The word most students use to describe exam time is usually “stressful”. However, there are several techniques to reduce stress at this important time.
1. Make a Study Plan
All your professors will recommend it, and it’s actually true — making a study plan will help you study more effectively. Studying regularly will help you remember important details, as repetition is a good technique for making sure something sticks. Planning your schedule around regular breaks will ensure you don’t forget to take time off.
2. Study Regularly
Frequent short bursts of study have been shown to be more effective than cramming for several hours last-minute. Get in the habit of reviewing notes after class, and keep up with readings — this will give you a head start come exam time.
3. Find your Study Hack
Different people study in different ways. Someone may need to visualize facts and data, while someone else finds lists and mnemonics helpful. Others may record themselves reading material, and listen back to it to remember it. It has been shown that writing notes out by hand helps information retention better than typing. Everyone has their favourite technique, so try out several to find the one that works best for you.
4. Make Flashcards
Speaking of study techniques, flashcards are a frequent favourite among students. Flashcards are index cards or post-it notes with quick facts or definitions. Try making some cards with questions on one side, and answers on the other side. Not only does writing flashcards by hand help you commit the information to memory, but you can also use them later to quiz yourself and others. Take flashcards to a study group and you’ll instantly be everyone’s favourite study buddy.
5. Eat Right and Stay Hydrated
Keeping your energy up during long study sessions is essential. The need to spend hours in the library may seem more important than stopping for lunch, but it is more important than ever to drink plenty of water and eat regularly. Skipping meals is shown to reduce concentration and increase irritability — neither your grades nor your friends will thank you! Pausing for a snack will both keep up your energy and give your brain a break. Try nuts, peanut butter, bananas, yoghurt, or tuna for a brain-friendly energy boost.
6. Get out of Bed
Numerous sources agree: studying in bed is a bad habit. Not only may you be tempted to take a nap, it may be harder to switch off at night when you’re trying to sleep. Find a space outside your bedroom with good lighting, low noise levels, and minimal distractions. Having a specific place for studying helps you stay focused while you’re studying, and then you can switch off as soon as you leave.
7. Join a Group
Study groups can help you stay motivated and get a different perspective on the material. Finding good study partners is the key — make sure you join up with people who are as serious as you about studying. And make sure to take time off together after every study session as well!
8. Teachers are Your Friends
Professors may seem intimidating at first, but they are there to help you succeed. If you are feeling unprepared for an exam, ask the course instructor for guidance. While they cannot give you the answers, they can usually give you an overview of the material required and how best to study for the exam. Often, simply talking through your concerns and challenges can help you get a clear idea of the way forward.
Many classes, particularly at university level, also have Teaching Assistants (TAs) who work as a liaison between professors and students. TAs are students themselves, and they know what you’re going through. They also know the material inside and out, and are a great resource for answering questions and concerns.
9. Be Ready for the Big Day
There’s nothing like good preparation to give you confidence. Make sure you know where and when your exam is. Check with the professor if books or notes are allowed in the exam room, or if it is strictly closed-book.
10. Have Fun!
Most of all, studying should be engaging and interesting. You are learning more about a topic you have chosen, and this is your chance to become the expert. It is easy to get wrapped up in the stress of high expectations and mounting deadlines, and this can be infectious. If it all gets too much, take time to get off campus and away from other students and do something entirely unrelated to your studies. When you get back to the books, you may remember just why you chose this path in the first place.