Another exam season has arrived – and you’re probably thinking it came way too fast. Don’t panic – we’ve compiled a few tips to make sure you study the best you can to retain the most information.
- Stay healthy, both mentally and physically
- Stay focused and eliminate distractions
- Give yourself time
- Create a plan
- Stay organized
- Draw pictures
- Use old exams and practice questions
- Talk about it
- Take breaks
- Know your study style
Your body won’t function properly if your brain is lacking energy. Now is not the time to eat chips or skip meals. Eat on your normal schedule, and eat well. The last thing you want to do is get sick or feel lethargic when you need your brain in tip-top shape. Remember to also keep a positive attitude about exams (as difficult as that sounds) – you may be stressed, but know you’re trying your best and keep your focus on the light at the end of the tunnel.
Shut off your phone and put your technology away. If you need your laptop for notes, disable your internet connection; that way, if you’re even tempted to log onto Facebook, the “you are not connected to the internet” warning will remind you of what you should be doing. If you live with roommates, make sure they know you need space and silence for your study time; if they can’t help socializing, relocate to a library.
Generally, exam season comes right after end-of-semester essay season, which follows almost-end-of-semester presentation season, which follows midterms. You feel like you have zero study time. Realize that even if it’s not much, you just need to make the most of it. Postpone outings with your friends until after exams. Stop complaining about not having time (you’re just wasting it!), buckle down and use the time you’ve got. If you have a free night in between assignments, use it to review what you’ve learned recently. Anything you can do during the semester will help when it comes to exam season.
Spend the first half hour of study time preparing yourself mentally and getting organized. Figure out what you need to study, and how much time you have. Divide the work up over that amount of time and study different sections each day/hour (depending how tight your schedule is). Use the last day of your study time to do a full review. Don’t get stuck on one concept and spend your entire study time on it.
Make sure your study space is clear of any distractions, extra papers, or garbage. At the beginning and end of each study session, clean up your workspace. It will help psychologically – your brain will feel decluttered. Start each day fresh and keep track of what you’ve made progress on. If it helps, make a list of the topics you need to cover, and cross each one off as you complete it. You’ll feel accomplished.
We’re not talking about scribbles of cats and dogs. Draw a chart or image that pertains to your studies. Even a simple flow chart of steps in a process could do wonders. Sometimes in exams, these are easier for your brain to remember than pages and pages of words. Don’t be afraid to use some colour, but keep your drawings simple; don’t waste your time getting that arrow perfectly straight.
If you can get your hands on exams from previous years (which many professors give out as examples), don’t discount them. Study for a while, then try the exam. Chances are your professor will not use the exact same exam, but at least you’ll get an idea of their style and how questions might be phrased.
You’d be surprised how much easier it is for information to stick in your head when you say it out loud. Meet up with a friend and talk out your responses to questions, and you’ll quickly realize which concepts you understand, and which you may need to spend more time on. Take this opportunity to ask your friend questions about topics you’re fuzzy on, or book an appointment with your teaching assistant or professor.
Don’t try to study for 24 hours straight. You will get tired, and your brain will get tired. You’ll stop retaining information. It’s a good idea to take short breaks, even just for a 5 minute stretch, every half hour or hour. Get some food and fresh air. Give the information you’ve been studying a chance to sink in, and then get back to the books. Set aside time at the end of each study session to relax – don’t go to bed stressing about the exam. Your body needs sleep! Listen to some music or read a book to wind down.
Not everyone studies the same way. You may retain information the best when you talk to a friend; others may need quiet reading time; others may need to write things out repetitively. By now, you should know what works for you. Don’t study with your friends because it’s what they need. If you don’t work well that way, do your own thing. Your friends won’t be writing your exam with you, so make sure you do what’s going to work for you.
Did we miss a study tip? Tweet us @StudentsDotOrg and let us know!
Good luck with your studying – the end is near!