How to Get Better at Taking Tests
Working in midtown Manhattan, I am occasionally stopped by tourists and asked "How do I get to Carnegie Hall." Like any good New Yorker, I never fail to deliver the punch line.
As someone involved in the testing industry, however, a question I get more frequently is "How do I get better at taking tests?" I am always tempted to use the same punch line, but afraid I will come off as aloof or glib. Now, however, I have science on my side.
At first it seems obvious that taking more practice exams will improve your performance in a given topic. Practice is said to make perfect, after all.
In Impossible to Ignore, Dr. Carmen Simon explains that short-term memories are encoded into longer-term memories through repetition. So one example of why practice tests can improve performance is to cement the learning as retrievable knowledge.
However, a somewhat unexpected result of a recent study is that practice tests can offset the negative impact of stress on memory retrieval. Many people have test anxiety, and this can interfere with their ability to recall material during the exam. By undergoing frequent "pop quizzes" or otherwise replicating test conditions this response can be overcome.
CFA Exam candidates seem well aware of the benefits of practice. The curriculum is filled with examples and practice problems, and candidates also receive topic tests and a mock exam at registration. Still, many candidates choose to pay external test preparation providers for additional practice problems and exams.
So, while I may want to elaborate with some additional material, it turns out that the next time I am asked how one can get better at taking tests, I can safely reply "Practice, practice, practice."