• Michael Greschler

Stay Calm and Study On: 4 Steps for Effective Test Prep


Preparing for tests and exams often triggers anxiety, stress, and procrastination—strong emotional responses that can keep students from studying effectively. To help students regulate their emotions, get organized, and plan and prioritize, introduce the Plan-Prioritize-Create-Quiz (PPCQ) Strategy.



1. Plan—Encourage students to think ahead strategically about how much time it will take them to study.

  • Discuss with students the importance of factoring in the format of the test. A multiple-choice test will require a different approach than an essay test.

  • Allocate time in class to practice estimating study time with one item on the study guide/key concept list. Brainstorm how long students think it will take to study this item.

  • For homework, ask students to study that item and track the actual time they spend to report back in class. Consider giving extra points on the test for students who complete this assignment.

2. Prioritize—Have students color-code their notes to mark the information they know best, the information that is slightly difficult, and the information they struggle with or do not know.

  • Have students ask themselves: Is it something I know very well? Is it something that I kind of need to review? Is it something I don’t remember well and should review a lot?

  • Have students use three separate colors (such as red, yellow, green) or three symbols (an ‘x’, a checkmark, and a star) to categorize each piece of information.

  • Tell students to prioritize studying the information that they do not know.

3.  Create a Guide—Have students create study guides that focus on the information that they prioritized as difficult.

  • Students can turn their color-coded notes into study guides or create their own format.

  • Assign the creation of study guides for homework credit, encouraging your students to study strategically by making it count.

4. Quiz Yourself—Once students create their personalized study guides, be sure they use them!

  • Allow time in class for students to partner up and use their study guides to quiz each other.

  • Have students quiz themselves at home with a parent or a sibling.

  • Have students identify any items they keep missing and develop a way of remembering them—the funnier the better!

Encourage students to begin the PPCQ steps early so they have a day or two before the test to quiz themselves. As students practice and apply the PPCQ Strategy, they’ll develop effective study skills and become more efficient learners.


For more information, check out Unit 6 of the SMARTS program! We highlight lots of ways that you can help your students develop good study strategies to prepare for tests.

  • Jenny Lisle and Elizabeth Ross, M.A., SMARTS Media Manager

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