Exam time is stressful and students often have to juggle studying for multiple courses in a short time. It is important that the little time you have to study is used effectively. As much as I wish there were a rule book of the best way to study, different learners and different courses require different study methods. While I can’t give you a definitive step-by-step guide, here are 4 study techniques that have helped me get through the exam time crunch.
Deliberate practice refers to being 100% focused on a purposeful task rather than performing repetitive tasks that only require some of your focus. For example, if you’re studying for a math exam, instead of going through every practice problem one by one and writing out all the solutions, you can scan through all the problems, identify the “hard” questions and devote your time to working on those. Deliberate practice means you are making the choice to work on more difficult tasks in your studying which require more attention but have purpose and are more beneficial than the type of studying you could do on autopilot.
Use a Timer
Even if you have a lot of time before your exams, timers are a very useful study tool. You can use a regular timer to track how long you take to study so that you can plan your schedule accordingly but there are also “special” timer techniques you can use while studying. The pomodoro technique is a timer method that intersperses 25 minutes of focused study with 5 minute breaks with a longer break after four study periods have been completed. Having short periods of focus allows you to apply deliberate practice and, in the end, get more work done than if you tried to study for 8 hours with no scheduled breaks but a lot of social media checking. There are many apps and websites that offer these timers. And if you want quick study sessions while you’re on the go, check out Minute School’s study plan feature which makes a study plan for you based on the concepts you choose, your exam date, and sends reminders for timed study sessions that will track your progress!
Teach Someone Else
For me, teaching someone else is one of the most effective ways to study. Whether it is a classmate, study group, or a friend who’s not even taking the course, teaching someone else forces you to both remember and understand concepts. You have to be creative and think of different ways you can explain an idea which helps solidify the idea in your own mind. A conversation with another person about a topic can also reveal an error in your understanding or spark a realization you never made before about your course. I don’t know how many times I’ve thought that I already studied a topic enough and then realized during the exam that there was something I missed while studying by myself. By the time you have explained an idea a few times, you will have built an understanding of it without even feeling like you have studied and you may have helped someone else in the process.
Map your Course
Creating a mind map of your course is a quick way to see the full scope of your course. Seeing everything together on a single sheet of paper or screen rather than on different pages of your notes or textbook can help you make connections in the material. I’ve found this especially helpful for upper year courses. On their own, each course can seem like a random collection of topics in random order, but by comparing the maps of multiple course, I’ve been able to draw parallels that not only helped me understand and study them together, but also gain deeper insight into that area of study as a whole. I’m not a very visual learner so instead of drawing a map, I create a bulleted list on my computer and indent points instead of drawing branches to connect them. Doing this on the computer lets me easily move around sections of my “map” and highlight or add annotations to points to help me understand how they fit together.
Use Scrap Paper
Making study notes very neat is useful, but having scrap paper where I can be messy and jot down ideas without worrying about if it “fits” that section of my notes is also necessary. I especially like having a piece of scrap paper where I can make a list of ideas I need to re-learn or review more as I study. This way, I don’t lose the momentum of my studying by pausing and focusing on a specific idea but I won’t forget to review it later. For especially difficult courses, I even make a checklist of a few things I need to review in the 15-30 minutes right before my exam to make sure they are fresh in my mind.
Many of these strategies focus on understanding the ideas in your course and how they relate to each other rather than just remembering them. Whether your course is primarily based on memorization or problem solving and analysis, having a deep understanding of the material is essential when studying for your exam.