As the winter term starts, I wanted to share my study routine to hopefully inspire some procrastinators into changing their habits in the new year. I’m in my third year of university now, and my study routine has evolved as much as I have. I’m what you would call an amalgamation of a keen student and an extremely lazy one; I’m always starting to study just a tad too late but I’m always aiming for a high mark. The result of this is I tend to get very stressed before examinations. I found this method to be extremely effective in easing my stress levels, and it works for all subjects, from English to Science to Math. I hope it helps you too!
How to approach examinations
I never consider final exams different from midterms, from tests, or from quizzes. Even though some may impact your mark more than others, in the end, you should be putting your 110% into all of them.
Use the Pomodoro Technique
As with most people, I find it extremely difficult to remain focused on one task for an extended period of time. This is why I love the Pomodoro Technique. It consists of six steps (from Wikipedia):
- Decide on the task to be done.
- Set the Pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
- Work on the task until the timer rings. If a distraction pops into your head, write it down, but immediately get back on task.
- After the timer rings, put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
- If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 1.
- After four Pomodoro’s, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.
Instead of a Pomodoro timer, you can just use your cell phone timer to keep track, or if you’re working on the computer you can use http://e.ggtimer.com/25min (change the “25min” to whatever length of time you want).
Completing readings before class
When you read, don’t bother to try and understand every sentence or paragraph. If you’ve read to the end of the paragraph but don’t understand, just keep going. Your brain will have already tried to process this information so that when the professor brings it up in a lecture, you’ll be learning it for a second time, which is often a lot easier.
If your professor has notes or a Powerpoint presentation he or she refers to during the lecture, download it beforehand. This way, you can follow along from the beginning of class instead of rushing to find the right file. Also, it is important to actually download the file: you want to have it in a format that is easy to write/type notes on.
I’ll be honest, I do nothing here. Nobody has time to prep before and after class.
Before an exam
(As I’ve said before, I treat all exams equally, so these tips also apply for quizzes and tests.)
There are two pieces to my preparation for an exam. The first piece is to learn the theory of the course, and the second is to learn how to apply the theory. For every day that I am preparing, I will try to hit both pieces.
Learning the theory
- Use the notes you made from reading your textbook chapters before class and your notes from class to create summary notes for every chapter you are being tested on.
- Once you have created summary notes, use the margin of the column to write up questions which your actual notes would answer. This is an example from one of my courses:
- Try to answer your questions in the margin without looking at the answers in the actual note. If you can’t answer without looking, write that question down.
- Go through the list of questions you couldn’t answer and try them again. If you get them this time, delete them from your list; otherwise, leave it there.
- Once you’ve successfully answered all the questions, highlight the actual note based on what you think is most important. This is an example from one of my courses:
- Using your highlighted “v1 notes”, create a second version of your summary notes. This is an example from one of my courses:
- Read your “v2 notes” out loud. This is supposed to help enhance memory.
If the exam covers a variety of chapters, I like to make the following chart to help keep myself organized:
This chart comes in especially handy for when you’re studying for a final that includes material you’ve already studied for the midterm. Instead of starting back at square one, you can focus your efforts on whatever the material that came after the midterm first, until you reach whichever step you stopped at for material before the midterm.
Finally, remember to do all seven steps on seven different days. If you manage to get all the way to the last step before the exam, you’re probably already a master of the material.
Applying the theory
One of the most helpful ways to study for an exam is to complete practice problems. Sometimes the professor will give these problems free to you, but sometimes you have to dig for them. Upper years who have taken the course will often have old midterms, and your school may have an exam bank that contains questions for practice. You can also go through homework or assignment problems the professor gave to you throughout the year. I always like to do all the new problems I can find and only do problems sets twice as a last resort. I wouldn’t do problems sets more than twice because by then your brain has likely already remembered the exact way to solve the problem and you’re no longer exercising your critical thinking skills.
If the problems come with a recommended time to complete them, time yourself and try to finish within that time frame. This will help you learn to complete problems in the expected amount of time as well as mimic the testing environment.
Also, the professor will often tell you how many questions you can expect on the exam.Try to do the same number of problems per day leading up to the exam. The day before the exam, aim to complete twice the amount of problems, and the day of the exam three times a number of problems.
And that’s it! I hope these tips were helpful. If you have any questions about my method, feel free to comment below. Also, let me know if you have any helpful study tips to share!