4 Steps to Prepare for Your Next Exam
For many people, the hardest part of taking a test is preparing for it. It can be difficult to carve out the time to study, and even more difficult to feel productive once you actually sit down to get it done. But there are some helpful steps you can take to make exam prep easier. Let’s take a look at them.
Step 1: Figure Out Your Learning Style
Before you actually begin studying, you should have an understanding of how you should be studying. You may think you’ve got it figured out—notes? Check. Textbook? Check. But there’s much more to it than we realize. That’s why you should consider starting with the VARK system.
- Visual Learners: If you’re a visual learner, note-taking is a great resource! And so is anything you can get your eyes on. Find charts, concept maps or diagrams. Use color to guide your notes, draw pictures relating to the information and rewrite as you go.
- Auditory Learners: Lectures are going to be your best friend. And they don’t just have to be from your teacher! If you have a recording of your class, then use it. If not, find a YouTube® or podcast episode that relates to your lesson. Studying with another person can also help, because you’ll be able to talk about the information. Don’t be afraid to talk to yourself either!
- Reading/Writing Learners: This style makes things a bit easier on you, because it’s the style used in most classrooms. Read over your notes, and rewrite them at least once or twice. Read the class materials (textbooks, excerpts, etc.) and don’t be afraid to look for other reading material. Finding interesting scholarly articles about your subject can help break up the monotony while keeping you on task.
- Kinesthetic Learners: It may help you to create as you study. Try making models, diagrams, concept maps or flashcards. Anything that keeps your hands busy and your mind focused. Listen to lectures while you walk, chew gum while you read, listen to music while you write. This learning style is all about movement, so simply keeping your toes tapping can help fight off the mental distractions. Group settings are also a great resource for kinesthetic learners.
Step 2: Create a Plan
This is the first piece of advice you’ll receive from just about anyone. “Create a study plan and stick to it.” It sounds simple enough, but how can you make a study schedule that actually works?
Estimating how much time you need for each class can be difficult, so it may be easier to go by material. Try studying a certain topic or aspect of the course each day. If you go into it trying to study the entire course, you may find yourself panicking about how much there seems to be. So break it up into chunks. Give yourself a specific and achievable goal in place of a broad one. For example, set Monday aside for Chapter 1, Tuesday for Chapter 2, etc.
Finding templates can also help with scheduling inspiration. There are thousands of study plans on the internet, which means that you can find one that works specifically for you. Try filtering study plans by class type and see what comes up.
Most importantly, take time for breaks. Giving yourself an achievable goal includes setting aside time for yourself. Don’t overburden your schedule or you’ll be in danger of a quick burnout.
Step 3: Cultivate Your Space
Creating a dedicated study space for yourself is incredibly important. As much as we like to believe that we can work from bed, the fact is that most people can’t. Comfort is key, but so is productivity.
Choose a static spot that your brain recognizes as your study area. Try to find a spot with natural light, and personalize it a bit. Make it a space you want to be in, instead of one that you feel stuck or unhappy in. Liven up the space with scents and music, if you’re the type who needs external stimuli while you study. You should also try to keep your space as clean as possible, since clutter is a known anxiety inducer.
If you enjoy studying around other people, then find a cafe or library that you feel comfortable at. You can even try out a local diner or park if you’ve exhausted the more mainstream options.
Step 4: Productive Studying
Now that you’ve figured out your learning style, formulated a schedule and created a study space, it’s time to get down to business. Use the study tips mentioned in the first step as a jumping off point, and then start considering other study tools.
One of the most integral parts of studying is recognizing your weaknesses and focusing on them. If you’re having particular difficulty with one topic, make that topic a priority. Fill in those knowledge gaps by testing yourself and having others test you. You can also look at past exam questions and problems to get an idea of how you can prepare for the next one.
Studying will, of course, depend on your course and other specifics. For STEM courses, you’ll want to rework old problems and find similar problem-solving techniques. For essay exams, you’ll want to create outlines and find specific examples that you plan to use in your argument.
Each exam is unique, but the steps to preparing for them don’t have to be. Figure out what works for you and go from there. And if you’re still struggling, then don’t be afraid to reach out to your professor to ask about tutoring options. In a fully online degree program at UTEP, faculty members are here for you every step of the way—along with more support for nontraditional learners.