One of the best kept secrets of great students is that they don’t study for midterms the way everyone else does.
Sure, they do a bit of review as the test approaches, but they also put in the thought, time, and effort throughout the semester to make sure they learn in a way that requires fewer late nights before the exams.
What are their secrets? Here are a few tips from the best midterm-takers we’ve seen at Signet:
Review concepts before, during, and after class.
The best students pre-learn what they’re going to cover in class, often by reading over their textbook, taking great notes in class, and then reviewing all of that material after class. That may sound like a lot, but it’s more effective than cramming for long days and nights before exams.
Process your notes.
Whether it’s math or history, re-typing—or at least tidying up and annotating—your notes from class is a great way to clarify concepts and help material sink in. Focus on extracting what you think is important from your notes and may be covered in future exams.
Once a concept has been introduced, make sure to thread it into your study and review on a regular basis. For some classes, this means reviewing all of your notes every week. For other classes, it’s a matter of consciously working past concepts into response papers or discussions. Return frequently to previously covered concepts to keep them fresh and utilize them as you’re progressing. As you build connections between concepts, you broaden your understanding of the material. The greater a web of knowledge you can create for yourself, the better.
Nothing beats flashcards as a study tool, and they are an easy way to notate important concepts for future studying and review.
Nip confusion in the bud.
If you don’t understand something, address it immediately. Go to office hours, work with a friend, or hire a tutor. Nothing derails learning like building on a shaky foundation.
Schedule regular time for study.
For recurring classes, schedule time weekly to review and do work for each class. If you don’t have homework or notes to review, use that time to consolidate or plan ahead.
Now, when it actually does come time for review, make sure you’re doing the following:
Work a few weeks backwards from your midterm and schedule some specific times to review.
Re-work problems or re-study flashcards.
For technical classes (like math), start with a previously assigned set of review problems and redo them, making sure you’re comfortable with everything that was assigned. For fact-based classes (like history), review flashcards that you’ve made throughout the semester.
Work on past exams.
Many professors archive and make past exams available to students for them to practice on. Ask your professor or TA if past materials are available, and if they are, work through them thoroughly. Be careful though, the new exams will be different—sometimes only slightly, sometimes entirely—so make sure you review in other ways, too.
For more guidance on studying, check out Cal Newport’s excellent book, How to Become a Straight-A Student.