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 be done with it. However, doing this may cause you to be overwhelmed by the immense amount you have to cover! That’s why it’s important to know how to study effectively for exams. Wondering how to do just that? Don’t worry, we’re here to help.

In this blog, we’ve gathered 11 tips to help you study more effectively and do better in your exams.

Table of Contents

1. Create a Study Plan

Before you start studying, you should make a study plan. Take time to sit down and figure out when you need to study to be best prepared for your different exams.

Take a look at all of your modules, the exam dates and how much content you need to cover before you write your exams.  Plot them on a calendar so you know exactly what you need to study and on which day.

Planning all of this in advance 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, which is a bad idea.

Cramming before an exam will only add to your stress levels, and it may actually make you perform worse on the day of your examinations.

When you are planning out your studying make sure that you create a space for different subjects leading up to the exam. Make sure that you have studied consistently in the weeks leading up to the exam so that all you have to do the day before is review your notes and refresh your memory.


3. Practise Active Learning While You Study

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 through a process known as active learning.

Active learning is when you engage with your learning material by constructing meaning from your textbooks, notes and lectures through the use of examples and various other study methods.

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 to active learning is that you are experientially involved in the learning process; if you are just rereading your textbooks and notes you are not doing that.

4. Test Yourself While You Study for Exams

A great way to study more effectively is to test yourself while you study. An example of this is covering up definitions in your notebook and then recalling what each term means. You can also create your own questions based on your study material and quiz yourself on them after you’ve studied to see how well you do.

Testing yourself in this way is known as retrieval practice, which is a strategy whereby you deliberately recall information—forcing yourself to pull your knowledge out and examine what you know.

Retrieval practise is effective when studying because it enhances and boosts learning by bringing information to the front of your mind.

Make sure that when you test yourself that the test is challenging, because if it’s too easy, it won’t help you learn sufficiently.

5. Practice Interleaving When Studying for Exams

A good idea when you are studying is to do something called interleaving, which is when you test yourself on different concepts while you study.

For example, if you were learning words from different topics such as food, animals and clothing, you would mix all the definitions from all the topics and put them in one group. This is opposed to you studying the definitions from each topic separately and moving from topic to topic. 

Interleaving can help you retain information better, and it is usually how tests are set up. This method of learning and practicing one concept is better because your attention starts to decrease because you will know what is coming next.

Interleaving and mixing up concepts will help you see how concepts differ from one another, form trends and how they fit together.

making notes

6. Make Your Own Study Materials

Creating your own 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, including your books, pens and paper. 

You can then start condensing your notes by highlighting keywords and creating visual aids (mind maps, charts, 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 When You Study

The increase in mobile learning technology has made it easier for students to prepare for exams. These mobile learning technologies provide you with 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, like Matric Live, 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, as it reduces 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. The S.M.A.R.T method involves being as detailed as possible, and can be done by doing the following:

  • Specific: Write down specific goals (for example, “study for one hour on Mondays”)
  • Measurable: Measure your success by setting benchmarks and deadlines for yourself.
  • Attainable: Provide yourself with the necessary tools and guidance you’ll need to realise your goals.
  • Realistic: Set goals that you know you can actually execute.
  • Timely: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 While You Study for Exams

Eating healthy while you study for exams plays a big role in your brain activity and your ability to focus on what you’re studying. This is why it’s so important to eat food that will increase your energy levels and alertness. Eating 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. You can also turn to 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 Time to Rest When Studying

One of the most important tips when studying effectively for exams s 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 essential to make sure you take regular breaks in between your study sessions. Your breaks can be 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.

Final Thoughts

The study 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 have the urge to cram for your exams, just follow these tips and you’ll ace it. Good luck!

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