Studying for university exams is likely to resemble what you used to do for Finals/Leaving Certificate/A-Levels studying. The main difference is that in Uni, the material to learn will most likely be in the form of online Power Points, dense text books or even videos. My first year studying for uni exams taught me an awful lot about how to approach these important tests and how to study for them in an effective way.
Step 1: Obtain the Information
The lecturers for my class told us not to skimp on attending lectures in case we would miss out on subtle remarks that would give us some question insight for our exams. This is true for most lecturers. Early on they will (hopefully) make clear the important areas to understand and then Bingo! you will be given early directions for your focus.
So, what to do before you even write your notes:
- Get to lectures and sit somewhere advantageous (front/mid-center).
- Have a pen/note-pad/laptop/i-pad ready to jot down significant points.
- Attend all your labs/tutorials/practicals and take notes there too.
- If there are PowerPoint slides, save them to a device or print them off.
- Try and get the printing done before the lecture.
- Read available lectures before-hand to give you some background and kick-start your memory.
Step 2: Make your notes
This step is one that a lot of students tend to leave til revision-I know I did-and then instantly regret it. Making clear, comprehensible and attractive notes the week you get the lectures can help you remember information very early on, which is the ultimate goal.
How to write notes:
- For lecture slides: Either write on the notes that you printed for the lecture or dedicate 1-2 sheets of paper for each topic/chapter in question.
- For text books/reading material: Have a couple of journals where you can re-write important notes and save them for revision. The same goes for videos.
- Keep it simple: Leave room to fill-in extra points during revision time.
- Use colour: Invest in one of those multi–tipped pens and indicate any key terms.
- Draw out diagrams/experiments: This could be a great memory tool.
- Take your time: Allow adequate time to not only write out notes but to understand them.
- File the notes: Keeping the notes of a month’s worth of lectures in a binder and in your bag will remind you to go over them and then you can put them away until revision.
Step 3: Learn from the notes
If you’re happy with the hand-written/typed notes and you understand the concepts, you’ll be ready to learn them. From your lectures, reading the primary info. and writing your notes, you’ll already have a good idea of the exam info.
What I was told, and what I know now to be true, is that Repetition is Key. Sometimes reading is not enough*, so if you’re not sure what your learning tactics are, go ahead and try different methods. No one student learns in the same way. If your a college Freshman, this is the perfect time to figure it out. Don’t be afraid to abandon those high school study techniques if they didn’t work before.
How to learn notes and answer the exam questions correctly:
- Remember what you are studying for: Aim to study productively by looking at past exam questions and adopting a focused attitude.
- Re-write your notes over and over if you’re a practical learner.
- Look at your notes, cover them and try to simplify what you’ve just read.
- Practice exam questions. If you’re weeks ahead of exam, see if you can get your hands on short questions online.
- For visual learners: If there are any concepts that you’re finding difficult to figure-out (particularly for maths/science), try looking up some videos online to solidify your understanding.
- Also for visual learners: Mind maps are a fantastic way of connecting information together in a logical way. It unlocks a new compartment of your brain memory store.
- Flash cards: Download Chegg on the App Store or write some on coloured cards from a good stationary shop.
*This is passive learning, which does work for some students. To learn actively, however, is putting yourself to work mentally by consciously thinking about what you are studying and forming muscle memory.
Tips for aiming the highest you can in your exams:
- Further reading: Some courses don’t require you to read excess information, but it may give you an edge if you’ve read some of the recommended reading.
- Direct notes from the lecturer: You may have some extra points that didn’t re-appear in the notes that you took from the lectures you attended. They might have been forgotten by your lecturer when they wrote the notes but they could help in answering questions.
- Start early: If you know you need time to revise everything, then give yourself the time to feel in-control and on top of things.
- Timetable: Keep a timetable of lecture hours, study time, gym/work/societies to stay on track.
- Motivate yourself: Think of reasons why you should study (Erasmus grades/your overall record/an upper-hand in your specialty choices for the year ahead etc.). At the end of your degree you’ll likely want to feel as though you did the best you could. And the more work you’ve done over the semester, the less motivation/coffee you’ll need in the end!
- Try not to compare your abilities to your classmates: You’ve reached this point because of your hard work and determination, and you deserve to be where you are. Also, your Student Union is a great resource for matters relating to your studies/student wellness.
- Enjoy University life: Balancing your study/work/social life is important for you to do your best. Eating and living well, being with friends and doing what makes you happy will be an asset to you when you need to hit the grind.
- Believe you can and you will! Adopting a positive mental attitude is the starting point for success.
The above tips are a compilation of tactics that I have been given, and what I have used so far to study for University exams. They may not be useful for everyone, but there are many other techniques that do work. Check out your Uni’s website for Student Learning/Development resources that should offer some extra direction/advice.
On a side note: University life can be crazy. It makes you a pro at time keeping and, like most students, you may end up making huge commitments that appear as worthwhile as each other. As a genetics lecturer once said to my year group, “College is the time where you should invest in yourself”. A time to invest in the fun, the societies, the relationships but also in your knowledge. It really gives you a chance to figure out what you like, your interests and what you’d like to do someday. And like some, you might even realise that your course isn’t for you. But when all is said and done, investing in this time to think is probably one of the most worthwhile commitments.
I hope you found some of these tips helpful-If you’d like any course-specific study advice, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can get advice from students who are studying the same/similar subjects.
Finally, best of luck in your next exams
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