How to study for an exam

Exam time is upon us and so many students will find themselves stressing while trying to cram as much information into their heads as possible. Being a student AND a teacher myself, I know what it’s like to be on both sides. Luckily for me, I won’t have to take any exams until I feel like doing it again. All I have left uni wise are papers, but the last one I took was just this past December. Needless to say, I know a few things about taking exams, but also about making them and what teachers look for. So here are my tips on taking and studying for exams.

1.) Know your topic

Knowing the topic of the exam will help you greatly. I have had students who never show up to class and then act all surprised when they fail. Usually teachers will not only just explain things, but also give a hint or two on the type of questions you can expect and which information will be most important. Going to class and at least attending will help you sort the important from the mundane which will help you with your exam.

2.) Know the type of exam

The type of exam is about as important as the topic. Will you have to answer open questions? How elaborate should you be when answering those questions? Do you have to write mini essays or should you just be able to give the right answer? Or perhaps it’s a multiple choice exam? Different exams, take different approaches. If your exam means you have to write a perfect English letter, you will have to practice more and ask for feedback from your teacher. Is it a knowledge based multiple choice exam? Then maybe reviewing class notes may be all that is needed.

3.) Determine your strategy

Based on the topic and type of exam you can now decide on your strategy. If the topic of the exam is not your cup of tea or it’s simply something you’re not good at, spending a bit more time on that may actually be wise. I dislike anything having to do with numbers with a passion, so having to pass a major statistics exam was not something I looked forward to. However, I decided to put some extra work into it (attended all classes; asked every question that popped into my head; made a summary based on notes, PPT slides and the book; and then I spend another 8 hours just learning everything by heart) and I passed just fine. Topics you find easier or enjoy more are usually a bit easier to tackle.

Another aspect to take into account is to look at the amount of stuff you have to read/ revise/ go through. For statistics is was just a bunch of lecture notes and parts of a book, but for my English literature courses I had to take exams based on 13 novels and 2 – 3 articles of background literature each. Keeping those apart and being able to answer those questions required more work as the volume of the course was simply larger. The more work you had to do for the classes, the more you will have to revise for the exam. Just keep that in mind.

4.) Time management

Teachers and parents will always tell you to start on time, but that’s because they never did that themselves when they were still in school. In theory there aren’t that many people who start at least a week in advance. When I was a full time student I certainly didn’t. Now, with work and stuff in the mix, it is more difficult for me to just whip out a text book the night before and get it done. So I do tend to start earlier nowadays. However, just try to calculate, based on the difficulty of the topic and thus which strategy you’ve chosen, how much time you’d need to get all the work done.

5.) My favorite strategies

These are the strategies that have always worked for me:

  • Attend as many classes as possible.
  • Try to prepare as many classes as possible.
  • Take active part in your class if it is based on discussion. It allows you to think about the topic before the exam.
  • Make summaries of the books/ chapters/ articles and try to incorporate your class notes if possible.
  • Reread books/ articles.
  • Ask your teacher any questions you have.
  • Take additional lessons if needed.
  • Revise as many times as needed. I love to read my summary a few times and then test myself, by grabbing a blank sheet of paper and a pen and just write it all down. I try to do this the night before as well as right before. morning of the exam. On the morning of I reverse the strategy though: I first sit down and try to write down everything I still know, then reread the parts I felt unsure of/ didn’t know. Then I do one or two final checks.

There you go! My tips for taking exams. For everyone taking GCSEs, SATs, finals, eindexamens, tentamens, exams, etc.: good luck!

What is your golden study tip?


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