How to Cram for an Art History Test


The art history exam approaches and you have before you books of paintings, each image with a date, artist, medium and school of art. Somehow, all these statistics must be committed to memory. You are going to need clarity, attention to detail, focus, creativity and a little humor to cram in the information and make it stick, at least through the exam.

  • Consider your schedule. Is the art history test next week or tomorrow? You have a greater chance of committing painting and sculpture stats to long-term memory if you have at least a couple nights to review the information. Start with the sure things--it does not take Einstein to identify the "Mona Lisa" or a soup can. Once the easy artworks are done away with, you can stagger memorizing the rest over the next few days.

  • Identify your learning style. A lot of art history majors are visual learners, but this is not necessarily the case. In what situations is it easiest for you to memorize something? Some people learn best alone, others in groups. Some people can commit something to memory if they say it out loud, others if they hear it. Some people need a visual, musical or linguistic trigger to cement a statistic in their minds.

  • Look for clues. Perhaps a shadow in the foreground looks like the number 23, and the painting was done in 1923. Maybe the teacher or textbook has an anecdote that illuminates telling details about the artwork. Can you take a mental picture of the artwork and its label? Ask friends and classmates for their mental triggers, and see if this can help you cram for the art history exam.

  • Create clues. When the clues are not forthcoming in those Jackson Pollock drops of paint, you are going to have to get creative. Consider creative raps or rhymes with significant art history trivia. Songs are one of the most powerful ways to memorize information. Try this song, sung to the Billy Idol song "Mony, Mony": "Here he comes now, his name is Monet. An Impressionist painter, he was no phoney. Monet, Monet, paint a pony. Little Haystacks, by Claude Monet." You might just be singing these songs years later.

  • Relax. If you down too many gallons of caffeine and spend the night alternating between crying and studying, you will not have the Zen awareness necessary to channel your art history statistics. Visualize, breathe and think positive. You have passed other exams, and this one will be no different. Next time, of course, you will do all the reading, highlight your notes and study the artworks throughout the semester, so there will never be another need to cram for the art history exam!

Tips & Warnings

  • During the exam, skip the difficult questions and save them for last.
  • Pulling an all-nighter may sound like a good idea, but the ensuing exhaustion can kill concentration during the exam.

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