Kacy Buxton/The Mainstream
Professor Marie Gambill in her office at Wayne Crooch Hall on UCC’s campus.

Getting prepared for exams: how to be ready for midterms or finals

Exams are a challenge and every student knows this, but not everyone knows how powerful good studying habits can be.  Many students often fall into the trap of cramming before an exam.  On the other hand, having quality preparation can lead to excelling on an exam.

Most students find preparing for an exam, to be a daunting task, but with practice students can find a way that works for them can help make exams a less stressful experience. According to Professor Marie Gambill, associate professor, learning skills center coordinator and first year experience, the path to being prepared begins around one to two weeks before the exam.  Students should gather past quizzes, worksheets, notes, past midterms, and go over the chapters that will be on the exam. “Then I would find out if the instructor offers a practice test, for example in math you can get a practice test, and I would have that ready. So basically, I am gathering everything that I need to study,” says Gambill.

Once all the information has been gathered and organized, then a week before the midterm or final it is time to start studying more for the exam than you have been.  If it is finals or if there are multiple midterms happening at the same, make a study schedule.  A study schedule is a plan for when to study and what to study as well as giving times for breaks. This will help with keeping on track and not getting lost when preparing.

Going over notes, worksheets, and past quizzes helps to reinforce what was taught.  “Keep class notes and homework. Any class could potentially cover a very broad set of topics. The notes and assignments narrow those topics down to what the teacher likely considers to be the most important,” says Luke Suhr, Master’s of Education and Mechanical Engineering, as well as Bachelor’s of Electrical Engineering and currently a Computer Science student at UCC.

If possible, it is also good to retake tests and quizzes, even if it consists of just going over the old questions or rewriting them yourself.  This helps to give a better understanding of the information, and will help make it clearer what parts require more studying.  Along with this, making flashcards can help to cement terms and other various pieces of information.

A few days before the test, it is essential to start slowing down, since studying too much can cause mental exhaustion. “I would make sure that I was getting enough exercise, enough food, and enough sleep, because those are three things that get overlooked when students start to study,” says Gambill. “Then I would start doing a practice quiz the day before, making sure that I got it. If I didn’t, I would study a little bit on the areas that I didn’t get. Then I would actually take part of the night off the day before the test, maybe study on something else, but making sure that I am not cramming so much stuff into my head so that morning I can’t think.”

Homework can be overwhelming at times, but is useful for learning and preparing for an exam.  “In many classes, doing the homework is important because your homework is a way of taking notes on anything that you are reviewing.  Sometimes the professors will leave corrections on your homework that provide very useful feedback in the long run,” says Brianna Graves, who is currently working on an Associate’s of Arts Oregon Transfer degree as a music major here at UCC.

Not everyone studies the same or prepares for exams the same way.  What works for one person may not work for another.  “I recommend each person find their own rhythm. Then make sure that they know what the instructor is going to ask.  Study guides are really good, like I said take a sample test, and most of all make sure that they’re not cramming,” says Gambill. “I don’t know how many times, I hear people say ‘I studied all night, and I studied all this morning and I still can’t remember.’ This is because they didn’t give their brain time to process it.”

Taking breaks when studying can help the brain to have time to process the information.  Having five to 10 minute breaks, every hour can help with long-term memory of information.  When breaks are taken, it should be to get up and move around, since this will give the brain time to process. Even just getting something to drink or eat, or stretching can help.

Stress can hurt the ability to study.  “For me personally, I would listen to calm music in order to relieve stress.  Listening to calm music can relieve any tension that you may have and it helps you remain focused on your own surroundings and what you are trying to study,” says Graves. Also, keeping up with your studying can also help.  “It’s a lot less stressful than doing all your cramming the night before,” says Suhr.

At UCC there are many useful resources available to help with preparing for exams.  There is the Success Center in the library where there are academic coaches ready to help. Within departments, instructors are there to help as well.  Peer mentors can help teach techniques for studying and faculty is available to provide assistance as well.

Everyone has their way to study, as well as their own place where they are comfortable.  A key part of being prepared is developing your own way of studying and knowing where to study as it is important to have a comfortable non-interruptive place.  This will help to make studying go better than if there were constant interruptions, which includes phones and social media.  Doing well on a test is a mental battle and it is important to have the right mindset.  “Have confidence in yourself,” says Gambill. Getting the right mindset and being prepared for an exam can be a battle, as any student knows, but once they know how they study best getting prepared is easier than before.

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