When I was in my first year, I was so clueless about what I should be studying for exams. I started to study everything I can so I won’t lose marks for missing anything on the exam. Because of this, I felt so overwhelmed and helpless. I felt I can never cover and memorize everything I should. This frustrated me to no end. Even when I somehow manage cover everything, there seems to be always something I do not remember well enough to answer the questions. Studying everything worked if I want to get around 70s but it never gave me anything beyond 85+ mark.
In the end of the 2nd year, I met a very cool friend who was getting GPA of 3.98. She gave so much valuable that I used and got high grades with. I am going to share with you the most important things she told me on what I should be paying attention when I am studying for exams. This advice specifically applicable for science courses such as biology, psychology because there was a lot of memorization involved.
Here is some advice she gave me:
Step 1: Always consult the syllabus before start studying
I used to blindly start my studying without really paying attention to what is explained on the syllabus for the exam. Believe or not, your syllabus is pretty much a blueprint for getting higher grades in university. It tells you what topics are covered on the exam, what readings and chapters needed to be covered, and it tells whether the exam is cumulative or not. It may even say what will be emphasized on the exams.
So, my friend told me to create excel file for all the topics and readings that needed to be covered. She told me to write down the week number on one column and the corresponding lecture topics and chapters that need to be covered for the week on the next column. She told by doing this, it provides a quick visual representation of the things I need to cover. She was so right! I felt at ease as I knew exactly what I needed to cover for the exam. I didn’t feel overwhelmed and helpless any longer. If I was confused about what I should study, I quickly looked at the excel file and knew exactly what needed to cover for that week.
Try it out: Go through you lecture and identify all the lecture topics and chapters that need to be covered for specific weeks. Write this information down on excel file.
Step 2: Always begin your studying with your lecture notes
One of the most important advice my high GPA friend gave me was that she told me to always begin my studying with lecture notes. She told me that the reason why I need to know lecture material well is because the person who will be creating the exam is the same person who creates the lectures; your professor. She told me that the lectures are his/her main source of information when creating exams. Therefore, you must master this material inside out.
She told me that I should spend about 70% of the time studying the lecture notes unless the professor specifically tells you that both lectures and textbooks are equally important. If this is the case, then obviously you would need to spend an equal amount of time studying both.
Either way, she told me I should always begin the studying with the lectures because it provides a solid foundation for the material that will be tested on the exam. Another reason why you should always start with the lecture material first is because the amount material is will be lower but will be very specific. This helps you gain vast amount important information for the exam with relatively shorter time and effort.
Try it out: Consult your syllabus to see what lecturers are covered on the exam. Begin your studying with lectures. Pay attention to all the details and concepts. Make sure that you spent time memorizing them.
Step 3: Go to Professors office hours and ask your professor what to study
It is true that some professors would not give you extra details about the exam when you going to see them in office hours. But you have nothing to lose if you go ask them anyway. If they are willing to give you some details, ask them the following questions:
- Should we study our lectures more than your readings?
- What is the format of the exam (don’t ask them if this information is given on the course page)
- How detailed are your questions on the readings?
- Do you have any sample MCQ questions
- How should I study to get an A in the exam?
If they said they don’t want to give them any details about the exam, ask them “if you were a student, how would you study to get an A in the exam?”
Trust me, when you ask them, they are going to give you some invaluable advice. Remember, your professors must have done really well in undergrad in order to be selected to grad school. So, your professors know a thing or two about getting good grades. So ask them how they did it. They will give you some great advice. Please make sure that who write these down!