First things first. Yes, you need to cover the material! Then you need to have a revision plan – a set project to go over the material you’ve studied and to review it. And there needs to be a period of training yourself with dummy exams.
It’s also well established that diet and exercise play into the way you will manage the stress of an exam period. Having a decent breakfast, getting out and walking, cycling or doing yoga, will all help. If you say to yourself, “How can I do that, I don’t have time!”, then you’ve missing the point. That’s exactly when you need to make time.
Make sure all of your course material is well organized so you can find and fill any gaps. If you miss any classes, get the notes from your friends right away instead of scrambling at the last minute. Proper organization will help you to get a better picture of the material that has to be covered and improve the flow of the study process.
Creating a Study Plan
As the exam nears, you will need to create a plan to help you study effectively and minimize stress. The first step is to figure out how much time and effort you must dedicate to studying for the exam by asking the following questions:
- How much material do you need to cover?
- How difficult is the material?
- How much time is available?
- Do you have any other priorities during the study period?
- What is the format of the exam?
- How important is the exam?
- What is your performance target for the exam?
To prepare the study plan, map out all of the material that has to be covered and make a schedule showing what, when and how much you will study each day. If you have kept up with the course work, studying will involve revision of the material that you have already covered. If you are behind in the course, you will have to finish the readings and other uncompleted work before starting the revision (if there isn’t enough time to go over everything, you must decide what is most important for the exam).
Here are some tips to follow in creating your study plan:
- budget your time realistically;
- allocate the study time into several manageable study sessions;
- divide the course material into small segments and assign them to the study sessions;
- set clear and specific goals for the study sessions;
- prioritize to ensure that material weighted more heavily in the exam gets sufficient study time;
- take into account your familiarity with the material and the difficulty level;
- don’t make the study sessions too long;
- study sessions should have enough variety in terms of topics and activities to prevent boredom and loss of effectiveness;
- avoid cramming before the exam; and
- don’t forget to include regular breaks.
Studying for the Exam
You are now armed with a plan and ready to start studying for the exam. Try to study in a location where you can concentrate and won’t be interrupted. You can work with others or join a study group if you find it helpful, but be careful to keep it from turning into an inefficient use of your time. Some proven study tools and techniques are listed below – people respond to different learning styles, so use what works for you.
Revising with Summary Notes
Make a condensed version of your readings and class notes by creating summary notes. Pinpoint the key terms and concepts and make sure that you understand them. You can identify key terms and concepts by paying attention to what has been emphasized in your classes, textbooks and course syllabus. For example, if a particular topic has taken up a lot of time in the classroom, it is more likely to be on the exam and you should have a good understanding of it.
The process of making summary notes can help you to retain more information. By writing the information thoughtfully instead of just seeing it, you can develop a greater perception of the material. To take this further, activate your other senses: you can recite the summary notes aloud, and even record and listen to them.
Memorizing with Flashcards
Flashcards (or “index cards”) are a good memorization tool. Reduce your summary notes into bullet points, keywords, lists, formulas and diagrams and place them onto a card for each topic. (Some people like to use flashcards to prepare their summary notes in the first place, while others find that it leads to information overload.)
The items on the flashcards act as memory triggers. By memorizing the flashcards you can enhance your ability to recall larger bits of information referenced by the triggers. You can carry the cards with you and review them even when you have only short bursts of time available.
Practicing under Exam Conditions
Knowing the course material is necessary but not sufficient to guarantee success on the exam – you also need to be able to communicate the answers effectively under exam conditions. Practice using sample questions in the same format as the exam and answer them in a simulated test environment. The sample questions can be sourced from old exams and assignments, which are often similar from year to year with small changes. Even though you are only practicing, it is better to write full answers to the questions so you can work through the entire thought process.
The practice session should serve as a feedback loop. Check the answers to the practice questions to diagnose your strengths and weaknesses. If you are weak in an area, go back and study it further to address any gaps.
Taking Care of Yourself
Don’t forget to take care of yourself during the exam preparation. It is very important to be in good mental and physical condition for the exam. A small amount of stress can get you psyched, but too much mental or physical strain can be detrimental to your performance. The last thing you want to do is to sabotage your efforts by ignoring your well-being.
After you finish studying, take some time to relax. Don’t stay up too late if you can help it and try to get a good night’s sleep. Eat before the exam to build your energy, but avoid heavy foods that can make you drowsy.
Keep a positive attitude about the exam. Think of it as a way to demonstrate your knowledge and not as some imposing challenge. Go to the exam focused and relaxed – you have done the work, now it’s time to reap the rewards.