Mid-year exams are just a few weeks away, and it’s important to have a good study plan so you can come into the experience feeling confident and prepared. Leaving your study to the last minute or going into it without an organized plan of attack can make you feel unnecessarily anxious and overwhelmed. We want our students to take charge of their exam experience. What follows are some simple tips to employ (and pitfalls to avoid!) in order to make sure your exam prep helps you do your best work on exam day.
Tips for success:
- Start early! Don’t wait until the last minute to start getting ready for exams. A few minutes a day or an hour on the weekend, invested early, can lead to big returns.
- Get organized! You might be tempted to skip this important step, but spend time now—right now!—organizing materials, including class notes, old quizzes, and tests, study guides, practice questions or other study materials. Are there core questions or essential understandings associated with your class? Are there skills that keep coming up unit after unit? Know those and let them guide your study.
- Get your questions answered! Before planning your study, you need to know some things: what’s the exam format? Is it cumulative or is there a focus on recent topics? Will you need to do a lot of memorization to prepare or is it more synthesis driven? If your teachers have not yet broached these topics in class, it’s great to spend 5 minutes in conversation with them to understand what you need to do to go forward. Do it sooner rather than later--spending time now to meet with teachers and clarify concepts can save you time in the long run.
- Make a plan! Use old assessments to help you reflect on your successes and challenges with each unit of study. List topics to study, and begin planning our when and how you will approach each topic. Set specific tasks to do for each topic. Plan to break your study up into a number of small chunks over several weeks and days. As we get closer to exam week, using the exam study planner from ASSIST can help you effectively track and utilize your time.
- Study actively! Research shows that we typically learn best by doing, so make sure you routinely go beyond just reading and rereading and highlighting your notes. Here are some ways you can actively study:
- Make flashcards and review them often.
- Retake complex questions from old tests (yes, even ones you got right the first time!).
- Write out answers to concept questions.
- Create your own study guides, summaries, and outlines.
- Have a friend quiz you/quiz a friend.
- Do practice problems. Many practice problems.
- Create timelines, concept maps, graphic organizers.
- Connect ideas from different units of study.
- Study in groups – it’s great to work through challenging material with a friend or friends...but only after you have developed some solid familiarity with the topics. Group study is best when you can actively engage in Q&A with each other. Quizzing one another is one of the best ways to test your mastery, but if you’re behind on the basics, you won’t get much out of these sessions just listening to your friends (because your role will be passive, rather than active!).
Pitfalls to avoid:
- Avoid confusing “familiarity” with “fluency.” When going through concepts, if you see something and think, “Oh yeah, I know that,” force yourself to explain it in your own words to another person. If you consulted the answer key for a practice problem and thought, “Oh, no big deal, I see where I went wrong,” be sure to make yourself attempt the problem again on another day. Be sure you really know what you think you know.
- Avoid piling all your review into one giant study session. Research shows that forgetting (or almost forgetting) something and then relearning it is the key to long-term retention, so spaced study is the best approach. Cramming--meaning packing it all in at the last minute--is not a good approach. Study a topic one day, then come back around to review it a day or two later. You’ll retain more this way!
- Don’t be tempted to throw out your routine for the sake of study. As you get closer to exam day, this may seem tempting. Make time for socializing, food, and exercise. Be sure to eat decently at meal times, and try to avoid binging on sugar and junk food during study sessions. Set your alarm to get up early enough to get something to eat before a morning exam.
- Don’t mess with your sleep patterns! Binging on caffeine and staying up late to cram in some last-minute review may seem like a good idea in the moment, but it rarely pays dividends on the day of the exam. It may sound too simple to be true, but if you’ve done your job diligently, the best way to study the night before a test is to do an efficient review of the big ideas, a couple of practice items to build confidence, and then get a good night’s sleep.
Finally, when an exam is over, put it behind you – it’s in the past, so let it stay there. Spend your energy focused on things you can control...like your next exam!
Remember: good habits and a manageable study plan can go a long way to feeling confident and prepared.