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9 Best Practices in Studying for College Exams
| by Pauline Flores

Walk into any study room or library and you’ll see hordes of students nose-deep in notes. Noise levels are low, but stress levels are off the charts – you can just feel it when you walk in. Exams are daunting, but don’t let the stress beat you! With proper preparation, you can confidently take on your test to get that good grade you’ve been aiming for. Here are nine useful tips to prepare for for that exam.

Study Early

How early? That depends on two things: 1) how you learn and 2) how hard the test is going to be. For a hard test, you may want to give yourself three weeks in advance to study. For any other upcoming exams, give yourself at least a week to study.

Giving yourself room to absorb the information is much more effective than cramming during the final days leading up to the test. When you familiarize yourself with the lecture material early on, you will have more opportunities to ask your professor questions to clear up any confusion you may have.

Schedule Your Time

Five classes, a part time job, clubs, and other responsibilities are hard to juggle in college. This is where discipline will come in handy. Keep a planner to remind yourself of test dates and when you should be studying for them. Try to schedule two hours each day devoted to studying for your upcoming exams. Don’t attempt to study for all your exams in those two-hour sessions because that would be information overload! Spread things out as evenly as possible; take down each class chapter by chapter

Even if you don’t have a two-hour block available, you could always squeeze study time during break periods in between classes or during your bus commute. There’s always time to study as long as you manage your time wisely.

Turn Off Distractions

Yes, that means your phone. Put your phone on airplane mode to ensure that you won’t be distracted by any notifications. Like Pavlov’s dog, one sound of a notification going off will get your mouth (figuratively) drooling!

Study in an environment that will motivate you to stay focused; it could be the library, a study room, or even in a café.

Review Lecture Slides and Readings

The notes you’ve taken in class are helpful, but there’s a high chance that you may have missed something that your professor said will be on the exam. If your professor posts lecture slides on a class portal, devote your time to looking over each deck to fill in the gaps in your notes. Remember key takeaways from that day’s lecture and try to visualize what kind of questions could be asked on the test.

Readings are harder to review, especially if they are long and difficult to understand. It pays to take notes while you are reading so you don’t have to deal with the painstaking task of reading it over again! If you do need more information on your readings, reach out to a classmate to see what they think the key takeaways are.

Fill Out Study Guides and Practice Tests

Study guides are common in college classes, but not every professor will be kind enough to put one together. If your professor happens to be one of those kind souls, definitely take the time to fill out the study guide!

Sometimes, there’s that classmate who will make a Google Doc out of the study guide and share it with the whole class, so everyone can contribute to filling it out. While this strategy is a time-saver, it’s really the people taking the time to fill out the study guide who’s benefiting the most. Students who are free riding off of their work will not absorb the information as well. That being said, don’t only rely on this shared study guide when it comes to studying!

As for practice tests, well, just do them! That's all there is to it. You're missing out on a big resource if you don't! See what you know and don't know before the real test. You'll thank yourself later.

Write Down Questions

When you study, you will come across hard-to-comprehend material. Instead of having a meltdown like this student, take this opportunity to write down whatever question or confusion you have. Move onto studying other material and get back to those topics later. There’s no use wasting your energy wracking your brain over something that’s simply too hard.

Ask these questions to your professor during class or office hours. You can even ask your classmates to see if they have the answer. Taking note of the material you need more work on is a great way to get yourself grounded and gauge how prepared you are for the test. If you’re confused on one or two topics, you’ll have to time study up on them!

Internalization > Memorization

College is an investment for yourself, not just a thing that you have put up with for the next four years. Students who hold the latter attitude tend to only focus on getting good grades in college no matter the costs. They take shortcuts by procrastinating on studying, while also holding information in their memory banks only for when the test comes around.

Memorizing the lecture material, but not going much deeper than that, is not studying best practice. By doing this, you are only focusing on the what, but not the why. While studying, ask yourself why things are the way they are. Try to make connections to other lessons to really solidify what you’re learning.

Flash cards are a big culprit to short-term memorization. You learn more from making the flash cards than actually using them. It may feel like finding gold when you come across a Quizlet that covers the exact material that will be on your test, but only use this resource to complement your studying – don’t rely on it completely. Steering clear of memorization is the best way to ensure that you will be able to answer those tough test questions.

Study in Groups

Studying in groups is a great way to get a feel of where you are when it comes to knowing the lecture material and where you should be. Treat those study sessions like a discussion. If someone has differing answers from you when you both completed the practice test, discuss your reasoning.

There’s strength in numbers! If your whole study group is confused on a topic, you could email your professor so then he or she will spend more time clarifying the topic in class for everyone to benefit from.

A word of caution: make sure that these study sessions are productive. It’s easy for a group of students to get off track.

Go to Office Hours

Nothing beats getting clarification directly from the source: your professor! Keep in mind that the weeks leading up to exam day is when office hours are the busiest. If you want to have more on-on-one time with your professor, schedule an appointment or go into office hours earlier. Bring your questions and be ready to take notes. Taking this extra step will make you that much more prepared for that exam!


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