Acing Your Exams: 5 Tried and True Tips

November 14, 2016
Josh Carlyle

  Exams: it’s one word that most college students dread. And you know what makes this word so much more stressful? The fact that exams often happen at exactly the same time. To pass every exam at each semester’s conclusion your brain needs to be able to recall hundreds of facts relating to science, English,…

acing your exams


acing your exams
Exams: it’s one word that most college students dread. And you know what makes this word so much more stressful? The fact that exams often happen at exactly the same time. To pass every exam at each semester’s conclusion your brain needs to be able to recall hundreds of facts relating to science, English, math, and social studies…or whatever subjects you’re currently studying. Fear not! Acing your college tests isn’t a mysterious process. While some areas of the human brain remain a mystery, others, such as recall have been well studied. Brain research can help you ace your college exams with a bit of exam preparation. In fact, thousands of students before you employed these 5 exam preparation tips to score well. Hail Mary’s aren’t necessary to pass your exams — all you need is time and effort.

Time Management

You know when exams are taking place; in fact, they’re likely listed on your class syllabus. If they aren’t on the syllabus, they’ll be announced well before the actual exam takes place. And beyond this notice, you know they’ll be scheduled at the conclusion of the course. Knowing this, you need to employ time management. Begin to block out study times two to three weeks prior to the exam. Organize with classmates to review material and quiz each other. Identify your weaknesses in the subject matter and work to improve them. Put aside time to go through your notes and review them (it’s actually a good idea to do this on a weekly basis so you’re more prepared as the exam approaches). Let your social circle know you need to skip any gatherings to focus on exam preparation (no one wants to take a class twice!). A month before the exam, begin blocking out several hours each week to organize and review information. Closer to the exam, block out time to schedule study groups or office time with your professor to review any concepts that you’re struggling with.

Remember: time management not only applies while preparing for the exam, but during the exam itself. Once you’ve received the exam, take a moment to review it. Tackle high-point sections first, followed by writing sections, and then multiple-choice, matching, and/or fill-in-the-blank questions. Organize a strategy and stick with it. Need help developing a comprehensive time management strategy? Check out these tips, you’ll ace that test!

Know Your Professor

Knowing your professor is a key aspect of doing well on his or her exams. Notice trends on tests and quizzes: do questions come from footnotes and endnotes? Be sure to review these key aspects of assigned reading when preparing for the exam. Did the professor provide recommended reading to supplement his or her curriculum? Make sure you look at these resources before taking the exam. Is the professor found of lecturing? If so, it’s likely questions taken from lecture material will appear on the exam, so begin reviewing your lecture notes. When in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask the professor about the format of the exam. Know ahead of time if you’ll be answering multiple choice questions, writing paragraphs or essays, or filling in the blanks. After all, knowing is half the battle.

Create a Study Guide

create a study guide

It’s important to know your learning style before you make a study guide. If you’re a visual learner, simply reading well-organized information will help your brain remember it. However, if you’re an auditory learner, you’re brain needs to hear information in order to remember it and store it correctly. Kinesthetic learners need to actively engage with information to increase retention, so writing and hearing it works, but somehow actively engaging with the information is even better.

Study guides should be organized by topic. Such organization can take place in list form, graphic organizer form, index cards, there are many different methods to choose from. Perdue University created this helpful document to help students create study guides. While some students prefer to color code information, others prefer to create detailed outlines. Still, others prefer old-school flashcards, which can work just as well. Whatever kind of study guide you create, start with day one and move forward. It’s a good idea to start a study guide and maintain it throughout the class; simply add key concepts after each class and you’ll be prepared at the end for assessments.

Study in a Group

Here’s the awesome nature of study groups: its members divide and conquer. According to Duke University, an effective study group should be limited to 3 to 4 students; this Ivy League university also recommends selecting a facilitator to schedule group meeting dates and generally keep the group on track during study sessions. Each member is assigned a particular chapter or concept and becomes an expert on his or her assigned content. They share notes and essentially teach the rest of the group the core concepts that will likely be covered on the exam. Study groups only work if each member is as invested as the others, so choose your study group with care. You want members who desire success as much as you do!

Take Care of Yourself

take care of yourselfIt’s a scientific fact that tired, hungover, sleep-deprived, or stressed-out brains cannot function at their best. So begin taking good care of yourself a week before exams start. Eat foods that kick-start the brain. Get enough sleep. Avoid parties. Destress with positive activities such as physical activity, hanging out with friends, or enjoying some solitude. Several research studies support the use of specific scents to trigger recall. Scents including peppermint can increase cognitive performance — so stock up on some peppermint oil or peppermint candies—either should work!

These five exam tips provide excellent avenues to increase a positive exam study experience. And while time management exists as a vital aspect of a well-rounded approach to college tests, it’s important to prepare for the exam from day one. Show up. Listen to lectures. Take good notes. Stay organized. Ask questions. Show up well rested and smelling of peppermint — you’ll ace that test.


Subscribe for special offers