9 Steps to Studying for College Exams
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1 Don’t wait till the last minute
Be sure to start studying early. Typically, you should expect to commit 2-3 hours outside of class for every hour inside of class. Students that study each week perform better than students who try to cram before exams. At a minimum, start studying 2 weeks before any exam. Dedicating high quality study time is the best tool for preparing for exams. Be sure to schedule your study time in your Lang Planner or bullet journal college planner.
2 Take good notes during class
Be sure to take good and adequate notes during class. It’s impossible to write down every word your instructor says. Finding a way to use shorthand can be useful. If your instructor provides notes or an outline before class, print it. By having the notes printed, you can focus on adding new information provided by your instructor during class instead of trying to copy every word of their presentation.
3 Watch for hints from your instructor
The amount of time your instructor spends on a topic likely is a direct indicator of how important your instructor thinks the topic is. If your instructor circles, stars, or highlights something, be sure to take note. Often instructors will say, “this will be on the exam.” Be sure to mark that warning in your notes.
4 Study with your peers
“Two heads are better than one.” Seriously, study with your peers (but not necessarily your friends). By studying with other students, you have to discuss the topics. This type of discussion actually helps you to learn. Also, your friends may be able to explain something you are struggling with. As strange as it may seem, studying with your peers may become some of your best memories of college.
5 Complete all suggested homework
If your instructor assigns homework, be sure to complete it. It can be tempting to only complete homework that is collected for a grade. But, completing homework is like completing skill drills in sports. Learning takes repetition and homework is your opportunity to practice for your class. Reworking problems more than once, can even be helpful.
6 Get help when needed
a. Visit your instructor’s office hours.
b. Get a tutor. Many universities offer free tutors for some or all classes. If not, consider hiring an upperclassman or graduate student.
c. Attend SI. Supplemental instruction (SI) is common on regional, state school campuses. An upperclassman will attend class with you and then run group study sessions. If your university offers this service, take advantage of it.
7 Don’t cram the night before
As tempting as cramming is, it's not worth it. To avoid cramming be sure to start studying early. The day or night before, focus on practicing skills and use flashcards to help you remember terms. Limit your studying time to no more than a few hours to allow your brain time to digest any new material and to rest.
8 Get a minimum of 6 hours of sleep
You need sleep to perform at your highest level. 8 hours is ideal. Try not to drop below 6 hours of sleep the night before an exam. Learn more about ways to improve sleep in college here. If you need to sleep during daylight hours or if you have artificial light that shines into your room, consider purchasing blackout curtains from Best Blackout Curtains to improve your sleep quality.
9 Be sure to eat breakfast
Your brain needs fuel. Be sure to eat breakfast and drink water the morning of an exam to help supply your brain with the nutrients it needs.
10 Don’t look up the answers after the exam
Okay, I promised 9 steps. But, this one is important for the next exam. After you take an exam, let it go. Wait at least a few days before looking up the answers. Looking up the answers immediately after an exam can set you up for a pattern that will lead to increased test anxiety. So, after you take an exam, relax and do something to get your mind off of the exam.
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