Advice from Upperclassmen for How to Study for Exams

So, it’s midterms season… Well… it’s ALWAYS midterm season at Cal Poly. As a fourth year I’ve seen some gnarly exams, and lived through them all to tell the tale (so far). I asked my friends and other upperclassmen students what some of their tips were to surviving midterms, and these are the tips that we came up with as seasoned test taking aficionados. 

1. Give Yourself a Break

What? Why would the first tip on studying for midterms be “take a break?” Aren't we supposed to be learning how to study? Yes. And sometimes that means giving your brain a rest. Take a time out every hour or so, to absorb the information you’ve gone over. Study over a period of time, taking short breaks in between so that you have some time to understand it without burning yourself out and “cramming” it all in at once. 

2. Learn Your Study Style

There are seven styles of learning, and each person is different when it comes to which is best for them. Whether you’re a visual, aural, verbal, physical (kinesthetic), logical, social, solitary, or a mixture of all seven, you can find the method that’s best for you personally. Do some experimenting and figure out whether it’s best for you to learn through hearing the information out loud, explaining what you’ve learned to a friend, acting out something you learned physically, or using flashcards/other visuals to retain information most effectively. 

3. Get Some Solid Rest

Again, that’s not exactly “studying” per say, but if you don't get adequate sleep then your brain wont absorb the information you’ve been trying to memorize, anyway. The night before your exam, get 6 hours of sleep MINIMUM. Seven to eight hours is even better.  Your brain begins to retain information that you’ve learned in the REM sleep which occurs later into your rest, therefore if you skip out on sleep those extra four hours looking at a textbook won’t come to use, anyway. It’s time to show those stubborn “all-nighter” folks that it’s better to know when to stop and rest. That way you’ll be able to be a functioning human being after your test as well so that you can celebrate…

4. A Shared Google Doc Study Guide Can Go a Long Way 

Get some friends/classmates together and create a shared google doc for those classes that just have so much information on the four page study guide you can’t fathom taking in notes on all 11 chapters yourself. 

5. Quizlet is Your Best Friend (and everyone else’s too)

That being said, quizlet online flashcards are also a gift from the exam study gods. Quizlet allows you to create your own guides or look up other guides in your class (from the past or current year) and writing this information down and using “learn mode” has never failed to get across the lesson. 

6. Don’t Panic

Freaking out will only ramp up the anxiety which in turn will cause you to not be able to remember the information that you need to. Set small goals for yourself and stick to them and let yourself be satisfied with those accomplishments rather than worrying about how you haven't used your time well enough yet. 

7. Choose a Good Location to Study

You'll be more productive in a place where you don't do your every day tasks. You can't be compelled to suddenly do laundry if you're in the library (or any other forms of procrastination). research also show that you should choose a location to get work done which is different than one where you usually relax. 

Ex: The bed is solely for winding down with the Friends reruns on Netflix, and the Desk is for the Calc homework. 

8. Pump up Some Jams

It might not be as exciting as the latest JT song (which I’m not sure how I feel about, by the way… retro JT will always be my jam) or the same as being at EDC, but classical music has been proven to help remember information and improve test taking. 

9. Get Rid of Distractions

It’s times like these that the “sleep mode” on your cell phone was made to shine. Put away all distracting electronic devices and resist the urge to check your Facebook every 20 minutes (as well as snapchatting your best friend pics of how good at studying you are, because that’s just counterintuitive). Some apps even restrict your internet access for you, there is software that will restrict your use of sites like social media. Close out all of your tabs that aren’t related to the subject you're studying for, or create a new browser window dedicated solely to that one subject/task.  

College is a stressful time, but it should also be a time to enjoy and a time for growth and learning outside of the classroom. Don’t let the stress of midterms consume your life and take over your soul. Remember that one test most likely will not change the course of your university experience (this is not the BAR exam, after all). And even if it does, there are always ways to improve your grade outside of a midterm. Unless the midterm is 100% of your grade which I have not yet heard of, but if you do hear of it let us know because that’s just crazy. 

I am a Journalism student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo minoring in Integrated Marketing Communications, with a passion for writing and media. My blog can be found at https://adulthoodinslo.wordpress.com/ and I can be reached at [email protected].

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