Teachers, parents, and online listicles always say the secret to good grades is studying. You’ve probably heard it a thousand times already. What nobody tells you is how to study; it can be boring or just plain unhelpful trying to review material when you just don’t know what to review. But once you learn the best way to study for you, it can become the best tool you have to pass all your classes without spending hours stressing over finals. I’m here to share some of my favorite study methods that have helped me do well on exams. Hopefully, they can help you with any tests you need to study for too!
1. Make a study plan
In the past, I would make a to-do list and just write a generic “Study for Test” task. But what finally allowed me to study successfully was writing out specific plans for each test I was preparing for. That way, the task of “studying” was divided into multiple smaller tasks I could cross off as I went along. This was extremely helpful since it gave me specific things to do, plus I felt a sense of accomplishment every time I crossed something off my list, which then motivated me to keep studying. Start by splitting everything up in a way that makes sense to you; this can be done based on the study guide your teacher provides, what you’ve previously done for similar tests or subjects, the different techniques discussed below, or anything else that makes sense to you.
To take it to another level, you can even try scheduling out your tasks by day. For instance, if you have six things to do as part of your study plan and three days until your test, then try to do two things a day; if you have only two days, do three things a day, and so on. You could also plan to do specific things each day. Big, time-consuming tasks like doing a review or making flashcards could be done during the first few days, while you could save quick memory-refreshing tasks for the day before the test.
2. Review actively
One of the best and simplest tasks you can add to your study plan is reviewing. It sounds obvious, but what happened to me frequently while reviewing was reading the same thing repeatedly yet remembering nothing. It was easy for sentences to blur together to the point where I could “study” for ages and recall nothing. For this reason, I had to learn how to review actively instead of passively. Some ways to do this include highlighting and underling material, asking yourself questions throughout the review then checking your answers, or trying to summarize what you’ve reviewed at each stopping point. This works for all different types of material too, from physical or digital notes and readings to videos or recorded lectures.
3. Memorize using flashcards
I’ve found flashcards to be super helpful when studying for finals. There are plenty of tools you can use to make them, from physical notecards to free online services like Quizlet. Reviewing homemade flashcards can help you memorize terms a lot faster and make you engage with the material in a different way than just reading it. When you make your flashcards, you can also add other elements to them, like drawings, diagrams, or pictures. This visual aspect can make it even easier to remember since it gives your brain another method to recall certain facts. Also, if you save all the flashcards you make throughout a class, it’s much easier to recall ideas you may have learned months ago. Flashcards do have their limits since they’re better for short terms like vocabulary and definitions rather than complex ideas. But when used with other methods, they can be an incredibly useful study tool.
4. Make a one-pager
I started creating my own “one-pagers” in high school when I had a teacher who allowed us to use a page of notes for every test we took. At the time, I thought this would make the tests incredibly easy. Surprisingly, I didn’t even use my note sheets during the tests because I had already memorized everything by making them. That’s why I still make one-pagers even when I’m not allowed to use them on my exams. I prefer to take one blank piece of paper and try to summarize everything I might need to know for my test. This leaves plenty of room to add things with colors and highlights or pictures and diagrams. No matter what I add, I make sure it’s all on one paper and one paper only. This forces me to review everything closely, and the limited space means I can only pick out key ideas and themes. The act of copying and summarizing notes also gets my brain to engage with the material in a new way. The best part is that you can make these for pretty much any type of test.
5. Do practice problems
Before you take your test, find out from your teacher or professor what kinds of questions they’re going to ask and what resources you’re allowed to use. Then you can prepare by doing practice problems that are similar to those on the test. There are plenty of websites with example problems, like Khan Academy and Albert.io. If your class uses a textbook, it probably has a section with practice problems as well. No matter where you find your questions, practicing helps you get used to different styles of tests before you take them and gauge how ready you are for your exams. However, some types of questions are easier to practice than others; ones with exact answers, like in math and science, suit this method more than the more open-ended questions you’ll find on English exams.
6. Work with others
While a lot of these methods are designed for solo study, there are huge benefits to be gained by studying with other people. Teaching others can help you better understand the material because you’re forced to explain it in a different and understandable way; plus, it can help you recognize your own weak spots before test day. Your peers may know different parts of content better than the ones you know best, so comparing and helping each other can ensure you cover everything. Talking through what you’re studying with someone, even if they aren’t in the same class as you, can also help you process and retain information. The only problem is that it’s easy to get distracted with study buddies, especially if you’re close friends. If you’re interested in this method, try finding study groups or tutoring services at your school, or you can always start your own.
7. Ask for help
Don’t forget that your instructors are always there for you to use as a resource. If you find something while studying that you just can’t figure out on your own, you can and should ask for help. Just email them or visit their office hours so you can talk about what’s confusing you. There’s no harm in asking, especially since they want to see you succeed just as much as you do. You’ll probably understand a concept much faster than if you struggle through it on your own.
You don’t have to employ all these methods for every single test you take. In fact, they may not work for some tests or subjects. But you can mix and match them as much as you want, change and adjust them, or come up with new ones as you discover what works for you and what doesn’t. Knowing how to study can significantly reduce the stress you might feel around big exams or finals week. I’ll be using these tips for my finals this year, and I hope they help you as well. Good luck!
Looking for even more study tips and tricks for midterms, finals, or other exams? Check out all Our Best Advice for Homework, Studying, and Tests.