, but not under normal daily conditions. This limits the usage of L-tyrosine for exam circumstances when your acute stress is high.

We don’t recommend taking it for the first time on your exam day (or any other supplement for that matter), but you can simulate exam-day conditions with your practice exams to test this supplement and gauge your response. For people with high test anxiety, L-tyrosine may be especially useful to improve your cognitive response under stressful conditions.

L-tyrosine has typically been tested at dosages around 500-2000 mg about 30 minutes prior to exposure to the acute stressor (i.e. take it 30 minutes before your practice/actual exam). You may want to start on the lower end of that dosage and work your way up after ensuring you don’t have a negative response. Below is the L-tyrosine supplement I’ve used for my past two exams:

The All-In-One Solution

If the information above is overwhelming, or if you’re looking to go the extra mile with optimizing performance, there’s a simple solution:

Mind Lab Pro combines the top supplements above (l-theanine, bacopa monnieri, and l-tyrosine) into a single product.

You receive the same benefits – improved focus, attention, memory, and stress response – without the hassle of buying separate supplements and taking so many pills.

Plus, you get the benefit from additional ingredients like Rhodiola Rosea that just missed my Top 3 list, but that I take regularly.

I’ve tried and researched over 15 different products like Mind Lab Pro, but this one wins out for a few reasons:

  • High-quality ingredients
  • Appropriate doses of key ingredients (many other products put a small amount just to claim the benefit)
  • Sustainability – this product doesn’t contain caffeine or other habit-forming substances, so it can be taken safely on a daily basis
  • Well-researched and safe ingredients – check out to look at the science behind each ingredient.

If you’re looking for a single supplement with the highest payoff, Mind Lab Pro is your best bet.

You can add in a coffee or caffeine pill on occasion for the synergistic benefits mentioned above.

Implementing Supplements into your Study Routine

I would like to reemphasize the following points about using nutritional supplements for studying:

  • Don’t introduce a new supplement the day of your exam (test them out on a practice exam first)
  • Start with relatively small doses to gauge initial reactions
  • Do your own research to make a sound judgment on whether or not to try a supplement (I always use for supplement research)

Good luck on your exam, and I hope these supplements help you take your performance to the next level!

Study Smart, Pass Fast, Live Life

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Before the test

  • Find out as much as you can about the test. Where will it be? How long will it be? What will be covered? What kinds of questions will you get? Do you have to answer all questions, or will you have a choice? Will you be able to take any material into the test with you?
  • Make a plan for studying. It is better to study for a test in several shorter chunks than all in one long study session. Plan to look at your material at intervals before the test.
  • Try to guess what you might be asked. What topics have been important in the course? Are there certain topics that you have spent a lot of time on? There is a good chance that these will be on the test.
  • Study actively. Don&rsquot just read your class material. Test yourself. You may find it helpful to get together with a classmate and ask each other questions.

During the test

  • Look at the entire test before you start writing. Make a rough plan for how you will use your time. Don&rsquot spend a lot of time on a question that is not worth many points.
  • If you can, start with an easy question first. This will give you confidence. Then, tackle a difficult one to get it out of the way. The rest of the test should be straightforward after that.
  • Allow yourself a few minutes to check your answers.

DON’T Forget to Take a Look at Your Testing Car!

Look the car over for things that could be infractions that make the car unusable for testing. A car with problems can be an automatic fail. These vehicle issues vary from state to state, so take a moment to get an idea what your state requirements are for a roadworthy automobile. Aside from what could be wrong with the car, make sure to take a moment to clean out the interior. While the fast food wrappers in the passenger seat may not get you a fail, you should show the examiner some respect by having a clean interior for him or her to ride along in.

Here are the most common car features that should be in working order. Most probably you will be asked to demonstrate them:

How to Improve Your Memory

Kara doesn't much like American history, and she's put off studying for the final exam on Friday. On Thursday night, she stays up and reads over each chapter from beginning to end. But when she sits down to take the test the next day, she can't seem to remember a thing that she read. What happened?

Kara went about studying for the test in the wrong way. Simply sitting down the night before and reading through the entire chapter, without questioning, commenting, or categorizing, with the vague hope that she'd remember what she read, is pretty much like throwing a batch of file cards into a box and hoping to remember what's on them later.

Unfortunately, Kara's study methods are pretty common among students. Studying for a test just by reading over the information one time will give you a retention rate of only about 20 percent, no matter how smart you are.

Fortunately, by learning some simple retention strategies, you can boost your recall to more than 80 percent. Memory strategies can help you learn spelling, vocabulary, a foreign language, names of historical figures, states and capitals, scientific terms, cities and primary products, U.S. presidents, foreign kings, basic math -- just about everything a person needs to learn in school or on the job.

There are three main ways to boost your memory of basic facts:

  • by practicing active recall during learning
  • by periodic reviews of the material
  • by overlearning the material beyond the point of bare mastery

Involve Yourself in Reading!Instead of just reading, you need to read and think about what you're reading. Here are some suggestions for doing just that:

  • Think of questions for yourself before, during, and after the reading session.
  • Ask yourself what is happening next, why it's happening, and what would happen if one event or fact was different.
  • Note what interests you. Take a moment to make a mental comment out loud.
  • Train yourself to summarize, a section at a time. What are the main points in the text you just read? What are the logical conclusions?

Visualize as You ReadTry to imagine yourself in the place you're reading about, or try to imagine yourself doing what you're studying. Include yourself in images that you build in your mind. If you're reading about the Civil War, picture yourself on the battlefield. Why are you there? What is the enemy doing, and why? The better you can put yourself into a scene, the better you'll remember what you are reading.

Of course, it's much easier to visualize yourself in a battle than it is to link yourself to the major exports of Peru. Instead of just trying to visualize "wool, wheat, and corn," imagine you're a Peruvian farmer raising sheep and growing wheat and corn. This will work with just about anything, except perhaps for numbers and dates.

Take a Note!Taking notes won't help you if you scribble down the words in class without thinking about what you're writing, which is unfortunately the way too many students take notes.

The best way to take notes in class:

  • Take them carefully while thinking about their content.
  • Review them as you write.
  • Summarize whenever possible. Isolate what's important and discard the rest while you're writing.
  • Don't take down every word your teacher says.

PQRST MethodOne of the most popular techniques for remembering written material is the PQRST method: Preview, Question, Read, State, and Test. Memory experts think this works better than simple rehearsal because it provides you with better retrieval cues.

  • Preview. Skim through the material briefly. Read the preface, table of contents, and chapter summaries. Preview a chapter by studying the outline and skimming the chapter (especially headings, photographs, and charts). The object is to get an overview of the book or chapter (this shouldn't take more than a few minutes).
  • Question. Ask important questions about the information you're reading. If the chapter includes review questions at the end, read them before you begin reading the chapter and try to keep them in mind as you go. What are the main points in the text? How does the action occur? Read over the paragraph headings and ask yourself questions about them.
  • Read. Now read the material completely, without taking notes. Underlining text can help you remember the information, provided you do it properly. The first time you read a chapter, don't underline anything (it's hard to pick out the main points the first time through). Most people tend to underline way too many things, which isn't helpful when you want to be able to go back later and review important points. Instead, read over one section and then go back and, as you work your way through each paragraph, underline the important points. Think about the points you're underlining.
  • State. State the answers to key questions out loud. Reread the chapter and ask yourself questions and answer them out loud. Read what you've underlined out loud, and think about what you're saying. You should spend about half your studying time stating information out loud.
  • Test. Test yourself to make sure you remembered the information. Go through the chapter again and ask questions. Space out your self-testing so you're doing it during a study session, after a study session, and right before a test. If you'd like, enlist the help of a friend to quiz you.

Make the Most of StudyingWhen you study is almost as important as how you study. It's better to schedule several shorter study sessions rather than one marathon all-nighter. This is probably because you can only concentrate for a certain period of time. If you try to study in one long session, you won't be able to maintain your concentration throughout. Breaks help you consolidate what you've learned.

On the other hand, you can overdo the short sessions as well -- scheduling too many short study sessions can be worse than cramming all of your studying into one marathon session. The trick is to determine the optimum length of a study session and how many sessions work best for you and for the material. Research suggests that difficult information or inexperienced students require shorter sessions for best results. If you have several subjects to study, it's better to separate them and spread them out over several days. You should also vary your learning methods: Take notes one day, make an outline the next, recite information out loud during the third study session.

You'll also want to avoid interference when you study. If you're boning up for a math test, don't close the math book and then read magazines, watch TV, and listen to music before going to bed. Study, then go to bed, so nothing else can interfere with what you've learned. Studies have also shown that sleeping between studying and testing is the best way to do well on a test. A person who sleeps right after studying will remember more than someone who stays awake.

It's also true that other activities between studying and the test will influence how well you remember. If you've spent several hours studying French, you shouldn't then study Latin before going to bed. In fact, if you have two very similar subjects to study, it's best not to study them in the same location.

First-Letter Cuing (Acronyms)The use of the first letter of a word as a cue to remembering the word itself can be helpful in remembering material. This cueing usually employs acronyms -- making a word out of the first letters of the words to be remembered. For example, it's possible to remember the Great Lakes using the acronym HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior). Another related type of first-letter cueing is the acrostic, discussed previously, in which the first letters in a series of words form a word or phrase. For example, names of the strings of the viola (CGDA) can be remembered by the acrostic: Cats Go Down Alleys.

Because the acronym system is so effective, most organizations and governmental bodies make use of first-letter cueing: NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) or AA (Alcoholics Anonymous). Some acronyms are so well known that the original full name has been all but forgotten, as in "scuba" (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) gear.

The only problem with first-letter cueing is the propensity to forget what the strategy has been used for. Therefore, it's a good idea to make the association remind you of the information to be remembered. Imagine HOMES floating on the Great Lakes, so that when you want to think of the names of all the lakes, the image of HOMES will return to you and with it, the first letter of each of the lakes.

Peg and LinkBoth the peg and linking systems that we discussed earlier also work well with studying school subjects. Review those methods and try practicing with them, especially for rote learning and memorization (such as a list of U.S. Presidents or the amendments to the Constitution).

To learn more about the various aspects of memory, see:


Richard C. Mohs, Ph.D., has been vice chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and associate chief of staff for research at the Bronx Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The author or co-author of more than 300 scientific papers, Dr. Mohs has conducted numerous research studies on aging, Alzheimer's disease, and cognitive function.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

A good night’s sleep isn’t just necessary before the day of your test it’s crucial that you get enough sleep in the days prior. Fatigue can set in after missing one night of sleep, impairing your short-term memory and leaving you unable to focus. Whether you are studying the next day or taking the test, an all-nighter can put you at a serious disadvantage. Instead, improve your learning ability and memory by maintaining a regular sleep schedule that meets your studying needs.

There is more to proper test preparation than studying, and that includes having the right items on hand. Find out what you need to bring or have ready during your exam. Perhaps you need a calculator for a math exam, or you are allowed a textbook for another text. Failing to have either item can seriously hurt your chances of passing. Or, even worse, should you forget to show proof of identification or a test confirmation, stop you from taking the test altogether. So to avoid any test-day roadblocks, gather the items you will need the night before. If you are taking an online exam, ensure the testing software is compatible with your computer. Stay on top of your exam requirements so you do not encounter any surprises.

Test Preparation: Start Early

The simplest way to improve test results is to start studying well ahead of time. This will get material into your long-term memory, where it has staying power. But here’s the key for anyone with ADHD: Don’t try to do it all at once. Instead, break studying down into manageable pieces. Will the test cover three chapters? Review one chapter each night for three nights, then review them all on the fourth and final night. Another perk of starting early is to find out whether you need help before it’s too late (see next tip).

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