How to Study for a College Exam

As finals are approaching (5 weeks left y’all!), that means that we’re soon going to find ourselves buried in papers to hand in and exams to study for.

Now, if you’re a freshman, you’ve probably heard plenty of things about finals. They might even scare you. Trust me, finals are hard. But it’s also totally doable. (I mean, every college student survive them. We might not always do great, but we do well enough to pass.)

If you’re a upperclassman, you know the drill: study, complete assignment, study, eat, study, study, sleep, repeat.

No matter what, I think that one of the reasons why a lot of people are struggling with finals is because they don’t know how to study for a college exam. I know you’re probably thinking, what? But trust me, I know people who had never studied a day in their life before they got to college. So wouldn’t it be normal for those people to have absolutely no idea what they’re doing? If that’s your case, don’t worry! I’m going to share my secrets on how to study for your college exams… and how to ace them!

Don't know how to study for a college exam? Don't worry! I've got you covered. Click through to read!

If you already have a study technique, this post might not be for you. You can always check out my study tips to help you make it easier! 

Find your learning style

First and foremost, you have to find your learning style. Some people are more visual, some people are more auditory, and some are more tactile. Personally, I’m a mix of visual and auditory. How do you determine your learning style? Well, there are tests online that can help you figure that out. But really, ask yourself this: when you go to class, do you prefer to write down everything your professor says (or what’s written in the PowerPoint presentation), do you just listen, or do you need to be touching things and participate actively? That already tells a lot about who you are as a learner. How do you memorize? Do you have a photographic memory? Do you remember things better by saying them aloud over and over?

Once you’ve figured out your learning style, studying will be a lot easier. I’m both visual and auditory, so my study routine is a mix of both. Now I’m not saying that you have to copy everything I do. This routine works for me, and that’s what’s important. You need to develop your own routine and stick to it. It took me years to develop a technique that really works for me. So try different things out during the semester if you’re not sure about what type of learner you are so you’re ready when finals come!

My technique also changes a little depending on what type of exams I have, so today I’m going to share with you what I normally do for most exams.

Start early

One of the ways to guarantee success in your college exams is to start studying early. I’m not saying that you need to be studying 24/7 throughout the entire semester. But I’m also saying that starting the night before is also not a good idea. Staying up all night cramming for that exam you had forgotten about will not make you ace it.

What I suggest is to start studying a few days before the exam. I typically start in between 3 to 7 days prior the exam, and I’ve never had a problem with time! Of course, if you know you’re going to be extra busy because of work, extracurriculars, and that sort of things, you might want to start a little earlier. Block some time for studying, and don’t toss it aside. Right now, college should be your priority. Not work, not your social life, not extracurriculars, college (as in your classes).

Related: How to Balance Blogging and College

Rewrite your notes

The first thing I like to do is rewriting the notes I took in class. Even though my notes are usually pretty clean, I like to rewrite them to keep them from getting messy. Sometimes, while I rewrite, I realize that there is a word missing or not spelled right, or that there’s something that’s almost unreadable. Rewriting my notes allow me to go back to my textbook or the professor’s handouts if needed and take the time to make things easier to read and to follow.

Rewriting my notes is also a good excuse for familiarizing myself with the content. Sometimes, in between so many classes, I tend to forget what we covered in each class. My brain has so much information to retain, I cannot remember everything I saw in each of my classes right away. Rewriting my notes makes me review the content covered, which makes memorizing everything easier afterward.

While you’re rewriting your notes, try to see if there’s any concept you do not understand or if you can add examples or extra information. Make sure things are written in your own words and that you understand what you’re writing. If there’s anything missing from your notes, now would be a good time to add it.

Create a study guide

One of my favorite studying methods is to create a study guide. If you’re lucky, your professor will already have created an outline for you with some possible questions that could end up being in the exam. I’ve had a couple of professors do that and you would not believe how easier it has made studying. Not only does it save you time, but it’s also a great way to ensure you spend time studying the RIGHT content!

But if that’s not the case, do not worry! You can easily create your own. Start off by finding the key points from your lectures. Define the key concepts, explain the important theories, and find relevant examples to support these ideas. You can also make up possible questions your professor might ask you about the content seen in class.

I wrote an entire post about creating your own study guide in college on The Happy Arkansan, if you want to know more about this!

Memorize

Once your study material is ready, you need to actually start memorizing. That’s usually the part I hate the most, but that’s also one of the most important ones. This is also where I start getting auditory. While rereading my notes helps me review the content and familiarize myself with it, I cannot learn anything by simply reading. For it to become “real”, I need to say it aloud. So instead of learning my class’s content by heart, I try to explain it aloud. Yes, sure, at first, I’m reading a bit while I’m explaining it. But the more I say it, the more it becomes clear in my head, and eventually, I don’t even need my notes anymore.

Since memorizing can be a pain in the ass, I try to do it in small increments of time instead of doing it all at once. Recently, I’ve been doing 30-minute time blocks, and it’s been working really well! It gives me enough time to memorize, but it’s not so long that I’m just tired and unmotivated. I always make sure I keep a few minutes at the beginning of each new time slot to explain the key points of the previous block. That way, I keep the content fresh in my memory!


Now that you know what my routine is, you’re set to success! Don’t forget: find the method that works for you and stick to it. I hope my technique will help you ace those finals. You can do it! I believe in you!

What is your study method? Do you have any study tips that work for any exam?

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  • Rewriting notes sounds really annoying, but it helps so much! I do it as much as I can now.

    • I totally agree! It can be a pain in the ass, but it really does help!

  • Kay

    One of the best things about creating a study guide is it helps limit the potential stuff to study.

    There is always so much stuff that I could be studying but I only have so much time to study productively. If I sit in my chair too long staring at my textbook I might as well not be studying at all. The study guide gives that information an ending point. It forces me to see an end to the study material.

    • I totally agree! Study guides help you focus on what’s important. It wasn’t something I used to do a lot before, but now I use that technique for almost all of my exams!

  • My favorite from these tips is rewriting notes. I am a visual learner and I find it so much easier to study from well written and maybe even color coded notes, so I always rewrite them! Also, while rewriting, you’re already retaining some of the information.

    Starting early is also essential, especially when you have like 3 finals in the same week and you can’t really survive cramming for all of them!

    • I’m a visual learner as well and I find that rewriting notes definitely help! And I totally agree with you on starting early. When you have a lot of exams coming up all at once, you’ll feel better if you’ve already started studying for them!