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Pass the Test: 5 Fun Tricks to Aid Memory and Learning

Updated on April 7, 2018
Some tests are harder to study for than others.
Some tests are harder to study for than others. | Source

Why Take Tests?

You can have every word from Shakespeare memorized. You can have a brain like a human calculator. You can study for five hours a day, seven days a week. None of that matters if you can’t pass the test.

A. Tests are a good thing. They are tangible proof that you learned. That you are brilliant. That you understand and are ready for more. They also show when you aren’t ready to go on and where you have problems. They make sure teachers stay on task and teach you what you need to know.

B. Tests are a bad thing. They only prove that you know how to take tests. They are self esteem killers. They don’t ask the right questions so that you can share your knowledge. They are stress magnets. They force teachers to teach for the test instead of just teaching.

If you guessed wrong, you failed. This may or may not matter to you. No one will know your score. Your GPA remains the same. And let’s face it; your answer was a guess. It was a guess to a trick question that was designed for you to lose.

Life is full of tests. And if you can’t pass the test, you will never be able to drive a car, to graduate, to become a millionaire on a game show, or to get a job. And everyone who has ever taken a test knows that it isn’t always about how long you studied; it’s about how much you can remember on the spot.

So let’s start with ways to cheat memory. Here are some scientifically proven tricks to make your brain cough up its hard won knowledge when you’re sitting the exam.

Method 1: The Nose Approach

Step 1. Pull out a tissue.

Step 2. Insert in nostril.

Are you taking a geometry test? Make sure you stuff the tissue into your right nostril. If you are taking an English test, stuff the tissue into your left nostril. Whatever you do, don’t mix up your left and right nostrils because that would surely make you look like a fool.

Now, at this point as you breathe deeply through your one open nostril, you are probably wondering why you need to stick a tissue up your nose. The answer is surprisingly that this is a valid and scientifically proven trick to improving how your brain works.

Side Note

You use all of your brain. Not 10% as a prevalent myth insists. Not one half. And your ability to do everything, from reading a book, to building a volcano, to playing the piano, uses all sorts of bits of your brain from both hemispheres. So while there is scientific proof that you can greatly increase spatial skills by breathing through your left nostril, and marginally improve verbal skills by breathing through the right *, if you reverse it you will still be able to speak and move blocks around. The brain is more complex and intricate than that.** But the experiments show that the tissue thing really does work.

The Science Behind Method 1

You have two sides to your brain: a left hemisphere and a right hemisphere. These two hemispheres control different sides of your body. They also control different ways you can think. The right hemisphere is where you get spatial awareness. Spatial awareness is what helps you to understand that if you have a box of blocks and want to build a pyramid that is three blocks high, you are going to need fifteen blocks in all. Or, in a more right brained compatible explanation, see diagram. If you need to do math problems, art, or reasoning, your right brain is your friend.

The left hemisphere is stronger in verbal ability. This means speaking. So if you have an oral exam, an English test, or a spelling bee, you’ll probably get more use out of your left brain than your right.

Now here’s a bit about your nose.

People, in general, use one nostril more than the other. At least for a bit. Then, it switches and they use the other nostril more. In California, a couple of scientists named Susan A. Jella and David S. Shannahoff-khalsa did some research into nostril breathing. They did an experiment by forcing people to breathe out of one nostril or the other and then had those people do tests. The scores solidly proved that breathing through your left nostril improves your spatial awareness and breathing through your right nostril improves verbal skills.*

So, in conclusion, stuffing a tissue up your nostril really can help you to take a test.

Note: How to explain your tissue needs to your teacher

Say this ‘At the University of California, Jella and Shannahoff-khalsa tested the effects of unilateral forced nostril breathing on cognitive performance which conclusively revealed that left nostril breathing improves spatial cognition while right nostril breathing improves verbal cognition.’ Or you could just say you have a cold.

Quick Disclaimer

This site, and more specifically, the author, is not responsible for any breathing experiments anyone might perform. This author also does not take responsibility for your inability to properly stuff a tissue up your nose without causing yourself harm; do so at your own risk.

Method 2: Your Nose Knows

Step 1. Find a strange and exotic scent.

Step 2. Study for your test while smelling your strange and exotic scent.

Step 3. Bring your strange and exotic scent with you to your test.

The only rule to the scent is that it must be new to you. That, and it should probably be something that no teacher or exam supervisor can object to. Perhaps find a new hand lotion. Or combine it with the nose method; put your scent on the tissue you're stuffing up your nose! Whatever you do, don't choose your favorite or familiar scent. Otherwise, this method will fail.

How many blocks?


The Science Behind Method 2

Most people have heard how your sense of smell can jog your memory. This is a bit like that. Except instead of pulling up a memory of your grandmother when you smell lavender, you will be using your sense of smell to remember everything you studied.

An experiment conducted by Herz*** showed that people's memory is improved when their memory is tied to an unusual scent that isn't normal to their habitat. An ordinary smell that you can expect in a classroom isn't going to help you. A smell you wouldn't expect will help you a little bit. An unusual smell that is new to you will help you a lot.

So stop and smell the roses. Especially if they have an exotic smell.

What To Tell Your Teacher

If your teacher asks why you are bringing this strange scent into the classroom, you say, 'I have created an odor-based context-dependent memory tied to this exact odor.'***

Self Esteem Booster

view quiz statistics

Method 3: Scared Study

Step 1. Go someplace that makes you nervous and anxious.

Step 2. Study.

Are you afraid of heights? Go someplace high up to study. Hate confined spaces? Study in an elevator or closet. Absolutely terrified of the dark? Turn out all the lights. Have your friends jump out at you.

This isn't about facing your fears. Feel the fear. What do you feel when you have to take a test? You feel anxious and nervous. That's the feeling you want to capture when you study. Your memory works best that way. You remember something best when you are in the same situation that you learned it in. Never study calm and test anxious; your brain will freeze up and everything you learned will fly out the window.

On the other hand, if you feel utterly calm and happy when you take a test, ignore the above steps. You want to feel peaceful and calm when you study too.

Test Pressure


The Science Behind Method 3

Why do you want to study scared if you test scared, and study calm if you test calm? Because scientific experiments have shown that we remember best when we are in the same situation that we learned in.**** One study had some people go underwater to learn, and some people learn on land. The underwater learners tested best when they were underwater, and the land learners tested best when they were on land. In other words, your memory works at its best when the conditions are the same.

This does not mean we should all rush out to study and take tests underwater. It does explain why the scent method above works. Ever had a dream at night that you forgot after you got up? Then you lie back down to go to bed and you remember it again? This method is basically trying to recreate certain conditions that come with taking a test: how you feel. So study when you're anxious and your memory will reward you when you take a test. Or you could learn to be calm when you take a test. The point is, try to study and test the same.

Method 4: Cheat

Step 1. Take an index card. Turn it into a 'cheat sheet'. Cover the card in all the information that will be on the test. Write everything out fully. Write small. Write front and back if you have to.

Step 2. Now take a second index card. Cut it in half. Make a 'cheat sheet' again. The exact same knowledge; this is going to replace the first card, not supplement it. Don't write smaller; write smarter. Abbreviate words. Leave out bits that you know well. Find the bare bones of the subject.

Step 3. Take the second half of the index card that was cut in half. Cut it in half. Make your 'cheat sheet' yet again. Write as small as you need to. Abbreviate what you can. Leave out what you can. Find the barest bones of what you need to remember.

Step 4. Take unused half from your last cutting. Cut it in half. Make it into a 'Cheat Sheet'. Yes, it's small. You won't be able to fit everything. Fit only what you absolutely need. Turn long sentences and words into single letters. Remind yourself of long concepts with a single word. Make it fit.

Step 5. Throw all your cheat sheets away. Take your final half. Write on it 'I can do it'. Put this in your pocket. Take your test.

Yes, I did just tell you to make a cheat sheet. Yes, this method is labeled 'cheat'. No, I am not telling you to cheat. Some teachers even allow students to make 'cheat sheets' for tests. Why would teachers do that? Why would I suggest you make one, just to throw it away? Because the very effort that often goes into 'cheating' is the same effort that will drill the information into your memory. Teachers who let you make 'cheat sheets' aren't giving you a break. They are sneakily giving you a study method. It can work. Also, just imagine what you will say when someone asks you how you aced your last test.

"I made a cheat sheet!" Now that could be fun.

The Science Behind Method 4

It's a teacher method. It just works. The act of writing things down works. I didn't find this in any fancy article on memory. I got this tip from my high school teachers. Just whatever you do, don't bring your 'cheat sheet' into the test unless your teacher specifically gave you permission. It's not worth the chance of getting caught. Especially when you realize you didn't even need the cheat sheet to remember everything.

As for the science...cheat sheets aren't from any science articles, but connecting words to other words is a proven method of improving memory****. So the more you shorten what you have to learn into a single idea, connecting it to a word or even letter, the more easily you will recall it later. Go science!

Method 5: Legwork

Step 1: Close your books. Put down your pen.

Step 2: Get up. Put on some music.

Step 3: Move. Dance. Exercise. Do aerobics. Get out of breath. MOVE!

Do not forget to drink liquids. Consult a doctor as needed. This author takes no responsibility for injuring yourself. This author advises against jumping on beds, swinging arms in enclosed spaces, or tripping over objects. is moving going to help you study? Everyone knows that exercise is good for your body. A lesser known fact is that it's also good for the mind. An active body means an active and awake mind that's at its strongest. So, you want to do well on your test? A little exercise definitely won't hurt.

The Science Behind Method 5

Wendy Suzuki, associate professor of neuroscience, did a study. She had two classes teaching the same thing. One class had the students exercise before it. The other didn't. The result? You really do learn better after you exercise.*****

If you go to the sort of school where you spend most of the day sitting behind a desk, except for brief moments spent walking a hall between classes, then your school is doing you a disservice. What can you do about it? Perhaps you can't stand up during class and start doing squats...but you can spend your 'hall time' wisely. Jump up and down, jog in place, dance. And if any well meaning teachers complain about your sudden need to move, point them towards this article. All teachers want their students to exercise their minds. Take the time to exercise your body as well. Your mind will thank you.



All of these methods are great for helping your brain. Try to learn in the same environment you will be tested. Remember to exercise more than your mind. Do stuff tissue up your nose. Fill out a cheat sheet. But even more importantly than all these tricks? Try to have a bit of fun. Be a bit silly. Fun is an excellent memory aid as well. So is doing something new. Maybe you find a certain subject boring. Maybe you'll always find it boring and hate it, and there's nothing you can do to change that. Find your own fun.

Remember...your memory is an awesome tool. Your brain knows what it's doing. Sometimes it just needs a bit of help.

Works Referenced

*The Effects of Unilateral Forced Nostril Breathing on Cognitive Performance. by: Jella, Susan A. and Shannahoff-khalsa, David S.,International Journal of Neuroscience, 1993, Vol. 73, No. 1-2 , Pages 61-68

**What Does the Brain Have to Do with Learning? by: Worden, Jennifer M.; Hinton, Christina; Fischer, Kurt W.. Phi Delta Kappan, May2011, Vol. 92 Issue 8, p8-13, 6p, 1 Color Photograph

***The effects of cue distinctiveness on odor-based context-dependent memory. by: Herz RS, Memory & Cognition [Mem Cognit] 1997 May; Vol. 25 (3), pp. 375-80.

****Memory. by Foster, Jonathan K., New Scientist. 12/3/2011, Vol. 212 Issue 2841, pi-24. 8p.

*****Studying the link between exercise and learning. by: Mo, Elizabeth, 2010, CNN

© 2014 Mir Foote


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