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Exam Study Strategies that REALLY Work!

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Why Can Studying for Exams Be Such A Challenging Task?

  • It can be overwhelming to study 5 months worth of material for one test
  • Sometimes we are exhausted by the end of the semester
  • The exam can be worth a fairly high percentage of our final mark in the course
  • We often have 1-3 other exams we also need to be studying for…where do we find the time?
  • We don’t teach students how to study, we assume they know how best to do this, for every individual subject area

How Do Students Make Exam Studying An Even MORE Stressful Experience?

  • They have unorganized and/or incomplete notes from the course
  • They have not been asking questions along the way to ensure understanding
  • They don’t budget their time wisely or start studying far enough ahead of time
  • They don’t consider ways to make the most of their studying time
  • They don’t recognize the time and effort that will be required to be adequately prepared for the exam
  • They don’t adjust other priorities during exam time to make the exams their primary focus

The Keys to Effective Studying

  • Effective study skills must be practiced in order to improve
  • It’s not enough to “think about” studying – you actually have to do it and then reflect on what you could be doing better

General Exam Study Tips…Tested and True!

  • Begin studying no less than 30-60 minutes after a meal
  • Never study within 30 minutes of going to sleep
  • Prioritize!  Make a list of what you intend to study and prioritize the list
  • Study no more than 45-60 minutes at a stretch, and then take breaks
  • Take breaks away from your desk and do something different
  • Try to continue your daily habits as usual (don’t drastically reduce your sleep, eliminate exercise, or overeat)

Creating the Right Environment for Studying

When deciding where you should do your exam studying consider the following:

  • Make sure the environment is moderately comfortable (furniture, temperature)
  • Work somewhere where you will be free of distractions (phone, TV, MSN etc.)
  • Try to use a space that is YOURS only and doesn’t have to be shared with other family members
  • Keep the study space organized with a  specific place for paper, pens, books etc.
  • Have everything you need to study with you before you sit down so you don’t waste time looking for things

The Value of a Study Schedule

  • It will not be possible to allocate your time effectively if you don’t have a schedule to keep you focused and realistic about what you need to accomplish
  • The time taken to create the schedule is well worth it – it will save you much time that could have been lost to disorganization, stress, and poor planning

The Keys to Effective Exam Study Scheduling

  • Obtain an exam outline for each of your courses including what material will be covered, the length of, and format of the exam
  • Complete all of the preparation that will be required for you to study effectively BEFORE you sit down and actually study (i.e. complete missing homework, correct tests, organize notes in order etc.)
  • Realistically plan for the amount of time that you think will be required to review the material for the course at least twice…and then double that amount of time
  • Decide which previous commitments will need to go “on hold” while you are studying (i.e. reducing shifts at work, no baby-sitting etc.)
  • Make every hour count in your schedule – time at lunch, before school, after school
  • Begin to study for each exam AT least a week before it will take place to have plenty of time to ask questions, review etc.
  • Give yourself reasonable breaks (15-30 min) and try to maintain as “normal” a schedule as possible in terms of sleep time, eating time etc.

Proven Study Strategies

SQ3R

  • Survey – get the best overall picture of what you’re going to study before you do it
  • Question – ask questions to reinforce your own learning
  • Read – actively read over the material and be alert to main ideas, bolded terms, and key understandings and details
  • Recite – recalling and then orally or through writing communicating the information – make connections
  • Review – re-reading, summarizing key points, testing yourself, asking final questions

Getting Organized

  • ​Putting time into organizing notes and other papers for the course
  • Reading with Purpose
  • Getting the Main Ideas
  • Questioning yourself about the main “points” from the notes, assignments, or chapters you are reviewing
  • Considering key information that support the main ideas, and thus, give them more meaning
  • Bolding, underlining, and categorizing information that you are study to give it more meaning
  • ​Making notes on key main ideas, supporting details, and connections between concepts from print sources 
  • Memorization Strategies

Some material for your courses will simply require that you memorize the information.  This comes easy to some people, but not all.  Here are some strategies that you can try:

  • Acronym:  ie. PMAT for phases of mitosis (Prophase, Metaphase, Anaphase, Telophase)
  • Acrostic:  i.e. Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally stands for the order of operations in math (Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction) 
  • Rhyme Keys:  memorize key words that can be associated with numbers,  example- bun = one, two = shoe, three = tree etc.  Then come up with visuals to remember a list, ie. Cheese on a bun, a cow with shoes on etc.)
  • Method of Loci:  imagining a list of items in a location you are familiar with and the events that are taking place 
  • Image-Name Technique:  invent a relationship between the name of something and one of it’s physical traits (i.e. curly-haired Shirley Temple)
  • Chaining:  creating a story where each word or idea you have to remember cues the next idea you have to recall – i.e. a story where a character in a Shakespeare play bumps into four other characters as he goes for a walk

The Problem with Concentration

At times when you may be trying to study for exams…

  • Your mind may wander from one thing to another
  • Your worries may distract you
  • Outside distractions may take you away from your studies before you know it
  • ​You may find the material boring, difficult, and/or not interesting

Concentration Strategies

Here are some strategies students can use to focus during study time:

  • Study in a set place that is naturally free of distractions
  • When your mind wanders, tell yourself, “now is when I must study”
  • Stick to a routine, realistic, and effective study schedule
  • Focus on your goals with the material you are studying, each and every time
  • Change your study topics every 1-2 hours to keep things interesting
  • Vary your study activities – don’t try and study in the same way for more than an hour or so
  • Take regular scheduled breaks and enjoy them!
  • Give yourself rewards for even small achievements with your studying

Student Study Strategies that DON’T work

  • Reading information out loud without writing it down
  • Glossing over notes without “proving” you know it (by teaching someone else, by writing it down from memory etc.)
  • Highlighting texts or novels
  • Reviewing the material only one time
  • Studying with someone else – unless you are equally committed and focused
  • Staying up really late or pulling an all-nighter

Types of Exams:  The Objective Exam

Here are some helpful tips when writing an objective exam:

  • Survey the entire exam first to see what kinds of questions are being asked, length etc.
  • Quickly budget for how much time you’ll spend on each question
  • Read over each question carefully
  • Answer easy questions first to save time and build confidence
  • Pick out key words in the questions to ensure you don’t misunderstand
  • Circle any questions you have difficulty with so you can go back to them at the end of the exam
  • For multiple choice, read each option separately and determine whether each statement is true or false – GUESS IF YOU DON”T KNOW!
  • Leave yourself at least 15 minutes at the end of the exam to review your answers and ensure you didn’t make any silly mistakes

Types of Exams:  The Essay Exam

Here are some helpful tips when writing an essay exam:

  • Do any initial preparation the teacher allows for (i.e. novel review, outlining different topics)
  • Read over the entire exam first
  • Quickly budget for the amount of time you’ll be able to spend on each question
  • Number questions exactly to match the question numbers
  • Outline your answer to the question before you begin writing
  • Pay attention to key words that indicate what you are being asked to do
  • Start with an intro and end with a conclusion for each question
  • Answer questions directly – don’t beat around the bush
  • Leave time at the end to check for spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, clarity of ideas etc.

Coping with Exam Anxiety

Exam anxiety can be viewed in two different ways:

  • Poor coping with the inevitable stress of an exam BEFORE it takes place

OR

  • ​A strong emotional reaction of fear that interferes with thinking clearly DURING the exam

Exam Anxiety Symptoms

Students who have exam anxiety often report the following symptoms:

  • Memory blocks or “blanking out” on things that you have studied
  • Fear of failing before the exam is even written
  • Physical symptoms such as rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, sweating etc.
  • Lower reading comprehension
  • Poor attention and inability to concentrate

The key to dealing effectively with exam anxiety is to work on what you have control over (how you study, what you study etc.) and not worry about what you can’t control (kinds of questions, how other students perform etc.)​

Tips for Coping with Exam Anxiety

Be Prepared Early

  • Set up a study schedule at least 2 weeks before your exam

Sleep Well

  • Maintaining a regular sleep schedule helps reduce stress and increase performance

Keep the same caffeine and sugar intake

  • Greatly increasing either of these substances can actually impair brain functioning by throwing off your body’s metabolism

Learn relaxed breathing

  • When you get stressed, taking some slow, relaxed breaths can help you think clearly again

Stop studying at least 1-2 hours before bedtime the night before

  • Studying right up until the last minute increases your anxiety and will impair your ability to sleep

Review main themes

  • Go over main ideas or concepts in the material to reinforce that you do understand the “big picture”

Have a plan before the exam

  • As part of your studying, think about how you will approach the exam and what you will do when you run into trouble

Aim to do your best

  • ​Recognize and turn off your negative self-dialogue – focus on the task at hand and simply aim to do your best.

The Day of The Exam…

  • Wake up at a reasonable time so you can get ready at a leisurely pace and have breakfast
  • Carry your notebook to the exam but don’t open it – will have it there if you absolutely need it
  • Stay away from other stressed-out students who may get you worried before the exam
  • Admit to yourself that you will not know all of the answers on the exam…and that’s okay!
  • Try the “memory dump” strategy
  • ​Write down everything you can think of on a piece of scrap paper after the exam has begun…and then start writing the exam

In Summary…

  • Studying is an important component of being prepared for your final exams
  • Any sort of studying is inherently stressful, but there are ways to manage it to reduce the stress
  • Your approach to studying will vary depending on the subject matter you’re studying (see subject-specific suggestions in your package)
  • The keys to effective studying are all about planning – it’s a good idea to start that process NOW!

Good luck on your final exams!​