20 Ways to Prepare for Exams

  1. Routinely review your class notes. Your short-term memory is limited, so you need to distribute your learning over a period of time. Focus on the main points and organize the information into smaller, more manageable parts. 
  2. Access free study aids. Check the front of your textbook to see if the publisher provides any online learning resources. Browse Quizlet for other ideas.
  3. Minimize distractions. Turn off the TV, cell phone, computer and other potential interruptions.
  4. Set specific measurable goals for each study session to keep yourself on track. Reward yourself with naturally enjoyable activities, such as playing X-box or browsing Facebook.
  5. Before you begin, mentally warm up. How does the material relate to what you already know or discussed as a class? Prepare your brain to make connections. Link new information to the prior knowledge you have already acquired. Forming these associations will help you retrieve information later and makes the material more meaningful.
  6. Match your learning to the assessment method. For example, if your Human Anatomy test gives you a definition and then asks you to recall the word, do the same when you study. We tend to perform better on a recall task when the way we encoded the words matches the way we need to retrieve them.
  7. Predict possible questions. Review old tests, study guides or the course objectives. Learn more about identifying test questions.
  8. Develop summary sheets for each class. Condense information from your notes and textbook on index cards, post-it notes, or ready reference concept sheets.
  9. Create mnemonic devices. Acrostics, rhymes or acronyms may help you remember information.
  10. Create visual reference points. Write it down several times. Duplicate the pictures from your memory for lab practicals. Highlight your notes with different colors. For example, in your history class you could use a pink highlight to note dates, blue for names, and yellow to signal events. 
  11. Draw it. Create tables, diagrams, mind maps or pictures to represent the organizational schema of the information.
  12. Explain it aloud. Go into an empty classroom and pretend to teach the material to someone. Using your own words helps you assess your comprehension, which ultimately aids your memory.
  13. Identify examples or illustrations that embody the concept and demonstrate ways you will utilize the information. This makes it meaningful and relevant, while giving you feedback on your comprehension.
  14. If you think you know your stuff, prove it. Quizzing yourself problems avoids overconfidence and helps you identify gaps in your recall. Answer the questions at the end of the chapter in your textbook. Complete practice problems. Cover up your notes and try to explain them. Create flashcards. If you find yourself struggling to remember, try different techniques to learn the material.
  15. Evaluate, analyze and synthesize the information. What standards or rules can you infer from the information? What can you conclude, hypothesize or recommend? Compare and contrast the information. Critique it. This deepens your learning and helps you own the information.
  16. Take short breaks. Your brain can process a limited amount of information and benefits from some rest.
  17. Stay healthy. Get some sleep and avoid caffeine. Seriously – your brain with thank you.
  18. Don’t go it alone. Form a study group and develop a practice test together. Meet with the professor, a tutor or a learning specialist if needed. Contact the Student Success Center and develop a study strategy with a learning specialist.
  19. Manage your anxiety. By listen to calming music, stretching or breathing deeply, you can avoid stress and release negative thoughts.
  20. Finally, examine your beliefs about learning. It does not happen quickly and intelligence is not fixed. Stay positive and persist, believing that your hard work and techniques will make a difference.