How To: Study For Your Upcoming Exam

Nelly Wadia , 10 Jun 2020
Group of student writing an exam. By LStockStudio | www.shutterstock.com
Group of student writing an exam. By LStockStudio | www.shutterstock.com

I can say this without a shred of doubt—I hated exams more than life itself. I would wake up on the morning of and say I was too sick to give an exam. Partly because I also suffered from anxiety and was blissfully unaware. And partly because I just couldn’t bring myself to be defined by numbers. I knew I was a good student when I could apply myself, I hated the idea of byhearting things and vomiting it out on paper. Can you imagine that people who did this best were the one’s who actually did well? Ok, some of them went on to do great things after school too and I can assure you it wasn’t thanks to our school education. I just wish I was able to show my younger self these tips before writing an exam.

I think I have an issue with the system, it doesn’t allow one to apply themselves. And it surely doesn’t equip you with the right tools to go out into the world and be an adult. I felt cornered for being creatively inclined or wanting to pursue my athletic goals. Teachers talked down to me because I didn’t have the grades to show for my actual level of intelligence. Their main remark on my scoresheet would be is that I can do better if I applied myself. What does that even mean? So I understand enough that the process of exams can be daunting and almost terrifying, especially now given the level of competition. However, I still managed to be an above-average student because I had a few techniques that helped me prepare better which I’m sharing with you.

Here are a few tips to help you study better for your exams:

Pre-Exam Prep:

1) Review the syllabus

This is pretty much mentioned in advance by the teachers. Make sure you browse to see the length of this syllabus and read parts of it if you can. Ask questions so you’ve covered your ground in advance. You might look like you want to be teacher’s pet but better to get things out of the way before they begin to pile up.

Review your syllabus. By irinabdw | www.shutterstock.com
Review your syllabus. By irinabdw | www.shutterstock.com

2) Pay attention in class or tutions

This seems like a point one doesn’t have to make but back-benchers like me really needed a good reminder every now and then. I always came out with a better understanding if I simply paid enough attention in class. Sometimes I was even able to elaborate on an answer just because I listened to the teacher.

Paying attention in class. By wavebreakmedia | www.shutterstock.com
Paying attention in class. By wavebreakmedia | www.shutterstock.com

3) Make notes

Write down notes. When I went off to university I began voice recording my classes because we were allowed to have cellphones in class. thank God for being over 18. In school, this is a highly unlikely scenario so make sure you write really fast and can read what you write. Or make sure you’re friendly with the class topper and ask to borrow his or her notes and xerox. Review these notes daily once your home. Just one quick read, I promise you it will go a long way.

Making notes. By Dmytro Zinkevych | www.shutterstock.com
Making notes. By Dmytro Zinkevych | www.shutterstock.com

4) Study daily to make part of your routine

Studying daily can help lessen the load of what you need to cram overnight before an examination. Plus you will do well to create a set routine of studying daily because once a habit is formed it won’t seem like a daunting task.

Student is studying at home daily. By KucherAV | www.shutterstock.com
Student is studying at home daily. By KucherAV | www.shutterstock.com

Preparation Time:

1) Organize your space

Remember this, if your space is cluttered, your mind will remain cluttered. Create a designated area that you are comfortable in. Make sure you don’t have any external stimuli to distract you while you study. Put aside your phone and turn off the TV. Music can aid in one’s memory and classical music has proven to be most effective. However, this is something you must decide, try to listen to instrumental music so the lyrics do not interfere with what you are studying. Make sure you have bright lights on, I realised I studied better in white light because orange lights made me feel sleepy. However, if clutter and sounds work for you then do what helps you best. I preferred sitting upright on a couch with ample space in front of me and of course, the company of my dog to get me through any exam.

Organise your desk. By Rawpixel.com | www.shutterstock.com
Organise your desk. By Rawpixel.com | www.shutterstock.com

2) Find the right hours of the day that help you study best

Till date, I find working at night the best. I find that there are too many distractions around me during the day. The doorbell ringing, my mother cooking or the maid cleaning. But once nightfall sets in the silence sets in and everybody settles down. Plus I would begin to feel the pressure of a deadline creeping up on me. 7 pm to 3 am were my optimal studying hours—I would then sleep till about 5 am and wake up again to study and shower before my exams.

Find the right hours of the day. By Billion Photos | www.shutterstock.com
Find the right hours of the day. By Billion Photos | www.shutterstock.com

3) Make a list of what you want to cover in a day

I love the gratification I get from striking things off my checklist. I’d feel accomplished, I also know what I can realistically cover in a day and this helps me plan better for the next day. Always set your sights on the sky and then fall to the trees, that simply just is the best way to make a study plan. I also always started off with the easier things and then saved my time and energy to study the harder more difficult things.

Make a list of what you have to study. By Aleksey Boyko | www.shutterstock.com
Make a list of what you have to study. By Aleksey Boyko | www.shutterstock.com

4) Use flow charts, diagrams, mnemonics and visualisation

Visual aids can be really helpful when studying. You can pick out the larger topic at hand and make sub-sections, drawing things out means you’re understanding what you are learning. Another easy way to recall key-words is to create associations with the alphabets in that word. This is called acronyms and mnemonics and can really make acing an exam quite easily. I would always write my acronyms on my question paper the minute it arrived in pencil so I wouldn’t forget. One trick I used when studying Geography was, drawing out a map of an area on the wall in front of me with my finger. This was all imagined let me tell you and then I would speak the information out loud with big hand gestures and movements. This method can really aid in memory recall too.

Hand drawing a diagram or flow chart. By NPeter | www.shutterstock.com
Hand drawing a diagram or flow chart. By NPeter | www.shutterstock.com

5) Rewrite everything you studied

Once I’ve read and re-read something I try to write it down as an answer. I would elaborate on it in my own words. I would go back and cross-check and if I was able to convey the same thing in different words then I knew I had understood what I was trying to learn. Avoid copying your notes over and over, this will only ensure that you have memorised the content without actually understanding it.

Rewrite everything you studied. By Arthon.Meekodong | www.shutterstock.com
Rewrite everything you studied. By Arthon.Meekodong | www.shutterstock.com

6) Understand your learning style

This one will be a key point to your success. You may try to mimic your friends and how they study but that may not be the most efficient way for you to study. I would sometimes rock myself back and forth as I would say my answers out loud. Alternatively, I would highlight my textbook in different colours because I have what they call an Eidetic memory. I am able to recall where exactly the answer is and on what side and corner of the page and in what colour—this would help me recall the information instantly.

If you’re a visual learner like me then these processes will aid you, you can also couple that with the use of supporting imagery as well. Are you an auditory learner? Then the best way to study is by recording yourself and hearing yourself explain the information back to you. Do you learn better with physical movements? Then lecture yourself with gestures and movements and study in different locations. If you’re feeling blocked in a certain spot move to another spot, it might help you remember what you’re studying better.

Understand your learning style. By Rawpixel.com | www.shutterstock.com
Understand your learning style. By Rawpixel.com | www.shutterstock.com

7) Practice old exam papers

The best way to prep for an exam is by taking practise tests. This way you’re able to keep track of how much time you spend answering each question. And how much time you should ideally be devoting to each of them. This also helps you get an idea of the format and the most commonly asked questions. If you’ve missed studying any one of those then you can always go back and refer to your notes.

Practice old exam papers. By smolaw | www.shutterstock.com
Practice old exam papers. By smolaw | www.shutterstock.com

8) Explain your answers to others

This technique helped me a whole lot. I would annoy my parents by giving them my notes and then explaining my answer to them. This involved a lot of big eyes from them and a lot of giggling from me. But in the end, it served the purpose and I understood what I was learning instead of simply cramming for an exam.

Explain your answers to others. By fizkes | www.shutterstock.com
Explain your answers to others. By fizkes | www.shutterstock.com

9) Take regular breaks

Many Indian parents will tell you that studying for as many hours as possible is the best way to function; they couldn’t be any more wrong. This process is entirely counterproductive; usually one should study for 20-30 minutes no-stop and then take a 5-minute break. This method has proven far more efficient for long term retention of knowledge. Make sure you structure your chunks of work logically so that you’re not breaking up a concept in the middle just to facilitate that break. Finish one entire concept and then take a break. However, everyone is different and it would bode you well to find a study routine that is best suited to you.

Explain your answers to others. By fizkes | www.shutterstock.com
Explain your answers to others. By fizkes | www.shutterstock.com

10) Snack and hydrate effectively

Load up on your proteins (fish, chicken) and health food. Eat nuts, have some fruits, drink a glass of fresh juice and have some yoghurt in between. Keep the meals light so you don’t feel sleepy but you’re full enough to pull your focus through the day. Make sure to drink lots of water when studying because you’re sure to be parched from all that talking out loud if you do as I do.

Snack and hydrate effectively. By artem evdokimov | www.shutterstock.com
Snack and hydrate effectively. By artem evdokimov | www.shutterstock.com

11) Make study groups

I don’t know how efficient this method is. Study groups to me are what tutions felt like in India. In general, I prefer to study when no one is around me. I focus better and learn a lot more with lesser distractions. But if this is your preferred method then set a fixed time for your working hours and make sure to keep the focus on your study material. Ask your friends your doubts and queries, this will help cover gaps in your information. And if they don’t know something you’d have explained the information to them, thus aiding your memory. I always called my best friend before an exam if I ever need help understanding the material.

Use the help of a study group. By Jacob Lund | www.shutterstock.com
Use the help of a study group. By Jacob Lund | www.shutterstock.com

12) Revise

A lot of people tend to revise right before an exam, I would too, but at some point, I would stop and put my book away. And just try to calm my mind and focus on my breathing. Ideally, you should be revising on the night before an exam but if you’re like me and prefer the last-minute pressure then you keep about 2 hours just simply for revision.

Revise. By Rawpixel.com | www.shutterstock.com
Revise. By Rawpixel.com | www.shutterstock.com

13) Plan for the morning of your exam

Get a nice restful sleep (if you can), try to clock in about 8 hours and if you can’t then try to get at least 5 hours of good undisturbed sleep. Make sure to take a brisk shower and eat a small snack before your exam. Hunger can cause you to lose focus. Some toast, an omelette and fruit will go a long way. Also, try to carry a snack (granola bar or sandwich) for, after the exam, it’s likely that you’ll be very hungry right after. Make sure you leave your house early enough to give your self enough time to settle down in your seat before the question paper arrives, The question paper is usually distributed first so quickly skim through it marking all the questions you wish to answer.

Plan for the morning of your exam. By smolaw | www.shutterstock.com
Plan for the morning of your exam. By smolaw | www.shutterstock.com

Writing this blog about giving an exam gave me severe anxiety and reminded me of how I always daydreamed about what Shah Rukh Khan would be doing at that very moment. I used to spend all my time crying in the shower and hating on life (why me, God?) you know! But, I’m over the hill and onto the other side with the help of some of these tips.

Exam anxiety. By Prostock-studio | www.shutterstock.com
Exam anxiety. By Prostock-studio | www.shutterstock.com

So let me know in the comments below if these are some of the things you already do. And if you have more tips do share them with the rest of us.

And don’t forget to follow @missmalinilifestyle for more interesting updates.

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