It’s just about that time of the semester – midterms are within the next couple of weeks for most people. After 4 years of undergrad and now 1.5 years of grad school, I’d like to think that I know a bit about studying and preparing for exams, whether they’re papers or tests. Since I’ve already written about how to write a great paper for any class, today I’m going to focus more on study techniques for exams. Some exams are only multiple choice, some are timed essays or short answers, and some are a combination.
First and foremost, you absolutely need a study guide. Sometimes professors will give you a list of topics that will be on the test, but other times you simply need to cover everything that you’ve learned so far in the semester. If your class has already had quizzes or tests, you can generally prepare the material you needed to know for those for your midterm. If you haven’t – and you’re not sure when your professor is going to explain what you need to know for the midterm but you want to start studying now – go back over the material you’ve covered so far this semester and identifying what is the most important. I might make an entirely separate post about how to make a great study guide (let me know if the comments if that’s something you would like!), but that is too large of a topic to cover here. Basically, you’ll need to cover what is most important and why it’s important, as well as the different terms, what they mean, and examples of them. You can find this information in your class notes, text notes, and texts. Some resources for creating study guides: tips on how to create and organize your study guide, creating a college study guide, creating a study guide with Microsoft Word.
If your exam is going to have a lot of memorization, one thing you can do to prepare is to use flashcards. Physically writing the information down will help you remember it (x), and reviewing the flashcards after you make them will help you remember the material. When you review them, also try saying the answers out loud to help emphasize them to yourself. What’s also great about flashcards is that you can take them with you in your bag wherever you go, so if you have a few minutes before a class or appointment, you can go through your cards. Be careful, though – you don’t want to constantly go over the cards and get the wrong answers stuck in your head. If you get a card wrong when you’re reviewing, set it aside and try again. If you’re regularly getting it wrong, say the correct answer aloud several times so you remember the correct answer.
Keep in mind that you should start studying early and keep studying. What will help you the most is if you go over your material many times – repetition is so helpful – and if you go over the material on a regular basis. This will help reduce your stress when studying since you won’t have to cram, and it will also help you retain the information longer. If you only look at your material for a few days before your exam and not on a regular basis, then you might forget it by the final.
Like I said, repetition is so necessary. You can’t go over the material once or twice and expect to remember it. Go over it multiple times, in multiple orders so you can remember it regardless of how it appears on the exam. Think you’ve got it? Go over it again. You don’t need your brain making you feel great about it and then discovering you don’t remember it as well as you thought.
You should also explain the topic and ideas to someone else. If you’re new around here, you might not know that I majored in secondary education and I taught high school. Something teachers use to measure student understanding is called Bloom’s taxonomy, and the higher the level (there are 6) the better the student gets the material. The 5th level is synthesis, aka taking the material and explaining it to someone else in new terms on the way to creating new material with the information. If you can explain the material to someone else – and you know how to apply it, which is the 4th level – then you have a better handle of the material.