Does exam time loom before you like a dark cloud, a season of student life when the sun does not shine until you emerge from the other side?  Here is my advice: Don’t study for exams! That is to say, don’t start preparing for exams by diving right into studying. Cramming doesn’t work. Instead, plan to light your path through exam time by first considering three priorities: when to review, how to review and what to review.


When to Review 

When you think of review time, do you envision yourself buried in your books for long hours in the few days before exams with no option to do anything else until exams are done? Banish the thought!  You don’t need to sentence yourself to this period of darkness. Plan to begin reviewing your coursework early in the semester. Ideally, review begins on day two of the school year (ok, maybe week two)!  However, even if you did not begin the year with regular review time built into your weekly schedule, build it in now while exams are still weeks away. Place blocks of time in your schedule that you can dedicate to reviewing.  

This time should not be used to complete new homework but rather to focus on something you have already completed in the course. These blocks do not have to be long in duration. Even 20–30 minutes of focused attention can be very fruitful. Give each subject at least 2–3 review sessions each week in order to keep revisiting older material. You will notice how much you can accomplish during these brief periods over the course of several weeks and that your workload at exam time is considerably lighter.

Don’t be discouraged when you open to a topic and are confronted by the fact that you seem to have forgotten it. The brief effort you devote to re-learning a concept will help you retain that learning long after you complete your exam.


How to Review

Let me say this first: re-reading is not reviewing.  Reviewing does not mean re-doing everything you have done in the course so far. Of course, you may need to re-read some things, and you will need to practice problems or drill memory facts. But there is more to effective review. Try to map out the course. For instance, for each book or chapter, refer to your class notes and homework to identify key concepts and gather the relevant details. Develop a new set of study notes, synthesizing your class notes, homework, and assessments rather than simply re-reading your original notes. Use your new set of notes to review material and then use them to test yourself. Finally, make your review social. Try to explain concepts to someone else (a classmate, friend, sibling, parent) to see how confident and clear you are.  

What to Review

Be sure you are clear on how the teacher will conduct the exam. Are notes allowed? Have them available. Consider carefully what you have been told about the exam format and types of questions. As you work through the course material, consider looking back through modules to see what readings and homework you were assigned. Carefully review all previous assessments and consider re-working any trouble areas. Review your teacher’s feedback and reach out if you have any lingering questions!

Finally, remember to schedule some time away from studying to rest and refresh!

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