Exams. We all take them. We all want to ace them. Studying for exams can be overwhelming, especially as a freshman. I remember wondering if I would ever discover the secret to successful exam preparation. As a junior I still don’t have it figured out, but experience has taught me a few things. I asked Alexis Miller and Heather Karle to share their favorite study strategies as well. Here are seven study tips for owning your next exam.
- Build a good foundation.
Take comprehensive notes in class and highlight the information you don’t understand or are unfamiliar with. Do the reading and take notes while you read. Karle calls this “steeping” in the material.
- Ask questions.
Go to your professors with questions. Ask upperclassman questions. Ask your advisor questions. Ask yourself questions: what information do I understand? What information do I not understand? Ask questions until you have answers.
- Give yourself enough time.
Test in four weeks? Start now. Review class notes the same day you take them. Focus on specifics: dates, facts, names, places, theories, formulas, and terms. Karle summarizes information before she goes to bed and reviews it again when she wakes up. Become familiar with the information so when it comes time for serious review the week before the exam, you’re ready.
- Take productive breaks.
Take a power nap (twenty minutes is the magic number). Write a letter home. Listen to music, talk to friends, or eat a snack. Organize your closet, paint a picture, or watch a funny video. Do anything fun for twenty minutes. This is not procrastination. This is rest for your brain.
- Teach someone else the information.
Grab your roommate or a classmate and talk through the information. This is one of the best ways to learn because it involves the long term part of your memory. Miller offers this encouragement: “If you can explain a concept to your friend, you can explain it on the test.”
- Know when to ask for help.
I’m an English major, so math is not high on my list of favorite pastimes. I also have dyscalculia, a learning disability similar to dyslexia but with numbers instead. I passed Contemporary Math only because my professor extended grace and a friend tutored me through the rough sections. It was hard to ask for help but I’m glad I did.
- Know your learning style.
Study the way you learn best. I’m a visual/kinesthetic learner so I doodle pictures to help me remember facts, pace as I review notes, and make up motions to go with concepts. Alexis Miller creates concept maps involving colors, fonts, and drawings to help remember the significance of information in the big picture. Karle physically rewrites the material, and also likes pacing. Once you know how you learn best half the battle is won.
Here is a great quiz for discovering your learning style: vark questionnaire.