As midterm and finals seasons approach, it is time that you might begin making strategic plans on how to succeed on assessments that are worth a significant chunk of your grade. I know that’s what I do. Hi, I’m Kelvin Cheung, a second year Mechanical Engineering major at UC Merced. From many first year college students, I often hear this question asked “how do you study for an exam that tests you on everything in the course?” I remember when I used to be in that same position and wished for someone to point me in the right direction. Well, for all you first year students or any student that needs studying tips, I want to share five ways that have helped me ace exams.
- Get a Good Night of Sleep
Every once in a while your busy schedule will lead to a point where you have a big exam to study for. You then have no choice but to heroically work throughout the wee hours of night, cramming in every bit of studying possible just as the sun begins to rise.
There are two main problems with pulling an all-nighter. First, after around three in the morning, your mental ability is significantly reduced. You start yawning and your eye lids have trouble staying open. The typical all-nighter turns into a painful stretch of mind-numbing stumbling through books and notes. It may seem as if you are adding another five hours of “studying,” but the reality is that you are more likely adding one hour of worthwhile work time and four hours of useless rambling that does not retain in your memory. Is that really worth the pain?
The second problem is the aftereffects of an all-nighter. The following day you are a zombie. It’s a terrible feeling. “Sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication.” (US National Library of Medicine) Do you want to take an exam feeling intoxicated? Your ability to take an exam and do well in it would be nonexistent. And not only will your all-nighter cost you your exam score, it will probably also end up forcing you to bed much earlier than usual, disrupting your sleep pattern for more days to follow. The simple secret to prevent all-nighters is to not start preparing for an exam the day before. Procrastination usually does not work. And even if it does work for you, why would you stress yourself doing it? Wouldn’t it be much easier to start your studying in advance? When you know there is a test coming up, plan out a schedule that will give you time to study a little bit each day up until the exam. Also, make that a priority in your schedule.
All-nighters are like poison for any student. If you take the time to study in advance and learn to prioritize your studying, you can avoid the pains of procrastination.
- Manage Your Time Effectively
Time is of the essence. If you complain that you are a busy student and don’t have enough time to study. It might be a good idea to control the way your time is being spent. Are you on Facebook, Youtube, or other distracting websites when you are supposed to be studying? If you add up all the time that you could have been studying, you could probably already be done studying. But going on Facebook and watching Youtube videos are just so addicting. Don’t worry. That’s usually the most common form of distraction for most students. A solution is to use an app that can temporarily block websites that you know they will distract you from your studies. I suggest using Cold Turkey. It is a free productivity program that you can use to temporarily block yourself off of any sites or games that distract you. Not only do you save a lot of time from being wasted, you learn to discipline yourself, a skill that most college students lack due to the limitless freedom that exists in college.
- Study Alone or With Up to One Other Person
The best way to learn difficult material is to go over it yourself first with a lot of concentration. If it does not work, search on Google. There are a ton of resources online that can answer your questions and help you learn. Doing this allows you to be self-independent, you can learn from by yourself and not rely on others.
If this doesn’t work, study with only one other person. Multiperson study sessions don’t usually work. Studying for an exam is highly individualize because you are not tested on what you know with the help of your study group. Instead you have to take the exam solo. That is why it is important that you truly know the material that you are being test on. A tutor helps. But make sure you ask a lot of questions and be sure that you fully understand the material.
- Study Smarter, Not Harder
You’ve heard this saying before. When you prepare for an exam, know the material that the exam will cover. If you have a professor that likes being a pain and says “study everything,” “everything” will most likely not be on the exam. This method of studying would be a waste of your time. Instead, ask your peers who have already taken your class and to see the same exam they already took. The chances are that professors have a lot to do. They typically do not create new exam questions every semester if they can just recycle them. That’s why you should not waste your time in studying everything. Instead, use the past exams as a study guide. Make sure you are able to work out the solutions without help. For reference, this is not cheating. If the solutions or exam questions are accessible, then they are public and anyone can choose to look at them.
- Practice, Practice, Practice!
Finally, whatever method you choose to study, repeat that method until you have it drilled into your brain. Similar to playing a sport, if you do not practice enough before a game, you won’t perform well. In a test, if you do not know the material thoroughly inside and out, you will probably not ace the exam. If you are memorizing vocabulary words or facts, use flashcards. You can generate online flashcards by using Quizlet. If you are studying math or a physical science, crank out as many practice problems as you can. Go over the problems in the end of the chapter or at the back of the textbook. If you are able to do them without help, you are ready for the exam.
I would like to wish you all the best of luck on your studies that may lead to future opportunities. Each student has a different way of studying that optimizes his/her chance in doing well. Make sure that you find what works best for you. Always have a plan and stick with it all the way. Hopefully, my tips and words of wisdom will help you meet and master the many opportunities that will come your way.