How to Prepare for a Big Exam
Last updated September 28, 2021
Think of exams like a performance. Imagine you’re a cellist, or dancer, on stage in front of an audience - the cellist practices scales and reading and playing music; the dancer moves through the choreography again and again - both with the ultimate aim of not making a single mistake when they start performing on stage.
Big tests are no different! If you practice diligently and give yourself time to prepare leading up to that big “performance” day, you’ll earn that A grade.
To get you started, here are 3 tips on strategic test prep:
Determine what you know and what you don’t know
Efficiency is key from the get-go when you start preparing for a test. Time spent reviewing material you already know is time wasted, so take a moment to sift through your syllabus, notes, textbook, and any quizzes to gauge where you should prioritize studying. Ask your instructor how the test will be formatted to help guide your preparation.
Make a study guide
Organize study material in a logical sequence that follows how your lessons in class have progressed. This process builds on what you did in step 1 running through your syllabus, notes, textbook, etc.
Here’s a basic example of an outline of a study guide. Let’s say you’re studying for a test on the American Civil War:
- Start with the period leading up to the war - Outline all the factors contributing to the conflict. Know the differences between opposing sides in the war and their rationales. Scope out the economic, racial, and social factors.
- The war itself - Key figures, consequences, political and social impact, slavery, etc.
- The aftermath - Political change, legislative rulings, societal damage, recovery
This would make for a massive history test, but the important thing to take away from this example is laying out what you need to study into organized procedural chunks so the material you’re learning builds on itself.
Set your study schedule
Start studying at least 2-3 weeks in advance of a big exam. Dedicate 30 minutes - 1 hour, at least 3 times per week, to studying for it.
Stick to your schedule, and you’ll see big results. If you need help, be sure to take advantage of after school tutorials and ask your teacher questions.
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Hartwig, M. K., & Dunlosky, J. (2012). Study strategies of college students: Are self-testing and scheduling related to achievement? Psychological Bulletin Review, 19, 126-134.