By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
From middle school through graduate school, being tested on what we read basically is school. Read a book, and then take a test: repeat forever.
Therefore, knowing how to study for a test on a book is the key to doing well in so many classes. This blog post is full of strategies for preparing for and taking tests on novels, including both fiction and non-fiction.
How to study for a test on a book
I’ve broken down these study strategies into what you should do before, during and after you read a book that you’re going to be testest on.
BEFORE you read the book
We learn new information by connecting it to what we already know. Here’s a scenario to illustrate how this learning theory works: You’re asked to describe the flavor of a fruit you’ve just tasted for the first time, and the only way you can describe it is by comparing it to what you already know. It tastes like an apple but it’s sweet like a strawberry, for instance.
Why the example? So you understand the importance of spending a little time – 15 or 20 minutes – doing a little research about the book you’re going to be reading. Who’s the author and what time period did he or she live in? What was happening in real life during that time period? What are the themes of the book? What’s the setting of the story?
The more you know about a book before you read it (without spoiling the story), the more the book will make sense to you – and the better you’ll do on the test. Where do you find this information? Google it.
WHILE you read the book
The best way to study for a test on a book is to prepare for the test while you read, and not just after you finish the novel. Below are a few strategies that will help you not only better understand what you’re reading, but also help you create study materials for afterward.
1. Keep a running character list. When you start the book, keep a bookmark or sticky note tucked inside and track each character and their key traits. As you meet new characters, add them to your list. As you learn more about each character, add those details to the list.
2. Write chapter summaries. I suggest this strategy a lot because it works. After you read each chapter, go back to the beginning of the chapter and write a few bullet-point notes about what you just read. Use a sticky note if you can’t write in the book. Keep your points brief.
3. Complete all reading comprehension questions provided by your teacher. If you are not given any, you can find plenty of reading comprehension materials online for almost every common book assigned in middle school through college. I see your eyes rolling at the idea of answering questions you weren’t even assigned, but let me tell you a secret: people do this.
4. Annotate as you read. Highlight and take notes on key symbols, evidence of themes (which you identified before you started reading), key points, confusing parts, interesting parts, etc.
5. Create a timeline of events. If you’re reading non-fiction or your novel has a lot of events and dates, keep a running timeline on the inside cover. Add to it as you read.
AFTER you read the book (to study)
- Consolidate all of your chapter summaries and fill in missing information.
- Review your character list and add any information you can think of.
- Flip through the novel and read your annotations and highlighted sections. Do something with that information if needed, such as adding it to your chapter summaries, adding it to your character list, consolidating similar ideas and writing them elsewhere, etc.
- Read through your reading comprehension questions and see if you can answer the questions without looking at your answers.
- Read Sparknotes summaries and analyses of parts of the book you didn’t understand.
- Google information about the book’s themes, motifs and symbols, and make sure you understand their meanings.
- Review your class notes, slides, and teacher handouts. Quiz yourself on this information using active recall.
- Attempt to summarize the book to someone else, and give them the chance to ask you questions at the end. Here are 6 strategies for summarizing.
- Review important quotes you’ve discussed in class. Be sure you can explain them and how they connect to the meaning of the story.
- Create a visual timeline of events from the story. If you already did this while you were reading, then try to recreate this timeline from memory.