A Christian College of the Liberal Arts & Sciences

Planning for Exams

By the time your instructor announces an exam, you should have done the following:

  • kept a set of notes for each class
  • kept a set of notes (or markings) for each textbook chapter
  • reviewed your notes periodically to keep the material fresh

On-going review of your class and textbook notes will result in your exam preparation requiring less time.

When preparing for an exam, use the following steps as a guideline.

6-7 Days Prior to an Exam

Review Relevant Course Material

  • Early in your exam review, reread your lecture notes and textbook notes/markings, hand-outs, supplemental readings and corrected quizzes, making sure they are clear and meaningful. 
  • Do not reread any entire textbook chapters, but do reread a section or two to clarify confusing points or topics.

4-5 Days Prior to an Exam

Use Notes to Develop Study Sheets

  • Combine lecture notes and textbook notes -- organize the material for study.
  • Reduce the number of study pages by at least half using headings, subheadings, syllabus, key terms, etc., form a concentrated version of notes/handouts, etc. 
  • If a course involves memorizing facts, formula, dates, vocabulary, etc., try using flash cards instead of study sheets. 

3-4 Days Prior to an Exam

Recite and Write

  • Recite the newly created study sheets, breaking them down into segments until the material is known for total recall - not recognition.  The more you recite, the more you will remember at exam times.   Review each previously learned section before going on to learning the next.
  • Writing information, such as comparison charts, maps, time lines, etc., helps transfers information to memory.

2 Days Prior to an Exam

Attend a Study Group

  • If a study group is not available, form your own with members of your class.
  • Study Groups enable you to discuss and clarify important information and predict exam questions. 
  • You will need to complete a concentrated review process alone.  Your own private recitation and concentrated review are necessities for your  learning.

The Night Prior to an Exam

Complete a Concentrated Review

  • The concentrated review should cover all information likely to appear on the exam.
  • Quiz yourself on what you have learned, using key words or questions to jog your memory.
  • If the exam will be an essay exam, use part of the concentrated review to write an essay answer or two or reproduce a diagram, chart, map, etc.
  • Get to bed at a reasonable hour.  The more rested you are the better your performance on an exam.

The Day of an Exam

Conduct a Brief Review(Do not attempt to learn anything new)

Taking the Exam

  • Read the exam directions carefully and follow those given by the professor.
  • On a corner of the exam or on a scrap piece of paper, write down anything you need to remember - formulas, facts, names, etc.
  • Read through the entire exam before beginning to answer, taking note of qualifying words and making sure questions are understood. 
  • Budget your time, spending more time on the questions worth more points.

Objective Exams

  • Answer the easiest questions first.
  • Go back and read through the exam again and answer the more difficult questions.
  • On your third “read through”, answer the questions you will be guessing at, following appropriate guessing techniques.

Essay Exams

  • Read through the entire exam, circling key words in questions.
  • Jot down answer phrases which occur to you.
  • Begin writing answers by answering the easiest question first to build your confidence.
  • Move on the harder questions, bearing in mind the point values and your time.
  • Use the full time allotted and be sure to review, correct and add information to answers

How Smart Students Rehearse for Exams

  • Size up the type of exam before you begin studying
    • Are the questions primarily from the lecture, textbook, or outside readings?
    • Is it cumulative?
    • Do the questions focus on main themes, details, or both?
    • Do the questions require factual or analytic answers?
    • Will the test give you a choice of questions?
    • What information will be provided (formulas, graphs, etc)?
    • What level of expertise does it require?
    • What types of questions will be included: essay, short-answer, multiple choice?
    • Does your professor have any strongly held viewpoints, or opinions?
  • Get an overview of the course
    • Know the Big Picture before immersing yourself in the details of the course.
    • Apply the 80 - 20 Rule.
    • 20% of the facts and ideas covered in your course
    • will account for 80% of the test questions.
  • Review your previous exams                 
    • What was your biggest problem overall?                            
    • What comments did your professor make?
    • What caused your mistakes?
    • From where did the professor draw the test questions: the textbook, the lecture, elsewhere?
    • Were you as prepared as you should have been?
  • Condense your notes and make your own study sheets.
  • Review original notes on occasion instead of just reviewing your study sheets.
  • Condense your summary sheets one final time -- keep reworking the information.
  • Reconstruct your summary sheet from memory.

Compiled by Eileen Lewis