Studying for exams can be a daunting, often anxiety-inducing task. Let’s be real - no one enjoys studying for exams, but could that be because you haven’t found the way that is most effective for your learning style?
I often hear students say they have no idea the best way to study, and usually, they just blankly stare at the information, not knowing how to absorb it. In my Skills and Academic Support (SAS) classes at Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall, we spend a great deal of time in the first trimester talking about materials, time, and information management, all of which are necessary elements to our learning. More importantly, they are all significant in studying. Let’s break it down…
How can you prepare?
Step 1: Gather Your Materials
Here is where materials management comes into play. Throughout the trimester, you have collected all types of papers such as notes, worksheets, returned tests/quizzes- both physical and electronic. Now, ideally you have kept them tidy in your folders and binders, but sometimes that isn’t the case. I suggest to my students that they do something called a “materials dump.” This is when they empty everything they have from their backpacks, folders, binders, and even electronic devices to locate all of the materials they may need for each subject. Once that is complete, you can move onto the next step.
Step 2: Identify Areas to Focus On
Now that you have all of your materials, it is time to identify the areas to focus on. My students have found success using a chart similar to this one.
Study Tip: Download a What Do I Need to Study? Chart
You can use a separate chart for each subject to help keep you organized. On the chart, you should identify the subject and assignments you are using. Scan through the assignments and look for areas in which you may have struggled or needed more support- these should go in the “Areas to Work on” column. Remember that you should also use your textbooks to look for topics that could use extra review. Once you have completed the What Do I Need to Study sheet, you can move onto the next step.
Step 3: ACTIVELY Study the Areas You Need to Work On
Let’s take a moment to determine what counts as active studying. Active studying is supposed to engage students and help them make connections to the materials. Here are some examples of active studying:
Making an outline of facts
Predicting test questions and answering them
Rewriting your notes
Rereading and making margin notes
Make two-column notes of what you know
Not Active Studying
Looking over your past tests and quizzes
Rereading your notes
Rereading the text
Although these can help support your studying, they are lacking the “active” part. It is not enough to just simply reread your notes, textbook, and look over past tests. Performing the physical act of redoing a problem, rewriting notes, and creating test aids such as flashcards and Quizlets help students to engage with the material, allowing them to better absorb the information for the long-term.
Study Tip: Learn how to make effective two-column notes.
Now that you have some strategies to use when studying, let’s talk about how time factors in. When preparing for exams, you are often given a fair amount of time to prepare. This time is a gift and you need to use it wisely. When doing Step 2: Identify Areas to Focus On, you should spend some time breaking down that list. You can group it into like topics or perhaps by how long you think that specific information will take to review. You don’t want to wait until the last minute to study, so having this list will help you to prioritize what you should be doing and when. Choose a few topics each night to cover and then you won’t be cramming it all in at the end. It is definitely easier said than done, but with practice, you will get the hang of it. I sometimes suggest this to my students when they are preparing for smaller assessments such as tests and quizzes, so they can get in some practice using this technique for bigger exams.
Some additional things to think about:
- Getting a good night sleep before an exam. This is definitely possible when you don’t wait until the last minute to cram information.
- Use your What Do I Need to Study sheet to bring topics and specific questions to your teacher. They are more than happy to help you- remember that they want to see you succeed!
- Add a little color- adding color to your notes creates a visual cue for your brain and helps with memory and information recall.
- Try using color with math formulas as well. Use a different color to indicate each part of a formula.
- y and x never change
- m= slope
- b= y-intercept
Let’s face it- exams are no fun, but with the right strategies- you can and will succeed!
Resources from this Post:
Download: What Do I Need to Study? Chart
More reading: Effective two-column notes
Study Aid: Quizlet