Exams aren’t always the best tool for proving how much you know; some students are so nervous about exams that they let their nerves get the best of them. However, there is little doubt that if you have prepared well, you are much more likely to do well – provided that you can get a grip of yourself during the exam. There are a number of strategies that you can use to get better at studying for exams.
Know your learning style
Learning styles are generally identified as being visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. A visual learner is someone who reacts well to diagrams and pictures and tends to retain the information better this way. An auditory one takes in most information by listening to their tutor, or audio tapes. A kinaesthetic learner likes to be able to touch something as they are learning and so may learn better in an interactive environment. Work out which you are – you may well be a combination of all three – and organise your studying to suit it. It may take some practice, but you will eventually work out how you learn best.
Work out the ideal environment for studying
You need to find somewhere where you are comfortable and have everything you need. This could be your bedroom at home, or it could be in the library. It could even be in a local coffee shop if you are able to drown out outside noise. The difficulty with studying in public places is that you are more likely to be distracted when you have a break, so you will need to take this into consideration. You may also find that you work better in groups. This probably won’t work well all the time, but if you do learn well when you can bounce ideas off other people, then consider setting up a study group.
Study in blocks
There is no point in deciding to sit down for four hours and cram as much information in as you can. Instead, you need to break your study periods up into manageable chunks. A maximum of 50 minutes, followed by a 10-20 minute break, should be enough to ensure that your brain is as fresh as it possibly can be while studying. If you are worried that the break could move your attention away from your studies onto something else, then train yourself to stay at your desk, or to simply go and get a snack and a drink and then come straight back.
If you leave all your revision until the week before the exam, then you are unlikely to have enough time to cram everything in. Also, if you discover at the last minute that you don’t understand something, then you are unlikely to have the time to check it with your tutor or to get to grips with it properly. As soon as you know that you have exams, draw up a timetable, so that you are revising chunks of information at a time and have time to let it sink into your brain.
Note-taking skills are vastly under-estimated when studying for exams. You need to ensure that your note-taking skills are as good as they possibly can be, because when you are studying several subjects at once, you aren’t going to be able to learn whole books of information at any one time. You will need to learn to take notes on the subjects that are necessary to you and break them down into manageable chunks. You should also find that writing out information, particularly when it comes to formulae, helps you to remember it. Work out your own form of short-hand.
Revise your hardest subjects first
Most people have one or two subjects that they find harder to grasp than anything else. It can be tempting to leave them until last, out of fear of losing motivation. However, you will find it much easier to cope with these difficult subjects if you study them first. When you work out your timetable, schedule in these difficult subjects for first thing in the morning. You will be at your freshest then; also once you have finished, you will feel a lot better about yourself and will find it much easier to get on with less difficult subjects.
Take care of your health
It is important to remember to look after yourself. Often, the reason that students get so uptight before their exams is that they haven’t been eating or sleeping properly. Make sure that you eat healthily, get a proper night’s sleep as often as you can and try and fit in a little exercise, even if it is only a brisk walk to the library and back. You will feel a lot better about yourself that way and retaining information is likely to be much easier. Leave the socialising until your exams are over – the odd drink won’t do you any harm, but getting drunk and then spending a day nursing a hangover will be detrimental to your studies.
Most people do get better at studying for exams as they continue with their studies, simply because they work out what suits them and what doesn’t. Learn from your mistakes and any tips that others can give you and you will get better far more quickly than you otherwise would.