Studying for Exams

College Life with EG: part 10

It’s finally here: exam week! I still have a few more days until exams start, but I believe that my college is doing exams before many others. I thought I would share a few tips I have for studying, so hopefully you get these before your exams start. I am going to give you many tips, and the truth is that some may help a lot and some may not help at all. You just have to experiment for yourself and see what works and what doesn’t. I will start off today giving you some do’s and don’ts and then will talk about different ways you can actually study.

What is the “study cycle?”

1. Preview

Look over what you will be learning BEFORE going to class. This means reviewing past notes and looking over reading the chapter you will be discussing. Most of the time professors post the schedule at the beginning of the year so you know exactly what you will learn at each lecture. You don’t need a super thorough understanding, but should look at some of the main points/headers in the book.

2. Attend

Go to class! This is an obvious step but I know attendance is hard sometimes. Especially as we get to the end of the semester, I just want to skip and go back to bed. However, try really hard not to do this! Also, don’t just go to class, be present in class. Stay off your phone, ask questions, take notes, and engage with the lesson. When you take notes, make sure you are focusing on the lesson as well and not just trying to copy everything off the presentation.

3. Review

When class is over, don’t just ditch your notes. Look at what you wrote, make changes, highlight what is important, etc. If you missed something from the lecture, try to figure out what it was from the book or online. Make sure your notes are understandable so you can use them to study in the future.

4. Study

Another obvious part of the study cycle. I try to study a little bit of the material daily starting a week or so before the test. For each time you study, have a goal in mind. Do you want to cover one section? Or maybe be able to answer all the learning objectives from one lecture?

5. Check

Do you know all the material that you should? Just like you should check in on your mental health, you should check in with yourself on your preparation for the exam. If you get to this step and realize you have no idea what the quadratic formula is, you probably want to go back to studying

(Information from

General Tips

Figure out exactly what you need to study

First of all, is your test going to be cumulative, or just an exam over the recent material? One thing I find really nice about my classes is that a lot of them are just over the last unit, meaning the finals are worth the same amount of points as a normal test. However, this is not always going to be the case, so make sure you know what the exam is on. Then, figure out if there are learning objectives or if your professor just expects you to know everything they have covered. Some professors are much more generous in this way than others. You may only have to know what the professor talked about in class, or you may have to know entire sections of the book that they never even mentioned.

Look for resources

Did you get a review sheet? If you did, that’s great! I would look hard at that review, but make sure you look at other notes as well. While the review is a good start, it usually does not go over EVERYTHING on the exam. So, if you only focus on that, you might run into some troubles. If there is no review sheet, look for other things that might be helpful. For example, learning objectives can help you tune in on what you should be studying. Homework assignments are usually a good resource as well because sometimes professors use the same questions on the exam. If there is anything out there that MIGHT help you, try to use it!

Make a Schedule

A lot of people in high school start to study just the night before the exam, but this probably won’t be the case in college. That being said,  you should probably start to study a couple weeks before exams. If you can get in an hour or so everyday, that is perfect. Make a schedule for each class about what days you will study what material. If you have to go over seven chapters of genetics, maybe do one chapter every other day for two weeks before the test. If you only have a couple topics on something, you might want to study each more in depth because there is less material. I would write out a plan for everything on a calendar and stick to it. If it helps, write down a daily/hourly schedule too so you make sure you have enough time to study each day. I would recommend doing it at the time you are most productive, which varies for each person. If you can schedule your day around that, you will be golden! 

Don’t study too much at once

If you put too much into your brain at one time you will never be able to remember all of it. You want to break everything down into more manageable steps, which is why I said to make a schedule. For example, your brain will not remember anything if you go over 50 pages of notes at once. I personally have tried to go through too much material at one time, and by the time I got to the end, I had no idea where I started. This also means that you should not try to study for ten hours straight. If you have so much to do that you absolutely MUST to do this, make sure that you give yourself a brain break every once in a while. Get up and walk around, drink some water, have a snack, etc. Research says that you should take a break every hour for at least five minutes, but every 2 to 4 hours, you should have a longer break (around half an hour). If you give yourself a break, you will actually do better and avoid pushing your body to exhaustion.

Don’t cram

 I will leave it at that. You have heard it a million times.


No matter what happens at the end of exam week, it will be over and you will have survived. It make not feel like it now, but you will get through exam week. Try to keep that mentality while still maintaining the right amount of stress to keep you motivated. As I talked about last week, you want just the “optimal” amount of stress, which is just the amount to make you do the work and power you through. It is hard to think about at the moment, but exams will be over and once they are, there is nothing you can do to change them. Try to relax throughout the day but also while you’re studying. If you’re relaxed while studying, you will focus better and be able to remember more. If you need some ways to relax, try reading my “Relaxation” blog. And, as I said before, give yourself brain breaks often or you will burn out.

Find your place and time

Everyone has preferences as to when/where/how they study, and you may or may not know yours yet. Try to study in a few different settings to see what works best for you. Are you most productive in the night or the morning, in a quiet or noisy area, alone or with others? Give each of these scenarios a try! Also, find YOUR place on campus. I think getting out of your room is really helpful, so is there a study room you can go to, or a student center? We are all different in this way, so just do what makes you happy. Chances are that you will like to study in a much different setting than your roommate and best friend, and that is okay! Personally, I study at night by myself and I need it to be decently quiet. One idea is to go to a local coffee shop and treat yourself to a drink while you study. You may also want to try to drink tea, have mints/gum, use a diffuser, or listen to meditation music.

Settings to consider

      • Time
      • Lighting
      • Sound
      • Smells(essential oil?)
      • Gum/mints/tea/water
      • Other people


Prioritize: the act of studying

Make it a priority to study for a set amount of time each day. Like I said, put this into some sort of schedule. If you must use an hourly schedule so you know exactly when you will study, do that. If you know you can study at 12PM each day, that is great too. This week, I will study for 1-2 hours each day because I started reviewing early on. If I had waited until the last minute, I might have to study for 5-6 hours a day. Knowing myself, my brain is not able to handle that.

Prioritize: material for individual classes

If you are running low on time, or if you waited until the last minute, set priorities for each class. What do you know the most and the least about? There are two ways to prioritize in a crunch and you have to find what works best for you. The first is to realize what you know nothing about and just leave it at that. If there are other things you know really well you can continue to study those, knowing you will get that section of the exam right. You know you will get some wrong from parts you do not know, but at least you have a really good understanding of the other parts. This one is a bit risky because you do not know how much the test will hone in on what you don’t know. The other option is to try to learn a bit about everything, to feel mediocre about all the information. I usually opt for this one because when I get to the test, I can try to narrow some things down to common sense.

Prioritize: Each class

I think this one makes a lot of sense: if you have biology tomorrow and psychology in four days, worry about the biology exam now. First of all, assess what you know for each class. You will have to study for some a LOT more than others. If you feel like you have a good foundation on one class, you don’t have to worry about it as much as one you think you know nothing about. For me, I know that my biology exam is going to be much harder than my special education exam, so I make that a priority. However, you also have to think about how well you are doing in each class. For example, if you already have a 100 percent in math class, but are on the verge of a D in chemistry, you may want to study chemistry first. Your math grade can take a little hit, but you really should put the priority on the class that you HAVE to do well on. Finally, don’t just put off studying for an exam because you know it will be a lot of work. I tend to push off studying when I know it is going to take a lot of mental effort, and this is a bad habit. Chances are if I know the studying will be hard, I should really focus on that class because the exam will be difficult as well.

Different ways of studying!

  • Notecards: you can use notecards to write definitions, learning objectives, break down long topics, really anything you want. They engage you in active recall because have to “actively recall” the information from memory, which aids in putting the knowledge into your long-term memory. For example, if you look at the definition and try to remember the word, you are actively recalling that information. You should write the cards, study them, and even talk through them. As you read through the cards, make sure you mix them up every time so you don’t just memorize the order. Also, put cards in a pile of what you do and do not know so you can study better. You don’t have to study a word you know perfectly every time because that just wastes time. I love notecards because I can take them anywhere, use them in many different ways, and break down the information in any way I want. For example, I can break down an entire law into different sections on different notecards. It is much easier to remember things in small bits of information rather than one large chunk.
  • Quizlet: if you have not used the Quizlet app/website, it’s basically just virtual flashcards. It has many of the same benefits of notecards, but online. You can generate tests, do matching games, etc. Also, you can print the flashcards to take them with you. The only downsides I can think of is that typing does not have the same benefits as writing something down and you cannot use photos unless you have the paid version.
  • Teach other people: this is proven to be one of the best ways to study because you are repeating the information, hearing yourself repeat it, and explaining it in depth. It is called the protégé effect and has many benefits, including having you actively repeat information in your head and allowing you to review the main concepts and organize the information better. To do this, first teach yourself the material (teachers don’t teach about things they know nothing about!). Then, find someone to teach, or just pretend! Sometimes I just teach the wall, and there is nothing wrong with that. If you are actually teaching someone else, there are even more benefits because they can ask you questions about it. When they ask you questions, you must think on the spot and recall that information, which allows you to realize what you do and do not know a lot about. Finally, teaching others will increase your confidence about the topic! (Information from effectiviology)
  • Reread the book/notes: this is ONLY a starting point. Studies show that solely rereading your notes/the textbook will not do much. The problem is, if you just read the book over and over you never do anything with the knowledge, and if you are anything like me, you zone out a lot. However, I usually start by doing this so I have the information fresh in my mind. Then, I make notecards, rewrite my notes, teach other people, etc.
  • Organizing/rewriting your notes: you can organize you notes by highlighting the important parts, adding to them, filling in parts you missed, etc. I would do this pretty quickly after the lesson so the information is still fresh in your brain. Make your notes are good enough that you can study from them in the future, even if you totally forgot the material. Of course, hopefully you do NOT forget all of the material in the future. You can also put your notes into something visual, like a concept map (which I will talk about next). Later on, you can even rewrite you notes altogether. This is a way to test everything you know for the exam. Try to remake all your notes with everything you can remember and then compare them to the original to fill in the gaps.
  • Concept map: this is a simple overview about all the information you know. A great example is the nervous system. For example, you may start with nervous system, and break it up into the peripheral and central nervous systems. From the central nervous system comes the motor neurons and receptors, etc. There are not a ton of details in these, but they can give you a big picture idea of the topic.
  • Make your own questions: go through your notes and think about questions that might be on the exam. Write down anything you can think of and put it on a notecard, a blank piece of paper, or anywhere else you will study off of. When you do this, you are working with the information in a new way. You are diving deeper and having to explain what you know. So, try to think like a professor, and maybe you will have some of the actual questions on the exam.

I wish you all good luck on your exams(if you have any, and if you dont, thank you for still reading!) and hope you have a great rest of your week!

As always,

with love


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