October 15, 2014

Staying on track in a busy semester

Where did the time go? As you prepare for midterms and final exams this semester, Mebbie Bell with the Student Success Centre shares her top tips for staying on track. 

With the fall semester quickly moving along, midterms are upon us, and many students are wondering how to juggle exam preparations with their long lists of lab assignments, projects, readings, and other activities. How do you avoid swapping one cramming session for another and the feeling that you are constantly behind? Here are a few suggestions for getting on track with exam preparations and making sure your studying is strategic.

Know Your Exams.
Be clear about the details of each exam so that you can make strategic decisions about how best to spend your study time. Review the course outline and any other information discussed in class to answer the following questions:
  • What are the question formats? How many questions of each format, and what are they worth? 
  • What specific material is covered? All of the textbook chapters, for instance, or only the examples or case studies? Is lecture material emphasized over readings? 
  • Are guest lectures or other in-class activities ‘testable’?
Be ‘picky’ with these details, as more precise information will save you time, effort, and stress. If you do not have the answers, ask your instructor.

Take Time to Plan.
Spending a bit of time planning your study time will help you focus your efforts and stay on track. For example, if you have an exam in two weeks that covers three units, allocate three days of studying for each unit. Aim to finish reviewing new material at least a day before the exam, so that you have more time to process new information and go over materials more than once. And, remember that a study plan does not need to be elaborate - it only has to be useful.

Do something daily.
Ask yourself what you can do today that will help in your exam preparations. Here are some suggestions:
  • Actively review your notes from today’s lectures. Add anything you remember from class, and identify any questions you have or gaps in your notes. The sooner after class you review material, the sooner you start transferring this information to your long-term memory (where it is more resistant to exam stress).
  • Work on one small ‘chunk’ at a time. All of us find studying overwhelming at times. Break your work into small pieces to keep it manageable. Set a specific goal and time limit each time you sit down. When you complete one task, take a short break, and set another specific goal. For instance, instead of simply studying ‘organic chemistry,’ spend 30 minutes creating an outline of a particular section of your textbook. 
Practice. Practice. Practice.
To test and strengthen your understandings, try a practice exam, redo problem sets, review study questions from the textbook, or quiz a classmate on key concepts (Check out the Students’ Union Exam Registry for old exams as well).

It’s not too late - you can still take positive steps that will make a difference in your midterm preparations, and for the rest of the term.