Different kinds of tests require different kinds of studying. As you progress through college, you’ll experience instructors with a wide array of testing philosophies and approaches. That is why it is a good idea to spend time early in the term figuring out

Knowing this information will help you plan your study sessions and will guide you as you select appropriate review strategies.

While it may sound strange, studying for exams should begin the first week of the term.

It is easy to fall into the trap of feeling a false sense of knowledge about material.  If you take notes while you read, take notes in class, consolidate and reorganize your notes weekly, and do homework problems, you’re engaging in weekly study activities that prepare you for exams. Using these notes and homework problems, you might think you are "going over" or "reviewing" materials in an effective way, but your activities might not be furthering your understanding of the material.  To effectively study for exams, you must actively engage with material instead of passively read through it again.

As you think about preparation for specific exams, there are a few techniques and tips to consider.


  • Develop a study plan specifically for the exam. This includes knowing what the test is covering, organizing the materials needed for studying, planning out your study time to ensure you have time to cover all areas, and choosing study techniques that fit the material and exam.
  • Assess what you do and do not know.  By identifying areas of strength and areas that challenge you, you can make a more concrete plan for how to divide your time and what to put the most energy into studying.
  • Use specific study strategies for reviewing and testing yourself on material.  You should not use the exact same strategies that you use for note-taking, completing homework, etc. Find ways to test yourself to reveal what you know and what you need to spend more time learning or practicing.
  • Form a study group when possible and use the time to test each other on information, do practice problems, and talk through difficult concepts. 
  • Vary your process. Study different things in different places in different ways. As we discuss in “The Memory Process,” the more ways you encode information, the more pathways you have to retrieve it again when you need it.
  • Add variety.  Vary the ways you practice problems or answer practice questions.  Try to see if you could get the same correct answer using a different process.  Alternate between topics or skip around to different chapters and content areas. This approach is more likely to accurately simulate a testing situation where exam material is drawn from a portion of or the entire term.
  • Give yourself time to practice recall.  In the last 48 hours before the test, try to focus on recalling information, not on learning new information.  Use self-quizzing, practice problems, etc. to prepare yourself.  Be sure that before the test you are mentally and physically prepared through strong study practices, good nutrition, and sufficient sleep
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