11 tips to study effectively for exams

by Staff Reporter
While you’re preparing for exams it can be tempting to simply read through your exam material and to be overwhelmed by the immense amount you have to cover. We are here to help you avoid that and to study effectively. We have 11 tips to help you study more effectively and do better in your exams.

Table of Contents

1. Make a plan

Before you start studying, you should plan. Take time to sit down and figure out when you need to study to be best prepared for your different exams. Planning well should help take pressure off during the exam period and ensure that you learn what you need to before you write.

2. Space out your studying

The biggest temptation we all struggle with when it comes to studying is cramming the night before an exam. Again, we all know that’s a bad idea. Cramming before an exam will only add to your stress levels, and interestingly enough it will actually make you perform worse.

When you are planning out your studying make sure that you create a space for different subjects leading up to the exam. You should still study the day before, but to perform well you should make sure that you have studied consistently in the weeks leading up to the exam.


3. Don’t just reread your textbooks and notes

Just reading your textbooks or notes won’t help you actively engage in your studies, and will lead to you quickly forgetting what you have learned. Reading is a great way to start studying, or ‘pre-study’, but if you want to do well you need to engage with the material properly.

Actively engaging with your learning material is the process of constructing meaning from your textbooks and notes to lectures, using examples, and monitoring your own learning. This is called active learning. Some examples of active learning include; creating a study guide by topic, creating your own quiz, explaining concepts out loud in your own words or creating concept maps or diagrams.

Different subjects will be better suited to certain active learning methods. For example, if you are studying for a Psychology exam you will need to figure out big ideas and be able to explain them, so explaining out loud in your own words should be helpful.

The key with active learning is that you are experiententially involved in the learning process. If you are just rereading your textbooks and notes you are not doing that.

4. Test yourself

Another form of active learning is to test yourself. You could cover up the definitions in your notebook and then try to recall what each term means. This is called retrieval practice, a strategy where you deliberately recall information forcing yourself to pull your knowledge out and examine what you know. It enhances and boosts learning through bringing information to mind.

Make sure that when you test yourself that the test is challenging. If your self-testing is too easy it won’t help you learn sufficiently.

5. Practice interleaving

A good idea when you are studying is to do something called interleaving. Interleaving means that you test yourself on different concepts. Doing this will help you retain information better, and it is usually how tests are set up.

The problem with practicing one concept is that your attention starts to decrease because you will know what is coming next. Mixing up concepts will help you see how concepts differ, form trends and fit together.

making notes

6. Create your own study materials

Study materials such as notes, recordings, past papers and visual aids can help make the studying process less overwhelming. This is why it’s important to make sure that your notes are complete and correct as well as having any other materials readily available such as books, pens and paper. 

You can then start condensing your class notes by highlighting key words and creating visual aids like mind maps, charts and outlines to simplify and organise your information. This will make it easier for you to remember the work. You might find using advanced organisers, mnemonic devices, and quizzes very helpful too.

7. Use technology

The increase in mobile learning technology has made more options available for you to prepare for your exams. Offering you much more than just consulting prescribed textbooks and printed copies of past exam papers. You can now use different software and apps to simplify studying and save time.

For example, if you’re a visual learner, YouTube could be a particularly helpful resource with its array of instructional videos accessible on different devices. Another option is accessing online platforms that have specially designed learning tools like short video lessons, supplementary practice exercises, games, and flashcards that make it easier for you to conquer any topic. There are even note taking apps to help better organise your notes and make it easier to access them at a later stage. You can even use exam prep apps that simulate the experience of actually taking an exam. There are tons of different options that technology provides to help you study, take advantage of them.


8. Have specific goals for each study session

Setting study-related goals helps keep you accountable in reaching your academic milestones. It will reduce  your desire to procrastinate and avoid subjects or topics that you might struggle with. One way you can do this is to follow the S.M.A.R.T method – which is setting goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. This involves being as detailed as possible when you do the following:

  • Write down your goals; 
  • Measure your success by setting benchmarks and deadlines for yourself;
  • Provide yourself with the necessary tools and guidance you’ll need to realise your goals
  • Set goals that you know you can actually execute; 
  • Make a timeframe for your goals that will encourage you to act on them and motivate you to put in extra study time. 

Remember, you can personalise your goals for each of your study sessions, which will help simplify the process of attaining them. 

9. Take advantage of campus resources

Most tertiary institutions have academic resource centres at their students’ disposal. These centres are there to assist with any academic pressure and preparations for upcoming tests and exams. Make sure that you take full advantage of this by attending any workshops on effective studying methods and time management.  You can also make use of your university’s writing centres to strengthen your reading and writing, and consult with your tutors on how to improve your marks.

You can always consult directly with your lecturers and professors too, but just make sure to book an appointment with them first to avoid an unannounced visit. If you’re not comfortable with any of these, there’s always the option of asking a student who has previously taken and passed the class you’re struggling with to tutor you.

10. Eat healthy

Your diet plays a big role in your brain activity and your ability to focus on studying for your exams. This is why it’s so important to eat food that will increase your energy levels and alertness. The right food will enhance your ability to remember information, and improve your overall well-being. 

Foods such as broccoli, spinach, fish, dark chocolate, and green tea are all associated with boosting brain function. So are healthy snack alternatives like nuts, yogurt, dried fruits and oatmeal. These foods have been proven to improve your mental alertness, memory retention, and increase your energy levels. It’s best to avoid sugary foods as the blood sugar levels crash following the temporary energy rush causing fatigue that will tempt you to take a break earlier than planned. You can also experience fatigue from dehydration. So, always make sure that you have a bottle of water handy when you’re studying.


11. Give yourself rest

Finally, one of the most important tips when preparing for your exams is getting enough sleep. This doesn’t only apply to the night before your test, but involves securing a healthy sleep schedule weeks or months in advance. Getting seven to eight hours of sleep every night leading up to your exam will help your brain retain the information you studied better and enhance your alertness. Your brain will perform better with consistent rest. Don’t let your stress stop you from sleeping.

It’s also important to make sure you take regular breaks in between your study sessions. Your breaks can be anywhere between five to 15 minutes long, taken every 90 minutes. For example, going on a short walk to get something to eat will provide your brain with extra oxygen and make you more energised and alert to resume your study session.

Happy studying!

It’s clear that a lack of effective studying methods is one of the main reasons students feel unprepared for their exams. The tips we’ve shared are a few ways that anyone can overcome being unprepared by simply adapting their existing studying techniques. Next time you feel overwhelmed and the urge to cram for your exams, just follow these tips and you’ll ace it. Good luck!

While you’re studying you may still be dealing with financial stress around your studies. If you need any help reach out to Fundi

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