Preparing for Examinations
The University of Alabama
Center for Academic Success
Preparing for exams begins the first day
of class, and success is usually a reflection of daily application.
However, as exam week approaches, preparing for exams demands a strategy.
The key lies in your ability to use time wisely and to develop practical
study techniques. The Center for Academic Success suggests the
following steps to help you approach exams efficiently and calmly.
the work to be done
Survey all materials for each course: syllabus, notes, texts,
supplementary reading. This survey should be very rapid since its purpose
is simply to refresh your mind as to whatís been covered and to begin to
develop a sense of what the significant points are within that material.
This quick and efficient overview should put you in a good position to
avoid gobbling knowledge in a haphazard, panic-stricken manner. Based upon
your overview and your identification of the major themes being stressed,
anticipate what might reasonably be asked. Evaluate the importance of
study topics, list priorities among tasks, and estimate the time needed to
accomplish each study task.
schedule study time accordingly
Plot a calendar of the weeks, days, and hours that remain available
for study before each exam. Realistically apportion your work into these
hours, taking into consideration these tips for scheduling: (a) Break
large tasks into specific subgoals and allocate a specific time for each;
(b) do the most important, difficult tasks first and then reward yourself
with the easier ones; (c) match the kind of study you do with the kind of
energy and time you have: Use large blocks of time and your peak energy
periods to master concepts or problems; use "empty spots"
(walking to class, waiting in line) for rehearsing material that must be
memorized; use times of lowest energy to preview material in preparation
for later intense study; (d) vary what you study, alternating history with
math, etc.; (e) schedule breaks, recognizing that distributed study is
more efficient than massed study; and (f)
establish a special place to study, using it only for this purpose and
making it a stimulus for studying. Simply make a realistic appraisal of
what is to be done, when you will do it, and then START WORKING.
succinctly with unread material
First preview the material to become aware of the major ideas.
Previewing involves reading titles, headings, and subheadings to determine
the organization of the material, reading introductions and summaries, and
noting any graphs, charts, or maps. Next formulate essay-type questions
suggested by the material. Then read actively to answer these questions,
noting and/or underlining key ideas. Finally, recite the material to
yourself, answering the questions you raised to enhance recall.
Once you have anticipated major ideas which may be covered in an exam,
approach the study of these areas in an active, problem-solving manner.
Integrate notes, text, and supplementary material into summary sheets by
outlining, charting, diagramming, or simply writing paragraph summaries of
the information. Try to create a summary sheet of each main idea or
concept. Donít waste time passively rereading. While "looking
over" course material is easy and gives the appearance of study, this
sight recognition is rarely sufficient for good test performance. Instead,
actively review your summaries, the table of contents, the chapter
subheadings. Try to recall the important points. Recite them, write them,
say them, hear them, think them. Reinforce learning by using as many
senses as possible. Spend more time reciting the material to yourself and
less time just rereading. Reciting is one of the most powerful ways to
learn and remember. Constantly practice restating, repeating, putting into
your own words what youíve just learned. Predict the questions most
likely to be asked and practice answering them.
care of your physical and emotional health
In addition to taking an organized approach to studying, you need to
make common sense and moderation a general life style during exams and
other times of stress. Do eat well-balanced smaller meals more
frequently. Heavy meals will make you drowsy and unable to concentrate. Do
eat meals that have emphasis on complex carbohydrates such as grains,
crackers, fruits, and vegetables. Do take appropriate exercise
breaks for 15-30 minutes daily to release pent up energy and increase your
ability to concentrate. Do get adequate sleep each night to allow
your body to recharge. Donít
depend on junk foods for sustenance while you are studying. They are full
of sugar and caffeine and, if abused, will not enhance your studying
ability. Donít hit the alcohol and pills if you are too anxious
to sleep. They will only make you dull and unable to remember what
youíve studied. Donít overdose on caffeine products. Too much
will make you spacy, jittery, and unable to concentrate. Donít
take amphetamine preparations to increase mental processes. They can cause
bad side effects and reduce retention.
Expect a certain amount of tension during
exam periods. It is normal, and a little anxiety helps to heighten your
awareness. However, you may need to deal with overanxiety. Take time to
relax through rest, exercise, and deep muscle relaxation. Keep away from
highly anxious people before exams because their nervousness may increase
your own. Plan rewards for yourself during exams. Schedule a meal, a
racquetball game, and a visit with a friend periodically throughout
finals. Most importantly, adopt a positive attitude toward test taking.
Reassert your goals to gain motivation for study. Donít confuse your
test scores with either your value as a person or your whole future