Test Taking – The Brain Dump

May 11, 2010 at 11:48 am Leave a comment

This blog article is aimed at students, with an in-class activity for instructors to use to help their students learn this study skill.

What Is A Brain Dump?

For some math exams, there is certain information that you need to have memorized – mostly formulas, but some other information as well. As soon as you receive your exam, write down any formulas, rules, or procedures that will help you during the exam. The idea is that you are dumping short term ideas from your brain onto the paper. Once they are written on your test, you can go back and refer to them as you make your way through the test.

The advantage is that you only need to keep these items memorized for as short period before beginning the test. Once you have written them down, you are free to think about solving problems without having to go back and remember a formula, etc. So, you end up reducing memorization difficulties that could arise on the test.

One warning – just because you write down a formula, it does not guarantee success. You must understand when to use the formula and how to use the formula. The same holds true for any procedures you write down. There is no substitute for understanding what you are doing.

In-Class Activity

On the day before an exam, ask your students to make a list of things they should have memorized. Give them a few minutes to search through their textbook and their notes, then start recording their list on the board. As an instuctor it gives you a chance to comment on their choices, and add items they have left off the list. Once the list is complete, remind your students about using a brain dump to record the same information when they take the actual test. This might take 5 minutes of classroom time, but can pay big dividends for your students. Once you have done it in class one time, your students can do this on their own for future exams.

If you have any questions about using a brain dump, or if you have any questions, I’d like to encourage you to share by leaving a comment, or reaching me through the contact page at my web site – georgewoodbury.com.


I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. Each Tuesday I post an article related to Math Study Skills on my blog. If there’s a particular study skill you’d like me to address, or if you have a question or a comment, please let me know. You can reach me through the contact page on my website – http://georgewoodbury.com.


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