We’ve all been there before: it’s 10 PM the day before an exam and you haven’t even looked at your notes for the class yet. You stay up until 3 or 4 AM trying to learn everything you could be tested on, but nothing is sticking because you are so. damn. tired. Feeling like you aren’t learning anything leads to a panic attack, which leads to you asleep on your bed with tear-stained cheeks surrounded by notes and textbooks.
This finals season, we are NOT going to put ourselves in that position again. It may be surprising, but there actually is a way to study effectively that doesn’t lead to a 3 AM meltdown, and here’s how:
- Plan it Out
1-2 weeks before your exam, plan out everything the exam could potentially cover. Make an outline of the big ideas and concepts. Underneath each big ide, write out more specific topics or concepts that relate to the bigger one. For example, if you are taking a biology final, one big concept might be “Eukaryotic Cells” and the smaller ideas relating to eukaryotic cells could be aerobic cellular respiration, organelles, etc. This way, you can effectively follow the outline as you study, which as a result compartmentalizes the subject and helps focus your attention.
- Make a Schedule
After organizing the topics on the exam, make a schedule of when you are going to study each topic. A strategy that has always worked for me is studying the topics I am most unfamiliar with first and studying the topics I am familiar with last. This way if you somehow run out of time to study, the topics left unstudied are the ones you know most about. As for timing, I usually study one big concept/idea from my outline a day. So, if there are 6 big ideas I noted in my outline, I will start studying 7 days before my exam. I know – I said 6 big topics but start studying 7 days before, what’s that extra day before the exam for? That extra day is for you to brush up on any concepts you aren’t totally confident in. Take time before the exam to review some material a little more so that you go into the test sure that you will do great.
- Studying Techniques
Now, everyone studies differently. Some people like to color-code notes, some like to make flashcards, some like to do practice questions, etc. What I personally do is I like to rewrite my notes. If a study guide is provided, I write out my notes about the study guide, and color-code them by highlighting or underlining related topics in the same color.
After all my notes are rewritten in a more organized way, I make mnemonic devices (e.g., rainbow colors, ROY G BIV: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violent) where I can. Mnemonic devices help shrink lots of information into a few words or letters, so that you can better remember the information on the exam. I usually put the mnemonic device on one side of a flashcard, and then the information of the device on the other. I quiz myself by looking at the side with the mnemonic device and remembering the information that is on the other side. I usually do this part of my studying on that last day before my exam so that the devices are fresh in my memory.
- Take Breaks
Even though this process of studying may seem drawn out and not that intensive, it can be if there is a lot of information on the exam. So, if you are feeling overwhelmed, tired, or just not motivated to study the concept you planned for that day, take a break! Forcing yourself to continue studying is more harmful than taking a break, I promise. Go for a walk, grab a coffee, watch some TV, or even close your eyes for a few minutes. Refresh your brain so that when you go back to studying, you’re revitalized and ready to grind.
With the past school year we’ve had, it’s important to take care of ourselves, and cramming before an exam does the exact opposite of that. So, space out your studying, make a plan, stick to it, and I’m sure you will ace your exams. Good luck!!