We’re now in the month of April, which means one thing: exam season is here!
We’ve previously discussed some proactive long-term study tips to ensure that you have a good grasp of course content by the time exam season rolls around. But even if you’ve been following these effective study tips all semester long, you still have to approach studying during exam season a little differently than regular review sessions.
Keep in mind that there isn’t a one size fits all approach! The final exam study guide you need depends entirely on your specific circumstances. What’s your learning style? What courses are you enrolled in? What resources do you have access to? All of these factors will affect how you should approach studying.
This list of tips and tricks will help you develop a study guide that will maximize your time and optimize each and every study session between the end of classes and your exam dates. We’ll go over how to develop your study schedule, a few techniques and apps that will help you track your progress, and the importance of allowing yourself to rest and recover.
Let’s get to it!
Tip #1: Identify Exam Content
Before actually starting to study, you have to know what exactly is going to be on the exam. There are a couple of ways to identify this content:
- Asking your professors or TAs
- Looking through the course syllabus
Your course instructors are usually more than happy to provide whatever information you need to help you ace your exams. They want you to succeed! They often share helpful information about the exam’s length, structure, and content in the last few classes. It’s also common for professors or TAs to dedicate office hours to answering any lingering questions students have before the exam. We highly recommend you attend these classes and office hours.
If your course instructors aren’t offering any exam review sessions but you still have additional questions, don’t be afraid to ask them anyway! Instructors welcome visitors during their regularly scheduled office hours and are usually open to meeting with students on an appointment basis as well. If you can’t schedule to speak face to face, you can always send them an email with your questions. Make sure to write clearly and concisely to effectively communicate your questions and to allow your instructor to properly address them.
Before speaking with your instructors, review the course material beforehand to make sure that your questions can’t be answered through the contents of your textbook or class notes. While the instructor is there as a resource and a form of support, you want to demonstrate that you respect their time by trying to address your questions independently first. Once you’ve reviewed your course content, compile any outstanding questions and decide whether office hours, meetings by appointment, or emails are the best way to find your answers.
Your syllabus is also a great resource to identify key concepts that are likely to be on the exam. Most professors include a section in their syllabi labelled “learning goals” or “learning outcomes.” This section clearly lists the key concepts that you should understand by the end of the semester and are generally key pieces of the course content that are worth reviewing before heading into your final exam.
Tip #2: Make a Study Schedule and Stick to It
Once you’ve identified the key pieces of course content that you have to review, it’s time to create a realistic study schedule that you can stick to. Developing a schedule is all about breaking course content down into manageable chunks so that you can study the relevant content effectively and avoid pulling an all-nighter the night before your exam.
To develop your schedule, start by identifying the number of exams you have to study for as well as the exact dates of each. How much time do you have between now and then that you can dedicate to focused study?
Be specific when identifying the amount of study time you have each day. Then specify which subject(s) you should cover during that time. This will depend on the date of each exam. For example, if one exam is in a few days and a second one is in two weeks, the first few days of studying will be allocated mainly towards the first exam.
As you prepare for this exam, you should still allocate a smaller percentage of your time towards the material of your second exam. Doing so will allow you to identify questions you may have about key concepts, and give you sufficient time to reach out to your prof or TA. The point is to learn to split your study time appropriately based on your exam dates and time that you have available. Keep in mind that you’ll also have to factor in any extracurricular activities or work commitments.
From here, you have to get even more specific, identifying which chapters or concepts to cover during each of your study sessions. While you might be tempted to study course content in the order it was taught, consider ordering the content you need to study like this instead:
- What will definitely be on the exam
- What will probably be on the exam
- What might be on the exam
Studying course content in this order ensures that you’ve covered the most important information first. This way, in the circumstance that you run out of time and can’t review every single chapter, you’ve at least covered the content that you’ll definitely see on the exam.
Here’s a sample exam schedule to give you a better idea of what your exam schedule might look like. The hypothetical student to whom this schedule belongs is preparing for three exams – a psychology exam on April 10th, a children’s literature exam on April 12th, and a history of the English exam April 15th:
Now that you’ve put your study schedule together, you have to structure your study sessions effectively. A great way to do this is to use the Pomodoro Technique. Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Decide on a task or goal. In this case, this is the specific chapters or concepts you want to cover in an individual study session.
Step 2: Work for 25 minutes. Set aside all distractions and turn off phone notifications so you can focus exclusively on the content you’re studying.
Step 3: Take a 5 to 10 minute break. Get a drink of water, stretch, or get a snack.
Step 4: Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you’ve completed 4 rounds. At this point, take a 20 to 30 minute break.
Step 5: Repeat steps 1 to 4 until you’ve reached your study goal.
Using this study technique ensures that you’re taking frequent breaks, which is important to help your brain consolidate information and avoid study fatigue.
Tip #3: Use Active Study Methods
Having a study schedule is great. But how do you make the most of every single study session? The key is to use active study methods. This means interacting with the content in meaningful ways rather than merely rereading your notes. Some examples of active study methods include…
- Identifying main points or concepts and rewriting them in your own words
- Using practice questions provided by your professors or textbooks
- Developing your own questions and answering them
- Rephrasing or reformatting course notes into tables that link key concepts together
- Explaining the content out loud, either to yourself or to someone else
- Using flashcards
The point of each of these study methods is to interact with the content in new ways that deepen your understanding of the information. Merely rereading or rewriting course notes verbatim won’t do much to further your understanding of course content!
The methods that work best for you heavily depend on your learning styles. If you’re an interpersonal learner, study groups might work for you. If you’re a visual and spatial learner, reorganizing your notes into tables or mind maps might help you grasp key concepts. If you’re a verbal learner, creating your own practice questions might be the way to go.
The best way to learn which study methods work well for you is to explore a few different ones. Which ones helped you understand the content on a deeper level and remember it better? Start there and incorporate other methods into your study sessions as you go along.
Looking for some tools to help you track your time and progress? Look no further! Here are a few suggestions that will help you stick to your study schedule:
- AnkiApp is a flashcard app that tracks your progress and leaves more time between presentations of the same cards as you gain a better grasp of the content.
- Forest allows you to help the environment while studying. After setting a timer for the duration of your study session, a virtual tree starts growing. The tree dies if you exit the app before the timer goes off but, if you reach your goal, you gain coins that you can use to plant a real tree in a developing country.
- Freedom is a plugin that blocks specific websites for a set duration. It’s a good alternative to turning your WIi-Fi off in case you need the internet to access course content but don’t want to be tempted to scroll through your social media instead.
Tip #4: Form a Study Group
There are multiple benefits to studying with other people. Regular study group sessions will hold you accountable for your study goals and will also provide you with a sense of comradery. It’s nice to know you’re not the only one struggling with certain concepts or feeling anxious about your finals!
It’s also a great active study method. It offers you the opportunity to explain content to other people, rephrasing it as necessary or breaking it down into smaller, more easily digestible pieces to make sure they understand it completely. Conversely, if you’re struggling with a subject, hearing someone else’s explanation might be helpful.
There are a few ways you can maximize your study sessions. For example, why not put together a practice test as a group? Each member of the group can select three questions from previous exams, tests, assignments, or quizzes that you can compile and discuss the answers once everyone has completed it.
You can also introduce games into your study group sessions to learn while alleviating some of the pressure of exam season. For example, the Charades app allows you to put together your own deck. Why not make a custom deck relating to key terminology from your course? You could study, bond with your classmates, and have some well-earned fun all at the same time.
Tip #5: Rest & Recover
Getting enough rest is crucial to acing your exams. Without sufficient rest, your brain can’t properly store the information in your long-term memory which will hinder your ability to recall it when you’re writing your exams. Additionally, getting enough rest will reduce your anxiety and maintain your energy throughout your study sessions.
So make sure you’re taking regular breaks during your study sessions and getting enough sleep at night! Because your need for sleep increases when you’re learning and memorizing;you actually need even more sleep than usual. Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep every night in the weeks leading up to your exams.
In fact, creating a sleep schedule is equally as important as developing a study schedule. Set an alarm at the same time every night. Once it goes off, put aside your technology and spend a little time without screens before heading to bed. This is important because blue light emitted by your devices suppresses your body’s production of melatonin – the hormone that your brain produces at night and is key to maintaining your circadian rhythm. Consider reading something light and enjoyable instead of spending the hours before bed scrolling through Instagram.
And there you have our top five study tips for finals season! Remember to break your studies down into manageable chunks, discover the active study methods that work best for you, and get lots of rest in the weeks leading up to your exams.
The I Got In team wishes you the best of luck on your finals!