Planning for Your Exams

Exams are always a stressful time of year. You go into June knowing full well that potentially 30 or more percentage points rest on those final 2 – 3 hours. Obviously, this is not the best way to evaluate a student’s learning, but a process just the same. The benefit of the exam is that the teacher will most likely use the bigger ideas and concepts on the final exam. Though this does not mean that you can forget half the things you’ve studied, it does mean that you can save some time in certain areas if you know where to look.

When studying for exams, there is a lot to account for. The difficulty, prior knowledge, and generally how well you understand the subject. This article is designed to give you a better idea of how to plan for your exams.

Prioritize Your Time

Most exams are 2 – 3 hours long. This is not very much time to work with. From a teaching perspective, you are forced to jam all your curriculum materials into a 2 hour, testable time frame. Of course, for the student, this is what will work to your advantage.

On a 2 or 3 hour exam, it can only be so long. You need to make sure you spend time where it needs to be spent, not squandering it on items of small importance which will amount to nothing. Put yourself in the teacher’s shoes; what was the main focus during the year? Was there a major theme? For math, what were the main points for each chapter? Identify the most important parts and move on to the next chapter. By the end, you will have compiled a list of topics that are worth studying. Not only will this guide you along your preparation, but will also keep you on task. The most obscure facts are usually the most interesting, but stay focused! What matters are big ticket items, and this is what you should focus on.

Once you have your summarized list of topics, you’re ready to study. Go through the related questions or assignments and see if you can answer them all correctly. Don’t forget that some questions can use the same concept, but have varying structures.

Schedule Yourself

Print out a calendar or lay one out yourself. Using a month view of June, mark down your exam dates and times. Already in your head you should know what subjects you have the most trouble with. Obviously, these will have more time blocked in to study, but don’t neglect your other courses too. Start penciling in your study times and make them as balanced as possible. Spending 10 hours the night before is probably not the best way to study. Split those 10 hours into a week or so, and balance it with your other courses as well.

Keep in mind that once you lay out your schedule, you must follow it! If you said 3 hours of Chemistry studying today, then do it without distraction. Trust that your past self knew what they were talking about (which they probably did) and focus! You need to make sure that your plans are detailed enough to follow if you need that kind of motivation. If it helps, you can put down, “June 15 – 2 hours of English, focus on King Lear characters and quotes.” Having a written record of what you need to do makes you more accountable for your actions. Try to minimize your distractions and grind through those 2 or 3 hours you set yourself. On the same note, don’t go overboard. Studying for massive amounts of time isn’t conducive to learning either.

Plan out your units of study, chapters, and everything else on this schedule. Be meticulous; you don’t want to miss anything, and everything is fair game on an exam.

Setting Goals

Break down your goal for the term into manageable, daily goals that keep you focus. Ask yourself: what outcome do you want to achieve after each day of study? What do you have to do each day in order to cover your material and achieve an 85% in the exam? (if that’s your goal) Here’s an example: if you’re running through grade 11 trigonometry, what are you trying to accomplish in that 3 hour study session? You might write down that you want to understand and calculate trig ratios in all different forms, in addition to going over 30% of the questions in the textbook. Be specific. This will help keep you focused.

Be realistic about these goals as well. There is absolutely no point in saying that after finishing two questions, you’re going to take a 30 minute break. A good regulator would be to set daily, or session oriented goals. What do you want to have done for today? Then at the end of the day, did you complete it? If you didn’t, you’d better find out why not and buckle down, or you’re in for a rough exam week.

Focus on Your Troubling Materials

Some courses you take will have that one concept that really bothers you. Or maybe you’re stuck in a course where every concept bothers you. Regardless, these are the ideas that you are going to have to tackle, understand, and learn by the time your exam rolls around. The first thing to do is go through the course and compile a list of these troubling concepts. You can indicate using a symbol or some kind of system (asterisks, dashes, checkmarks) how difficult that concept is for you. Then once you’ve compiled your list, you know exactly what to focus on.

Knowing your weaknesses will make you stronger in that course. You might want to do this before you start making your exam study schedule. That way you’ll be able to better judge how much time you need to spend on these concepts.

Again, step back every once in a while and make some judgement calls. Is that concept really that integral to the course? If worse comes to worst, can you get by without it? If you really can’t, this would be a good time to ask your teacher, a friend, or a tutor. Ideally, you should have done this when you didn’t understand it the first time, but that’s water under the bridge. Make sure you relearn it in time for the exam, and if you can’t, consider the consequences if you cut your losses and move on. Remember: is it a big concept or not?

Maintaing Your Focus

As exam season approaches, stress levels are going to skyrocket. That’s fine. Take it in stride and learn from your experiences. It will make you a more well rounded student. However, make sure you exhaust all possibilities to improve your study habits. Plan ahead. Set time aside for studying. Pinpoint what you need to focus on, and stay the course. Remember, summer is just around the corner, so don’t falter when you’re so close to the finish line.

The post is originally written by Queen Elizabeth AcademyTutoring Mississauga.

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