Study Smart Before Exams


Many college students feel stressed and overwhelmed when a test or exam is approaching. By studying for tests in a smarter way, you will save time and be prepared to ace your exams. In addition to the reading and note-taking tips you’ve read about, you can take advantage of specific tips to enhance your exam preparation. Below is a detailed list of common study methods college students use to prepare for exams.

Explore common study methods

Image-word association – This study method associates words with images. Some people memorize best when they can visualize a word or concept in their head. Students who use this method associate an unknown term or concept with something they already know. For example, if a term in your textbook sounds like an object you already know, picture that object in your head every time you say or read that word. Relating an unfamiliar term to a familiar image can help you to remember it more easily.

Acronyms and mnemonic devices – An acronym is a combination of letters that can be used to help you memorize a term or concept. You can combine the first letter of each word of a compound term or idea to spell a word that is easy to recall. For example, one of the most common acronyms people use every day is ASAP, which stands for as soon as possible. Acronyms are just one tool that students use to remember course material. In order to remember the order of items in a series, some students create sayings that begin with the first letter of each item in that series. A basic example is the saying that younger students use to remember which order north, east, south, and west appear on a compass: Never Eat Soggy Worms. Notice how the first letter of each term correlates with the order or direction on a compass. You can come up with personal and creative ways to use mnemonic devices to study for a test. Create something that is useful and easily memorable to you.

Hide-write-compare – You probably remember this study method from when you were younger and were learning how to spell. You probably looked at a word, covered it, tried to write it correctly yourself, and then compared it with the correctly written word. While this seems like a simple method often used at the elementary level, it is a useful studying tool at the college level. For example, after you have read a chapter in your textbook and written down all the important terms, you can test your knowledge to see if you remember them. Cover up the definition of each term and try writing it again from memory. When finished, compare with the correct definition. Writing something down repeatedly helps it stick in your mind better.

Story Telling – Story telling is a helpful way to absorb information for many college students. You may recall when you were younger how your parents told you a story about the meaning of a holiday, or how your teacher told you the story of Christopher Columbus in grade school. You’ve probably never forgotten this information because it was taught to you through narrative that you visualize in your head to this day. Tell yourself a story about an important person you need to learn about for a test. For example, instead of looking at your textbook as full of boring facts, turn that information into an exciting story with details that can help you remember. Tell the story to yourself out loud, and to others if you find it helps. Many professors even choose to teach using storytelling.

Analogy – An analogy is the comparison of two or more things. You can use analogies to compare and contrast specific terms or ideas. There are several kinds of analogies, including parts to whole, such as a battery is to a flashlight as a keyboard is to a computer. Cause and effect analogies are also common, such as smoking is to cancer as itching is to scratching. While you can create your own analogies, one of the keys to smarter studying is recognizing analogies that are already in the content you are studying. With practice, you’ll become more skilled at recognizing patterns and analogies that help you digest course material.

Repetition – Repetition is the most common study method students use. Repetition involves reviewing information again and again until you have grasped the concept. Repetition can be used in several ways. For example, you can create flash cards to master material that requires rote memorization. When studying a foreign language, some students choose to repeat terms or concepts aloud or write information down repeatedly. You should consider what way you learn best to determine what style of repetition to use.

Determine when to use each study method

While the above methods have served many college students well, some of these tips will suit you better than others. Try different methods for different kinds of courses, as your approach to a science course will be quite different from your approach to a reading-intensive course in the humanities. For example, you will find repetition helpful for an anatomy course, whereas storytelling would be best to test your understanding in a history course. Discerning which methods to use and when to use them will also be informed by your strengths and learning style. You might learn or retain information better by looking and pictures or charts, whereas other students benefit more from reciting terms aloud. Remember that there is no right or wrong way to study. Form a comprehensive, yet flexible, study approach that takes into consideration your course load and the ways in which you will be tested in each of your courses.