Studying tips for college exams

Kylie graduated from Michigan State University in 2014 with a BA in English and an addendum degree in History. She is a literacy clinician and Library and Information Science graduate student working towards her goal of being surrounded by books and archival materials for a living. She is a proud mom to a cat named Junie B. and lives at home in the mitten state of Michigan.

Heading into my first finals week as a college freshman, I was scared. Every upper classmen I knew spewed horror stories of all nighters locked up in the library, cramming an entire semester’s worth of material into their heads over night and sleeping through exams as a consequence. I was terrified that I would be like that, so I developed a few key strategies that I honed over my four years as a college undergrad.

1. Start early- ask questions
It seems so simple, start early. However, it is easier said than done. Professors will often tell you at the beginning of the semester when your final will be, down to the exact date and time in some cases. Even with this information it is easier than not to procrastinate finals prep. December seems a lifetime away when you’re sitting in a hot classroom, wearing shorts and still waiting for your books to come in the mail in August. If you leave finals prep to the night before then you’re bound to have to pull an all-nighter. In addition to being exhausted while taking the exam, and subsequently doing poorly, you will be too tired to study the rest of the day for your next exam. So, take my advice, come late November stop ignoring those exam dates. Write them in your planner, organize your study materials, and at least begin to mentally prepare for what you will need to do in order to succeed on your exams.
2. ALWAYS complete study guides
Again, this seems so simple right? Once again it’s easier said than done. If a professor gives you a study guide, take it as a sign from the heavens and complete it, early and completely. Add as much of the important details in as you can in order to cover all your bases when it comes time for that subject to be on the exam. If your professor clearly states that everything on the exam will be covered on the study guide, then you are in the minority. Most of the time the study guides cover the majority of the topics, however I always still reviewed the rest of the materials. Definitely focus on the study guide, but also review the rest of the material so you’re completely covered.
3. For any in class essays, make a detailed outline
If you’re not one of the lucky few who get handed a study guide to fill out, I recommend that you make one yourself. Find key terms and subjects and define them, along with detailing the surrounding important information. This study guide should become your best friend. I usually ate while reading over mine.
4. Pay attention to your professor’s instructions
Be sure to study accurately. Usually professors will give you a low down on the type of exam, ideas for study techniques, and the kinds of things they will be looking for while grading it. This piece of the exam puzzle is important because usually there is a lot of information to study and it can help you hone in on what is the most important. It also keeps you from spending hours studying information that you don’t need!

5. Get sleep
IF you follow all of these steps there’s no need for pulling all nighters. I went to college for four years and never had to pull an all-nighter. Sleep is even more important than studying in some cases, it’s almost impossible to do well on an exam when you’re falling asleep reading the questions. Prepare in advance, get a good night’s rest, and you’re set!

So there are my tips for a successful and somewhat stress-free exam week. Good luck, you will do great!

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