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Final Preparation for the Exam

Get ready to study.

Set a study schedule.

Schedule adequate time 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.

Establish an objective for each study period.

Do not stop until you have mastered the objective. Study 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.

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.


Use these 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. Start your studying by developing a map of the organizational patterns of the course. The syllabus may help you start, but also consider how information is structured in each class period. Information will be easier to remember and recall if it is connected to these patterns.

Anticipate questions that will be asked on the exam.

You should do this as part of your regular review of your lecture notes. You could go to office hours not to simply ask what will be on the exam, but to engage in a broader inquiry about the material. You could also use the assigned readings. Traditional textbooks provide clues through headings and highlighted or italicized material. Ask your instructor for clarification if the textbook and lecture notes vary greatly.

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. Try writing a complete answer but do not try to memorize it, so that you are prepared for variations in how the questions on the exam are presented.


Learn from your exams.

Each exam throughout the semester can be a learning tool. Often the first exam provides the template for future exams. Analyze items that you got wrong to learn strategies for improving.  

If things did not go well consider which of the following statements describes your feeling about taking the exam.

  1. I felt confident entering the exam but did not do well.
    ...then, analyze what you got wrong and determine why.
  2. During the exam, I felt that I was not doing well.
    ... then, analyze your preparation and consider lessening your anxiety.
  3. During the exam, I was confused by the way the questions were worded.
    ... then, analyze your preparation and consider rewriting your notes in your own words
  4. I was thrown because the exam questions were different from the quizzes and homework.
    ...then, analyze what you got wrong and how the responses on quizzes and homework differ from what is expected in an essay response.  

Use 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 lectures? 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, sidebars, highlight boxes, or foot- or endnotes.

Read and review most thoroughly those portions of the reading assignments that 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 test preparation.

You can ask what source material you should become most familiar with from lectures and readings. You then can evaluate whether the instructor’s directions match the screening result.

Tailor your studying accordingly.

If most questions come from lectures, you should either rewrite lecture notes or write weekly summaries of lecture notes. (You must take your own notes, relying on a PowerPoint Outline isn’t sufficient!) 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.

Write your own test questions as part of your test preparation. What key information would you test yourself on? How would you answer your own questions? How many of your questions actually 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 you committed the mistake. Did you forget a simple step in each problem? Did you miss units or unit conversion? Do not simply say to yourself, "Oh yeah, I will have to remember that next time." Go through the exam and redo the work correctly; practice will help you avoid “silly” mistakes in further exams.
  • Were you thrown by the wording of questions or confused by what was being asked? If so, analyze your exam to see if there were patterns to the questions you misunderstood. You might discover that you tended to ignore qualifying or negative statements that changed the meaning of the question. After identifying your mistakes, go back through the exam to practice correctly interpreting the questions.