5 Study Tips to Pass Your Exams
We’ve all been there. A few weeks into the academic year, you think you have plenty of time. But soon enough, you’re faced with an overwhelming reality: exams are just around the corner and you’re not ready.
- Figure Out What Works for You
- Manage Your Time
- Organize Your Study Space
- Study Effectively
- Leave No Room for Surprises
1) Figure Out What Works for You
It’s a well-known fact: we’re all different. Maybe your friend Adam likes studying with music in the background, while Olivia needs earplugs to focus. Or maybe Adam feels more productive in the morning, while Olivia studies better in the afternoon, or in the evening. And maybe your preferences fit somewhere between those extremes.
Unfortunately, there’s no foolproof recipe for academic success: the best method is the one that works for you. If you’re looking for a way to study more effectively, ask yourself a few questions:
When am I most productive?
Early in the morning? In the afternoon? In the evening?
Where do I study better?
At home? In a library?
How do I study better?
On a computer screen or on paper? With summaries, or with a book and course notes?
You might find that you’re more flexible on some aspects than others. But your habits don’t have to be set in stone. It can take time to figure out your optimal study method. Allow yourself to try different methods—preferably before the exam period—then choose the one you like.
Don’t hesitate to break from the routine occasionally: for example, although it’s not a viable option in the long run, you can sometimes study at a café when you need a more relaxed atmosphere.
After each exam period, and at the end of every year, ask yourself what went well and what didn’t. Then, make small adjustments as you go.
Keep in mind that you might need to adapt your method to each course. For example, even if you don’t usually make summaries, you might have to if you’re studying a complex and heavy course.
2) Manage Your Time
Too much to study, but not enough time? Exams are often very stressful, especially if you’re not particularly organized and have trouble with time management.
Try this: make a to-do list for each subject. Write down specific tasks that you cross out once they’re completed.
- Study textbook chapter 1.
- Listen to podcast 1.
- Do exercises on chapter 1.
- Practise on last year’s exam.
- Study textbook.
- Listen to podcasts.
- Do exercises.
You can also make a detailed study schedule. If you do, set realistic goals for each day. Try to dedicate your most productive hours (see section 1) to complex material and exercises, and tackle easier tasks when you’re less productive.
If it helps, you can alternate from time to time between the subjects you like and those you find more difficult to reward yourself for your efforts. But don’t skip a subject just because you don’t like it. You can also add leisure activities to your schedule, and track your productivity and breaks with an app (e.g., Pomodor).
3) Organize Your Study Space
Environment plays an essential part in concentration and productivity. Once you’ve decided where to study, spend some time (though not too much) creating the right atmosphere.
Before you sit at your desk, make sure:
- The room and desk are clean and tidy;
- There’s enough lighting, natural if possible;
- Your chair is comfortable;
- The supplies you’ll need are on the desk;
- You’ve put away your phone and other possible distractions.
It’s often a good idea to use your study space only for studying, and your bed only for sleeping and relaxing. This will help you fall asleep more easily at night, and be more focused when you’re studying.
4) Study Effectively
Studying enough is one thing, studying effectively is yet another. By the time you start studying, your course notes and study material should be ready and up to date. You’ll save valuable time.
If you know what kind of exam you’re going to be taking, choose your study method accordingly. For an oral exam, practise aloud as much as possible; for an argumentative essay, practise by building your argument in written form.
Keep in mind that simply learning by heart is often not effective. Teachers and professors expect you to understand the material on a deeper level and to perceive the links between different chapters. Think ahead: what questions could you get at the exam? You should be able to answer precise questions as well as more general, cross-chapter questions.
If you have access to previous exams, use them to test your knowledge a day or two before the exam. Redo exercises from the course and if you’re feeling up to it, explain the material to a friend.
5) Leave No Room for Surprises
Sure, some surprises do feel nice, like coming home to a surprise party when you thought everyone had forgotten about your birthday. But as far as exams are concerned, surprises are rarely good news.
If your school uses an online platform, the teacher/lecturer probably uses it to share important files with the students. You’ll usually find a programme for the course, a reading list, assessment modalities, etc. Browse through those files as soon as possible, and if you have any questions, ask them.
Finally, write down the date and room for the exam when they’re communicated, and keep an eye out for possible changes.
Bonus: Remember, consistency is key! There’s no use in studying for ten hours straight on the first day, if you’re going to be napping for the rest of the week. Stick to your schedule, but don’t be too hard on yourself if you fall behind from time to time.