Hi friends! Guess what? This is the first winter in nine years where I haven’t had to study for any exams! I have to admit, graduating is a pretty great thing. On the other hand, I’m now starting to notice what everyone told me would be really strange about adult life: aside from the normal flow of the seasons and holidays, there isn’t as much of a cadence to everything anymore. Sure, there are slow periods and busy times in the office, but there isn’t that massive ramp-up to exams and three weeks of total stress, followed by a complete memory purge of everything I learned, because when am I ever going to need to know this stuff again? (Okay, maybe next semester…)
So now I’m seeing many of my friends on Facebook starting their new semesters with fresh minds – and any high schoolers I know are just starting to feel the pressure rise as their exams approach. And since I’m not one of them, I figured I would take a little bit of my loads of extra time from not having school to share a couple of the things that I did to study for my exams.
I should start by saying that my biggest academic downfall has always been my memory. My study methods usually revolved around making sure I understood concepts and how to arrive at the answer, rather than memorizing particular examples – because I knew from experience that I would completely blank on the exam if I tried that. Physics lends itself pretty well to that type of studying. In fact, I specifically selected courses that didn’t require much memorization, so generally no biology, history, and the like. Even if you are studying for memory-type exams, these methods could still supplement your own!
Make a List
This was always my first step when my university classes ended for the semester. I took inventory of all of my assignments, textbooks, review packages, and made a list of everything I would reasonably need to study to feel prepared for the exam.
Note that I said reasonably. I’m not sure if this is good advice or not, but I found that if I over-studied — that is, got burnt out and just studied for the sake of it — I would run out of steam for my other exams, get super stressed out, and usually start doubting and forgetting everything I had already learned. I would spread out the items over multiple days and mix up which exams I was studying for, but unless I had identifies something I really needed to add, I would stop once I reached the end of the list. This would leave time for me to relax for a bit and get enough sleep (which was a must for me during exams)!
Notes on Notes*
*Patent pending (just kidding)
This idea I didn’t discover until Second Year, but it became a staple in my study habits. I would create a consolidated set of notes based on my class notes, plus any textbook examples or assignment tidbits that felt pertinent. Not only that, but I would colour-code them!
Honestly, there wasn’t much of a reason behind the colour-coding, except maybe to make it easier to skim for equations or topics. The real reason was so that I would change pens and colours every few words. That way, I could force myself to stay engaged in my learning.
Once I had my notes on notes, I rarely needed to go back to the originals. It helped me review without missing anything, tap into kinesthetic learning skills, and save time on last-minute review.
Study with Friends — Sometimes
I hate being in a study group where people “quiz” each other. Being on the spot like that makes my memory even foggier than it would be on the exam itself. I end up just thinking, “Oh, I don’t know. Never mind. I’m going to fail.” However, I find that when you teach each other things that one of you is better at explaining than the others, it’s much more helpful and efficient. In general, it’s best if you’re doing the teaching. It gives you the opportunity to get a really great handle on the topic. But that would be a bit one-sided in a study group, so teaching each other is a good compromise.
Combine these with readings, office hours, flash cards, lots of practice… and you’re good to go!
What are your favourite study tips to make exams (just a little bit) more bearable?