Go back to basics when studying

When studying for exams, it’s not a bad idea to refer back to the old lesson of ‘Who, What, Where, When and Why.’

Start with the ‘what:’ “Students should be as informed about the exam they are about to write as possible,” says Dr. Nellie Perret, learning skills counsellor/educator at the University of Toronto’s Academic Success Centre. “Find out whether it’s a multiple-choice, short answer, essay or problem-solving exam; ask how many questions there will be and how much they’ll be worth; use old exams as ‘maps’ to tell what the professor expects at the end of term.”

When to study is also key: “It’s important for students to know their own best — and worst — times for studying. If they’re always studying Calculus, for example, late at night when they’re too tired to really understand the concepts, then the odds are pretty good that they’re not going to do well on their Calculus final.”

She recommends dividing each day during exam time into three study periods: Morning, afternoon and night, and varying subjects day to day within each of those periods.

Where to study is also important.

“Move locations between lunch and dinner. If nothing else, this gives students a break, a chance to walk from one place to another, getting some exercise and fresh air, reminding them to grab something to eat, and allowing their brains to make sense of what they’ve been studying.”

Who you study with is also key.

“I strongly advise students to try to find people to study with. This allows them to exchange information. It will help them identify gaps in their knowledge so they can study more efficiently when they’re on their own. Studying with other people, as long as it doesn’t turn into a total gripe session, can also be a great way to blow off steam.”

And never forget why: “It’s really important for students to remember that tests and exams should be a way for them to discover whether they’ve been learning what the professor thinks is important. This is especially true for midterms: They’re an opportunity to evaluate whether or not a student is getting it. If the results of the test are disappointing, a mid-term can serve as a wake-up call, telling them to adjust their learning strategies accordingly.”

Perret recommends taking advantage of the school’s learning skills centre, many of which offer courses on how to best prepare for exams.

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