Helpful exam study tips

Don't know where to start? Here are seven great ways to prepare for your exams

- April 3, 2014

Stay organized and you'll be just fine. (Ali Seglins photo)
Stay organized and you'll be just fine. (Ali Seglins photo)

A previous version of this article was published on Dal News as “Top 5 exam study tips” on November 30, 2012.

With exams starting soon, we decided it was time once again to dig into the big bag of study tips at Student Academic Success Services to help you with your studying. While it’s by no means a complete list, here are some great suggestions from Jessica Chubb, coordinator of Studying for Success.

1. Manage your time effectively

Careful planning and good time-management skills are essential. Make sure you give yourself enough time to study so you’re well prepared by the time your exam rolls around. Get on top of things and stay on top. Set up a regular study schedule and stick with it. Remember that the day has 24 hours, so use them wisely.

2. Get rid of distractions

Before you can start any studying, you need to concentrate. Minimize or eliminate as many distractions as possible, including both internal (daydreaming or composing mental to-do lists) and external distractions (friends, roommates, noise, cell phones, and social media) in order to fully focus on the task at hand. If you’re having trouble, make a check on a scorecard each time you lose concentration. Count the number of checks at the end of your study session. Set a goal each time you study to reduce the number of checkmarks.

3. Ask questions

Talk to your instructors. Ask them about the areas of study that will be emphasized on the exam. If you need clarification on certain topics, ask your instructors if you can meet during office hours to discuss them.

4. Review carefully and frequently

Get the big picture by reading lecture notes, handouts, problem sets, and laboratory questions and reports carefully. Then integrate all of these sources of information into your notes.

  • Take detailed notes and identify important concepts and topics.
  • Outline the main ideas, concepts, and information on a sheet that can be easily reviewed many times. This will make it easy to remember key concepts as well as the information related to them.
  • Organizing the material will help you see connections and get the material into your long-term memory.
  • But don’t spend too much time simply making your integrated notes look good—there’s little satisfaction in being the neatest "C" student in the class.
  • Concentrate on the material that you don’t know well, rather than on the stuff you know backwards and forwards.

5. Look at past exams from your class

These are great study aids if your instructor has copies available and allows you to review them. They reveal the format of the exam and allow you to judge the scope of the material and the depth of coverage. Use them to pinpoint your own strengths and weaknesses by taking the exam. But don’t assume that the old exam accurately reflects the actual content of your upcoming exam. It doesn’t. It does, however, give you a valuable glimpse at what your instructor thinks you should have studied.

6. Stay healthy

Being in good physical and mental condition is important for effective test preparation. You need the energy to help you focus, so eat healthy foods and avoid junk that will make you groggy. And remember to sleep. You may think you need to stay up all night with your notes, but your brain won’t function properly without a good night’s sleep.

7. Find your groove

Everyone has a different approach to studying, so find out what method(s) works best for you and use it!

And, of course, don’t forget to leave a little time to review your exam after finishing it.

If you’re looking to meet with a study skills coach, make an appointment during office hours, or meet with the coordinator for one-on-one support. In Halifax, call 902-494-3077 or email In Truro, call 902-893-6672 or email to make an appointment.


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