Preparing for Examinations   back

The University of Alabama
Center for Academic Success
124 Osband

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.

1. Overview 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.

2. Next, 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.

3. Deal 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.

4. Review actively--not passively
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.

5. Take 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 opportunity.