As final exams approach, it can seem like a week that you will never survive; and yet, each year, millions of students do. The trick is to survive and feel like you gave it your best effort without all the stress and sleepless nights cramming the night before. Here are 8 top tips to help for mastering exams and get better test grades:
- Get organized: Take the time to sort through all the materials you have for a course to figure out which ones will help you study for the exam and what you don’t need anymore. Old tests and quizzes should automatically go into the “to study pile,” including any study guides or Quizlets you created during the course. Using old test questions to create a practice exam is a great way to use what you have to get ready for the big day!
- Plan it out: How long should you spend studying for each exam? That depends on the subject, how long you normally need to study for tests, what your long-term memory is like, etc. A good rule of thumb is that you should spend at least 6 hours for easier subjects and 8-10 hours for harder subjects. It might sound like a lot, but if you plan it out, it will work in your favor. Here are some examples of how to break it up:
Click here for FREE EXAMPLE and BLANK TEMPLATE to create your own study schedule for mastering your exams
BONUS TIP 1: The week of exams, it makes the most sense to study the subjects the night before you have the test.
BONUS TIP 2: Always try to study your hardest subjects earlier in the day and save the easier ones for last.
- Be honest with yourself: Do you really remember the quadratic formula from the first half of the year? Can you prove it by writing it out? Our brains like to play tricks on us by saying, “Oh yeah that looks familiar, I must remember it.” Test yourself to see if you really do remember it. Don’t just gloss over things – sort information into categories of:
- a) I remember this really well
- b) I kind of remember this
- c) I really need to spend more time on this
This kind of honesty will help you know how to use your time best and keep you from wasting your studying sessions.
- Ask questions about the exam format: The more you know about an exam, the more you know how to study for it! Is it an essay exam or a true-or-false section with some short answers? Knowing what type of exam should influence how you study – are you using flash cards to review facts for multiple-choice questions or are you writing outlines for possible essay questions you found online from practice tests?
- Take breaks: Your brain loses focus after a certain period of time when sitting still. So try taking a walk for five to ten minutes every forty-five minutes. Get your blood flowing and get more oxygen to the brain to wake it up and get ready to dive back in. Don’t study for more than three hours at a time without a significant break. You might need to take a five-minute break every half an hour, or maybe you like to go straight for two hours and take a half-hour break. Breaks should be fun and active. Catch up with your cell phone during a break while walking on a treadmill, play with your dog, or sing I will Survive at the top of your lungs. Do whatever helps you reboot your brain for the next round!
- Take care of yourself: Breaks are a great time to hydrate and snack to keep your blood sugar levels steady. You know your mind and body need a little TLC to make it through finals, so make it a part of your plan. Keep up your exercise routine and don’t drastically change your sleep routine. The more your body stays in balance, the better stamina you will have to not only survive the week but to thrive during crunch week.
- Be active not passive: Some people think studying is just rereading over a text and notes for a class. Successful students know that making studying active is the key to success on the test:
Having a hard time memorizing the bones in the body? Turn it into a song and sing it out loud.
Can’t remember how to do a certain type of math problem? Look it up on Khan Academy, watch the video, and do the practice problems.
Not sure which elements you will need to know for the chemistry exam? Make yourself a practice exam using the elements you think are the hardest.
By comparison, the real exam should be easy. The more you are actually typing, taking notes, sorting, writing, making, singing, talking with a study partner, summarizing, etc., the more active your brain is. The more parts of the brain you are using to study, the more roads you are building to the stored information in your brain. The better the road, the easier it will be able to retrieve during an exam.
- Know when to ask for help: We all hit a wall at some point during exam preparation. Know when you are really struggling and ask for help. Do you need a parent to take you out for frozen yogurt so you can have a real conversation and feel human again for a moment? Do you need a teacher to review a specific concept with you because you just can’t figure it out? Do you need a friend to email you a scan of a study guide you lost? We all need help sometimes – just don’t be afraid to ask for it.
An ounce of good preparation is worth a pound of less stress during the test, making it possible to keep balanced through finals and help your brain function at its best for the duration of the week.
Good luck, but…having a good individualized study plan and sticking to it is really all the “luck” you’ll need to mastering your exams!