Have you ever taken a Scantron multiple choice test where you fill in the bubbles for every question? If you answered yes, I am shuddering at the thought of them too.

At the time of writing, I am studying for national licensing exams to officially become an optometrist. The entire test is multiple choice, so hopefully this week's article comes in handy for both you and me!

Normally, I use the active recall method (which I talked about briefly last week) to study for exams, but sometimes there are so many facts that this strategy does not really work. Instead, it is important to create focused questions with two goals.

  1. Recall individual facts.
  2. Understand the main ideas to answer new questions.

The Process and Why It Works

First, condense your notes into short, specific questions that can be answered in a sentence. Questions that are very long and have lengthy explanations will slow down the process significantly. Make sure all of the information from each lecture is covered. Remember, condense the information as much as possible.

Then, arrange these questions into focused groups, so that all of the questions in a cluster cover the same topic. For each group, put the questions at the top of the page and put the corresponding answers at the bottom of the page (or you can use a flashcard application like Quizlet). It is important to understand big-picture concepts, so add two to three background questions about the group.

When you are studying, go through these questions  as quickly as you can. Since the questions are short to begin with, each one should take about a minute. Once you get to the background questions, "lecture" the answers out loud. If you have trouble with any questions, mark them and come back to them in the next round of recall.

For these types of multiple-choice tests, the "so called little facts" are the bulk of the content. Because the questions are short and are arranged in a list, you can actively recall these facts quickly. In addition, the background questions provide context to everything you are memorizing which helps solidify your understanding.

A Quick Tip

This process can take a long time, but to make it as easy as possible, transform your notes into these focused groups after every lecture. Resist the urge to cram, and this will make studying feel much more doable.

How do you memorize large chunks of information for school? Let me know in the comments below!