The College Survival Series: 3. How to study for an exam

March 06, 2016

While you're in college, finding the time to revise amidst all the assignments and homework is sometimes difficult.

Then, even if there is time, we sometimes don't know where to start or where to study from, between all the textbooks, summaries, class notes and whatnot. It can get overwhelming.

The following are a few tips that can help you study more effectively and to know what resources you should be using to prepare for an exam.

1. Prepare your summaries or notes in advance

In an ideal world, when you get to exam season, you should already have your class notes and your textbook ready to study and previously underlined, respectively.

It is best to have summaries of the textbook at this stage, especially when it is a particularly big book, as it can become overwhelming to try and read all of it before a test.

Also, if you do make summaries, you can include additional relevant information from lectures, which will make your summaries a single, very reliable and complete study guide. It can get confusing and overwhelming to study from two or three sources at the same time, which is why this method can be the most effective.

2. Find out how you study best

If you study best by writing things down, you may want to do that as you study the material. Just remember, if you do this, try and make it a summarizing exercise again, as it will help you remember the most important information, as well as prevent you from just copying everything out word for word without paying attention.

If you study best by listening, you might want to try and record the lectures and listen to them again or, if that's too time-consuming, record yourself reading your notes or use a text-to-speech software to listen to your notes instead of reading them.

In general, people also memorize and will be able understand things better if they explain them out loud or try to teach them to someone else - try that to see if it works for you! Discussing the more complicated subjects with a friend may also be helpful.

3. Make flashcards for definitions

If you have a lot of definitions to memorize, flashcards are a good option as they make the whole exercise more interactive and less boring. Repetition is key when memorizing.

4. Use mnemonics

If you have to memorize a list of things (e.g. a list of causes; a list of effects; etc.), mnemonics are a really good memorizing technique.
Make the sentence funny or stupid, as long as it makes sense - this will ensure that  you'll never forget it again!

5. Test yourself

Go through the material and transform it into questions to test yourself later. You might think that if you make the questions yourself, it'll be too easy because you'll know the answers to them. Well, good - that's the point!

Don't forget to solve previous exams/tests if they've been made available to you. The professors often follow the same exam format so that will prepare you for the type of questions that may come out on the test/exam (e.g. definition questions and phrases to comment and then maybe a practical exercise) - this tells you how to approach the materials and what you need to pay more attention to (e.g. if definitions never come out on the test, then you may not need to spend so much time memorizing all of them).

Also, while you're solving past papers, you'll be studying and making sense of the material.

6. Don't neglect practical exercises

If you solve any exercises in class, be sure to study them or redo them, if they are particularly difficult.
Applying what you learned is a good way to practise for a test, as well as knowing if you've really mastered the subject. You might think that you understand something but the real test is when you have to apply it practically.

What techniques do you have for studying for a test or an exam? Do you use any of these?

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