HOW TO STUDY FOR COLLEGE EXAMS
Studying for college exams can be hard and become overwhelmingly stressful if you don’t have the right action plan to get you through.
You need to be able to make time for each college exam and make good use of the time you are given so that you increase your chances of doing well on your exams.
In this post, I am sharing my exact study plan that has personally helped me get A’s on my exams all four years of college.
This plan includes 5 EASY steps that will show you how to study for college exams.
While I can’t guarantee your grade, I am confident that if you follow these steps, you’ll do extremely well on your college exams.
Let’s jump in!
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1. Prioritize Which Exams You Need To Study First, Second, Third, and So On.
A big part of studying for college exams and ultimately doing very well is correctly prioritizing what you need to study first, second, third, and so on.
I’ve seen so many students mess this first step up by going for the easy subject first to massage their ego or put off studying for a difficult class exam to the last minute because they hate the class, but that’s a mistake.
Once time passes, you can never get the time back to study properly for the exam.
As such, this step is crucial to your college success.
You can prioritize your exam by studying for the one you’ll be tested on first, second, third, and so on. I often do it that way.
However, if you have a test that you know you’ll need more time on and the one coming up first will only require 2-4 hours of study time, then it may make more sense to start with the harder one first and block out time later to study for the easier one.
Either way, give attention where attention is due!!
Don’t give 10 hours to something that only needs 2 hours and only 2 hours to the exam that requires 10 or more hours to prepare for.
2. Identify Which Topics You’ll Need To Review To Ace Your Exam
If you are still not sure which college exam you should prioritize first, then this step will help.
You’ll want to go through all your classes that you have exams for and review all the material that your exam will cover.
Depending on the subject, the material you review may include chapters of your textbook, assignment problems, class notes, power point slides, recordings, and lectures.
But remember. You are NOT studying right now. You are just scanning through all your class material to see what you need to study more closely.
Once you do that, write down what you’ll tackle first and how much time you should ideally give yourself to complete each task.
(Do this for every college exam)
This will then give you a very great rough estimate of how long it will take you overall to study for your college exam.
Direction is everything!
College students with a 4.0 GPA always have a roadmap in some format or another that gives them direction the ENTIRE time on where and when to study. That way every minute that they’re studying is spent efficiently.
Once you’ve created an outline of everything you’ll need to review for every college exam and you’ve decided which college exam you’re going to study first, you’ll have your own smart study plan to crush your exams.
All you’ll need to do now is execute it!
3. Start with the First Study “Assignment” of Your Study Plan and Study Actively not Passively
Okay. Now you’re in the thick of it. It’s time to put in some major work in.
If you do this step right, you’ll kill it on your exam!!!
You want to make sure that you are ACTIVELY (not passively) studying for your college exams at all TIMES.
This means that unless you have photographic memory or glossing over notes has been working for you for years, don’t just read through your notes (even 10x) and expect the concepts to stick.
This part seems obvious too but unfortunately, I’ve seen way too many of my colleagues take this strategy expecting to have success on their exams and are sadly disappointed.
Instead, you need to test and drill yourself until you know you have it.
One of the easiest ways that I do that is by using flashcards.
(It was actually my secret weapon that helped me get straight A’s on my college exams every semester. I lived and died by my flashcards!!!).
I would literally take all my hand-written notes and throw them all into Q & A flashcards and just drill myself with flashcards until I had EVERY flashcard memorized.
Once I got every flashcard memorized, I was done studying for the exam and only reviewed the flashcards again the morning before (or about an hour) before the exam.
If your college exam is from a heavy theory or history-based class centered around a certain time period, concepts, philosophies, principles, definitions, “analyses,” then I HIGHLY recommend you copy my flashcard strategy.
I CANNOT STRESS how much my flashcard strategy works!!!
If you’re not a fan of flashcards and prefer to write out an outline instead, then do that as well.
Just make sure you are drilling yourself and not just glossing over the words. Then check off each section you memorize as you go.
Is your college exam made up of more of math problems or case studies?
Then, I highly recommend that you take out ALL of your past homework assignments that your test will cover and go through them again.
You’ll be more efficient with your time if you can work through every single problem to make sure you know them inside and out.
Going through and drilling yourself with questions will give you immediate feedback on what your strengths and weaknesses are, and show you where you need to spend more time.
Which leads me to the next step…
4. Highlight or Mark Everything You Are Struggling With and Go Back and Review Those First
Ideally, you want to give yourself enough time to review and study your class material once and then GO back and take a deeper dive into the ones that you’re still struggling with.
If you don’t have time to do two run throughs, then don’t shy away from the harder ones.
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Try and tackle the hard ones as they come but don’t spend TOO much time on the one or two hard ones and completely miss out on the easier material that could help you snag up some easy points on your exam.
If you do have the time on your second run through, review the harder material first.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to a colleague or even your professor if you still can’t figure it out.
Especially if the hard question or concept is going to be worth MAJOR points on your exam.
Chances are you’re not the only one who is struggling to figure it out, and if enough students ask the professor, the professor will send out a mass email with a comprehensive explanation.
Several of my professors did this and it was always super helpful!!
5. Once You’ve Got Rid of the “Stumbling Blocks,” Go Back and Review the Easy Material
Once you feel like you have a solid understanding of the hard stuff and you still have time left, work back to the easy material and review them again to solidify them in your mind.
Repetition (when done effectively and efficiently) will pay off MAJORLY on your exam.
If you study for all your college exams this way and make sure that you have a SOLID understanding of the material, there is NO REASON why you shouldn’t score very high on your exam.
There are just a couple more things you should know about studying for college exams:
(ONE): You may have to go back and forth between exams if you have equally hard exams that you have to study for and take back to back.
Studying for more than one exam and acing both of them is still possible with this study plan.
I know because I’ve done it multiple times (although its not fun lol).
The key to banging them both out is TIME MANAGEMENT. And I don’t mean to be patronizing when I say this but its so true!
If you can stay on top of your time and pace yourself properly, you can absolutely juggle more than one exam.
That’s why having a plan of action is so helpful!!
Seeing exactly what you have to do first, second, and so on makes its SUPER EASY to track your time and push yourself to the finish line.
You can’t just study all day for one exam and not the other exam and expect to do equally well or better on the other.
You’ll have to give a couple of hours to the first, a couple of hours to the second, and keep going back and forth like that until you have studied everything (if time permits).
Also, if you find yourself in this testing predicament, I highly recommend that you give yourself a head start by starting much earlier on your exams.
For example, if you know that you have back to back exams next week, I’d start studying those exams from now and begin studying for your other class exams the week of.
Another thing you can do is ask your professor ( or if this is your college final, ask your college administrators) if you can take your exam on a different day.
If you have at least two college exams back to back, most colleges will allow you to take your exam on different days.
In fact, most colleges actually calendar extra “exam days” to accommodate students who need to take their exams to another day.
So, I highly recommend that you look into this option if you fear that you may not have enough time to prepare for your test.
(TWO): Avoid pulling all-nighters if you can help it.
You are NOT being super productive or super studious pulling all-nighters. I PROMISE YOU!
In most cases, your efforts by the end of your study sesh will have little to show for it during test time because it’ll be super hard to recall stuff.
Even worse, according to Advanced Sleep Medicine Services, you LITERALLY LOSE brain matter.
More importantly, your body needs sleep in order to “convert short-term memory into long-term memory” and if you’re not sleeping, you’re killing that process.
Nevertheless, if you HAVE TO pull an all-nighter, the sleep expert recommends that you:
- Drink coffee before your test to “perk yourself up” and boost your energy so you have enough stamina to get through your test.
(And trust me, you’ll need it. The first and last time I pulled an all-nighter in college, I’ll literally started drooling on my exam! Haha. I WISH I was lying. I was SO TIRED!!)
- Take breaks often.
You’re already making it tough on your brain to remember stuff keeping it up all night, so anything you can do to make things easy on your brain, do it.
Taking breaks often is one good way to do that. Feed your brain about 15 minutes’ worth of information and take 5-minute breaks before you feed it again.
- Take a power nap – Even if you can only take a 30-minute nap, that’s better than nothing. Take a short nap so your brain can go to work and start gluing all the information together.