The start of the semester means that exams are on the horizon. I would not expect you to be happy about these exams, but at the same time I would hope that you don’t have an “end-of-the-world” attitude about exams—exams are simply a part of college. In my opinion, the best thing you can do right now about your exams is to make sure you are going to be prepared to study for each exam by setting up a study schedule ASAP.
Before I get to the specifics of how to do this, I must step back and say that there are always going to be some students who will read about setting up a study schedule and will shrug it off. Some will argue that they never had to be very organized with their studying in the past and have still done well. To these students I say “Lucky you”–you are either that smart or your classes so easy that you were not challenged on your exams. However, it is typically the case that these students will run into a class or classes where the lack of a study schedule will lead to a very low grade. I know this, because every year when I teach Introduction to Psychology—not the hardest class but a class that definitely has a lot of content—I get students who did poorly on exams because they had no plan for studying.
There are also other students who tell me that they do not have the time to study until a day or so before an exam because of a busy work schedule or their other classes. With regard to the former, I can empathize with you because I worked two and sometimes three jobs during college and had a lot of classes, but I always understood that school was my highest priority. Hopefully, some of the tips I will provide can get you on a study schedule where you can manage your time effectively. With regard to the latter, juggling classes can sometimes be very difficult. However, again I feel that having a plan for your studying can help you deal with all of your classes.
Most of these students who do not set up a study schedule can be labeled “crammers”–they wait until the last minute and then work very hard to learn a lot of material. Although cramming may lead to some short-term success, cramming typically perpetuates poor study habits, does not lead to successful long-term learning and may even lead to health problems as a result of stress.
To avoid cramming and thus lead to better learning and exam success, here are some tips to help you set up a study schedule. The key to these tips is to improve your time management—organization and planning—so that you have enough time to study, even when you have exams close together in time.
1) Create an academic calendar with all exam dates marked. If you are going to have quizzes that will require studying these should be marked too.
2) Determine when you have free time to study. This can get tough considering that you have to account for time to eat, sleep, attend club meetings, go to the gym, work, etc., but it should be the case that you have enough open times in your schedule to mange all of your studying.
3) Determine how much time you will need to study for each exam. For example, some will argue that they need a week before each exam to prepare. However, others (including myself) feel that studying for any class should occur as soon as you get new material for that class. This “new material” approach is especially important if you plan to use flashcards to help prepare for exams.
4) Determine how much time per study session you will need for a particular class. For example, if you are good in Math you might need less time to study for this class compared to another class for which the subject matter drives you crazy. One thing I will add here is that if you choose a long study session (e.g., 60 minutes) it is best to break this time into parts (e.g., 20 or 30 minutes pieces). Breaking things up can help keep you focused on the material.
5) Set up study times and days (including weekends) using a calendar. You can organize your calendar to indicate each class you have by using different colored markers.
6) Be strong and stick to your schedule! It’s easy to blow off a study session, and there will definitely be times that you would rather do anything else but study. However, it is critical to stick to your schedule and try not to miss any session. Of course, something may come up and you have to skip, but the more you can be true to your study schedule the greater the probability of a good grade. One way to help you stick to your schedule is to see if (for specific classes) you can find a study partner. However, only choose a study partner if you are actually going to study and not talk more than you study.
If you can follow these tips I think you will find that you will have greater control over your studying, learn more, and be more prepared for all of your exams. Good luck!