The Best Way to Know If You're Ready for a Big Test
Finals season is just around the corner, and tests happen all year long, but it's never too late to learn a new method of studying--and this one is pretty effective. If you've got an important exam coming up and you want to know if you're prepared enough, all you need to do is find a study buddy who knows absolutely nothing about what you're studying, and explain it to them.
Here's how it works.
Find the right study partner
You can ask anyone without familiarity with your subject to help you out here--a parent, sibling, or a friend. Don't choose someone in your class or who has existing knowledge of the subject at hand. If you're studying for an American history test, you obviously don't want to partner up with someone who mainlines Ken Burns documentaries on the weekend, even though that might seem like the logical thing to do.
That person definitely sounds worth using as a study resource--just not for this portion of your review work. It's helpful to study with or be tutored by someone with intimate knowledge of the subject, but here, you're looking for a total neophyte.
First, study in your usual way
Before you connect with your unlearned target, do whatever you usually do to prepare for a big test. Talk to that Ken Burns fan, organize your notes, review the reading--anything you've found helpful in the past. All the standard cram tricks apply: Go somewhere quiet, listen to soft music to limit distractions, outline your notes. Stuff as much of the material into your head as possible before moving on to the next step.
Become the teacher
Once you feel you've prepared for the test as you normally would, sit down with your chosen study partner and ask if you can record your chat. A recorder that transcribes as it goes is your best bet here, so choose one like Otter.ai, which offers a free version and is super simple to use.
From there, jbecome your professor: Explain the topic at hand, front to back, to the other person. Take as long as you need, and be sure to cover ever detail and can explain why it's all important. Encourage your partner to ask questions when anything is unclear or they can spot a gap in your explanation. If you can't answer the question of don't know how to clarify whatever has been misunderstood, make a note of it so you can shore up your own understanding before test day.
Here's how it works in practice: For my midterms this year, I had to be prepared to fully expound upon the nine-step process of conducting research. Once I memorized each step and reviewed them extensively, I explained them to my boyfriend, who knows nothing of research methods. As I did so, it became easy to see which parts I fully grasped and which parts I remained a little iffy on, to the point that I couldn't easily explain them in my own words.
My weak spots grew more obvious as he started peppering me with questions. I took notes of those I didn't have the answer to, plus the parts I struggled with during my original explanation, then hit the books again until I had them down.
Why this method works
This "student-as-teacher" method works not only because it helps you zero in on the concepts you're doing well with and which you need more work on, but because--depending on what kind of learner you are--it can also help you when it comes time to show you what you know.
During my midterm, I struggled to remember one of the nine steps of the research process, so I went back over my memories of my time talking things over with my boyfriend. I was finally able to dredge the information up, because I had that secondary memory--him questioning me about it--to use an an anchor.
There's a reason this method is often included on lists of advanced study hacks. The point of tests is not really to memorize stuff with flashcards until you can recite everything on command, only for it to leave your brain in a few weeks. The point is to show your true mastery of the material. Long-term retention and understanding is key. Your ultimate goal, after completing any class, should be to know the material so well you can explain it to anyone. Why not start before the big exam?