Everyone has always hated exam season but I actually kind of like it. I think a lot of that is that I’ve always been pretty good at preparing for exams.
See, exam season to me means that I’m almost done! So yeah, it’s stressful and there’s a lot to get done, but if you know you can get it done, it’s actually kind of exciting to tackle the tests head-on and see the courses check off your to-do list!
The key to all of this, though, is understanding how to prepare for exams. Once you know that, the rest of it doesn’t seem nearly as terrifying. This is my final exam season until grad studies (HOORAY!) so here are the tips that got me through four years of university. I hope they help you, too!
Now, one thing I am going to say immediately is that I’m not going to talk specific study techniques because I wrote a super long post about that on Tuesday this week and don’t want to be redundant.
So if you’re looking for some great study tips, check out my post here: 10 Best Study Tips
And now on to the rest of it!
1. Make a list of everything you need to get done
Absolutely everything. Doesn’t matter how small. Go through your online resource database for the course, the syllabus, your notes, the lecture slides, and the textbook. Write down the following for each course individually:
- The textbook chapters
- The secondary readings
- Lecture powerpoint sets
- Your hand-written notes
- Videos/articles/other mass media resources
You have no idea how many exams I showed up to and then realized I had forgotten to watch that Ted talk that the professor posted… Making a list that you can check off helps you see exactly what you need to get done and streamline your studying process.
Once you make that list, make a folder on your computer and just bring everything you need into that folder, especially if the exam is non-cumulative. You don’t want to miss a document with notes because it was hidden among last midterm’s notes!
This helps me because it puts my mind at ease. If I have a list of everything I need to get done, I can rest easy knowing exactly what is required of me. This helps lower my test-related anxiety while studying and also during the test. If you know that all the material was on that list and that you studied everything on that list, you know the answer. You might just have to think creatively to find it.
2. Go through that list systematically
Don’t just start at the top of the list and then move down. Figure out a system. This is how I go through all the material:
- Add my hand-written or typed up notes I took in class to the powerpoint slides
- Type up all of the slides into one giant document with a page break after each section/unit
- Read through the textbook and add extra information to that document
- Watch videos, read articles, and secondary readings. Add main points to the document.
- Print off giant document and study from that.
If you’ve been going to class and if you’ve been keeping on top of things this really doesn’t take very long at all. Studying for exams should, ideally, be a giant review session, not a time where you actually learn anything for the first time. Of course, that’s never actually the case but as close as you can get is great.
For more information about how I do this part, check out my post here.
3. Talk to your professors
Your professor is the #1 best learning resource available to you for your course. It doesn’t matter if the prof is friendly or not–if they have office hours, use them. They are being paid to teach you material, so use it! That’s what your tuition is for!
After you’ve gone through all the material you need to study, make a list of questions about topics or slides that you don’t understand. Then go to the professor and get clarification on those issues. Often professors have a really great, concise way of explaining it that just makes the light bulb go off, or, if you’re really lucky, your prof will just say something like “Oh, don’t worry about that it’s not on the final.” (That actually happens, people. It’s happened to me many times.)
One of the really great things about talking to your professor about your questions, too, is that you feel more confident about your understanding after than if you had just looked it up on wikipedia. You know that you have the information that your prof is looking for because you got it right from him/her! Then, if it’s on the final, you can feel confident in your answer.
If you’re nervous about talking to your professor, I have this post about the dos and don’ts of talking to your professor that might help you feel more at ease!
4.Review your midterms
While you’re talking to your professor, I would highly recommend going over your midterms to see where you went wrong earlier in the semester as well as where your strengths are. This helps you learn (a) where you need to study more (b) what the professor’s questions are like and (c) what kinds of answers he/she is looking for. Reviewing your midterm has 0 disadvantages and can help you feel so much more prepared for exams than just reading the textbook!
I recommend doing this even if you absolutely aced the midterm. The reason is that it will still remind you what the test was like so that you can prepare more efficiently for the next one!
5. Start a few days in advance
If you’ve been paying attention throughout the semester by going to classes and doing readings every now and then you shouldn’t have to start studying more than a few days before your test. I generally start studying about 3-4 days before the test, no more, sometimes less depending on how prepared I am. Even cumulative exams. That being said, I also have other friends who start studying a week in advance. It depends a lot on your major.
In any case, you do want to start studying more than the night before your final. A quick way to figure out how far in advance you should start is to figure out how many units there are to go through and how many you can go through in a day. If you have 3 exams within 2 days, you might want to start way in advance but if you only have 1 non-cumulative exam with 6 units you can probably start 3 days before and just do 2 units a day. See how that works?
The trick is to be prepared in advance. You want to start thinking about your exams at the end of April NOW so that you don’t get caught off-guard. A little bit of planning goes a long way with exams.
[Tweet “The #1 tip to succeeding in finals: start a few days in advance! Don’t cram
To help you guys out, I created a free printable for you to use to get organized and prepared this exam season! Let me know what you think of it!
What are some of your best tips on how to be prepared for exams? Let me know in the comments below!
I hope this helps you feel ready for your finals these next few weeks! Remember: you can do this! It’s all about being prepared and working hard, and as long as you’ve got those two, you’ll be golden.
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