Final Preparation for the Exam

Getting Ready To Study

  • Set a study schedule. Schedule adequate time exclusively to prepare for this exam. If you developed a schedule for your semester, you should have these sessions already scheduled. Do not hesitate to modify your schedule if you feel that you did not give yourself enough time. If you have not created a semester schedule, go to our Planning Ahead page.
  • Establish an objective for each study period. Do not stop until you have mastered the objective. Set up a plan to attack discrete pieces of information in sessions of 20 to 30 minutes then take a short break and return to the information to see how much you remember. If you feel confident that you have learned the information, then go on. If not, spend another period studying the material. Again, the best way to see if you can remember material is to teach it to a partner.
  • Choose a productive study environment. Any area in which you are comfortable and free from distractions will be a productive environment. If you are studying with someone, then a space where you can talk aloud is essential.
  • Study with someone. The best way to test your knowledge is to teach it to someone else. Make sure that it is someone who shares your goals and motivation.

Study Techniques

  • Use the framework of the course. 
    The most effective way to study for exams is to organize the material within the framework of the subject. Do not try to learn material in small pieces. Start your studying by developing a map of the organizational patterns of the course. Each piece of information will be easier to remember and recall if it is connected to these patterns. Some examples: The details about various post World War II political movements in the Middle East will be easier to analyze if you look at them within the framework of the history of western colonialism in the region. 

    In a psychology course, learning different theories of personality development might be easier to remember if you think about them within the structure of applying what you have learned. If you were a practicing psychiatric professional, how would the new information contribute to your toolbox for diagnoses and treatment of a client?
  • Anticipate questions that will be asked on the exam. 
    You should do this as part of your regular review of your lecture notes. If you did not do so, review your notes, looking for material, subjects, and ideas that the professor emphasized. You can also go to office hours, not to simply ask what will be on the exam, but to engage in a broader inquiry about the material. In doing so, you will learn more about which material the professor deems most significant. Read the assigned readings. If a traditional textbook is used you can look for clues. If the textbook appears to place emphasis on materials differently from the professor, you should ask for clarification. Do not assume that because the professor did not highlight specific material in class that it will not appear on the exam. He or she might assume that you learned the material from the reading.
  • Answer the questions. 
    For essay exams, write a thesis statement to answer the question and then collect supporting details. Develop all of this into an outline. You can try writing a complete answer but do not try to memorize it.

Learning From Your Exams

Each exam throughout the semester can be a learning tool to help in your preparation for future exams.  Often the first exam provides the template for future exams, particularly as an indicator of where test questions come from. You should also analyze items that you got wrong to learn strategies for improving.  Below are strategies to help guide through learning from your exams.

If things did not go well on an exam start by deciding which of the following statements describes your feeling about the taking the exam.

  1. I felt confident entering exam but did not do well.
  2. During exam I felt that I was not doing well.
  3. During exam I was confused  by the way the questions were worded.
  4. I left the exam confident that I had done well.
  5. I was thrown because the exam questions were different from the quizzes and homework.

In general, if you felt like things were not going well during the exam, then you should analyze your preparation. If you felt like the exam was going well, but were surprised by the results, you should analyze the the individual items to see what went wrong.

Analyzing Your Preparation

First, ask yourself what went wrong.  Why did you struggle with items on the exam?  Did you study the wrong material?  Did you misunderstand what the questions were going to be like?  Did you study effectively the first time?  Did you miss a specific kind of problem?

Using the first exam as a template for future exams.  If you were surprised by the style of questions or did not study the right material, use the following strategies to prepare. 

  • Match test questions to their source. Did they arise from text readings? From lecture? Half and half? That information will help you study accordingly.
  • Assess whether the exam questions derived from text readings came mostly from the section headings, the main body of the text, or sidebars, highlight boxes, or foot or end notes. Read and review most thoroughly those portions of the reading assignments which generated the most questions.
  • Review questions related to lectures. Did those questions come from PowerPoint headings? Supplementary and explanatory material? Questions posed in class? (Jot down the questions an instructor asks during a lecture.)
  • After conducting the above “screening” of the first exam, see the instructor or GSI and discuss future text preparation. You can ask what source material they should become most familiar with from lectures and readings. You then can evaluate whether the instructor’s directions match the screening result.
  • Tailor studying accordingly. If most questions come from lectures, you should either rewrite lecture notes (they do need to take notes; the PowerPoint outline isn’t sufficient) or write weekly summaries of lecture notes. Those summaries then become useful study guides! If most questions come from readings, you should read course material before lectures and anticipate what might be discussed in lecture. You then can identify and highlight commonalities.
  • Pretend you are teaching the class and make writing their own test questions a part of your test preparation. What would they test? How would they answer their own questions? Ask them to note how many of their questions end up on the tests. If you are test prepping strategically, more of your assumed test questions will end up on each subsequent exam.

Analyzing your mistakes.  If you felt like the exam was going well but you got a number of items wrong, you should look at each of those items to analyze what went wrong?

  • Did you make the same "silly" mistake in multiple problems?  First, recognize the pattern in your mistake then figure out why committed the mistake.  Did you forget a simple step in each problem?  Did you miss units or unit conversion?  Do not simple say to yourself, "Oh yeah, i will have to remember to do that next time."  Go through the exams and redo the work correctly.  This will help ingrain the practice of doing the little steps.
  • Were you thrown by the wording of questions or confused by what was being asked?  If so, analyze to see if there were patterns to the problems you misunderstood.  You might discover that you tended to ignore qualifying or negative  statements that changed the meaning of the question.  Again, after identifying your mistakes, go back through the exam, completing the problems, so that you have practice correctly interpreting questions.