• Are you struggling with figuring out what to study for exams?
  • Are you overwhelmed by the amount of things you need to study?
  • Do you want to know how top students start their studying for exams?

This article will help you figure out what you need to study, and help you ace your next exam. Before you do anything I recommend you start on your exams as soon as possible. Sooner the better!

Tip 1: Dedicate time to gather your best study material

The first step in exam prep is to collect the study material you need for the exam. Usually, there are 4 main things I recommend you should look to gather right away:

  • Syllabus or the course outline
  • Lecture slides or notes
  • Readings (textbooks, journal articles, blog posts)
  • Practice problems (highly recommend)

On the first day of studying, I recommend you focus on gathering the necessary study material. Really dig deep into finding as much as possible about what you need to know, and study for the exam.

 You can use the following days to start reviewing your study material. 

If you do this step now, you won’t need to worry about what you will be tested on, and you can also study in peace.

Tip 2: Breakdown your course outline (syllabus) to create a study guide.

I used to blindly start my studying without really paying attention to what is indicated on the course outline for the exam. 

Believe or not, your syllabus is pretty much a blueprint for acing your exam.

It tells you specifically what topics will be covered on the exam, what readings and chapters need to be covered, and indicates whether the exam is cumulative or not.

If this information is not available in the course outline, or anywhere in your course website, please email your professor to confirm these things.

After you break down your course outline, I recommend you create a study guide that covers the topics, lectures, readings, and practice problems you need to learn for the exam. 

In one study, researchers found that students who used study guides scored higher on exams than their peers. 

Another study found that students who used study guides experienced significantly less stress than their peers.

We created an exam study template for you to organize your studying. Download the Study Guide Planner (Template) here

You will feel much at ease once you know everything you need to study for your exams. 

If you are ever confused about what to study, you can look at the excel file and know exactly what needs to be covered.

Tip 3: Ask others who have taken the course before you

One of the easiest ways to know what would show up on an exam is to ask someone who has already taken the course.  

Many students fail to do this because they feel too shy to make friends and talk to new people. This is understandable. However, do take steps to find and connect with others who take the same course. 

You can use social media channels and forums to ask others to start. Reddit and Facebook Groups are great places you can learn from others.


Tip 4: Find and do practice questions from other colleges and universities

This is a very amazing technique I learned from a student on reddit. 

Finding and doing practice problems is one the best ways to know what may show up in the exam.

If your university does not provide any practice problems, you can always find sample problems from other colleges or universities that offer similar courses. Find and add a few questions to your list of items to do for the exam.

By doing practice problems, you set your mind to be more focused, attentive, and ready to learn. Your mind is always trying to help you do things the most optimized or the best way.

Once you start working on practice problems regularly, you will have an easier time answering actual questions during the exam. 

Tip 5: Search online for valuable lecture videos or practice problems if you need additional help

If you do a quick google search for lecture videos and practice problems you will find many resources and websites that offer these resources for free.

Google for: 

  • [Your course name] lectures notes
  • [Your course name] practice problems

Here few website that has good resources and practice problems:

Use all these resources for studying.


Bonus (Important) Tip 4: Start with your lecture notes and study them multiple times.

Let’s be honest, you are not going to learn much by reading things only once.

One of the most important pieces of advice I received from my professors was to “study your lecture notes multiple times”.

He 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.

Lectures are your professor’s main source of information when designing exams. Therefore, you must master lecture material inside out before you start to study anything else.

My professor told me that I should review my lecture multiple times and ask me to spend more time understanding the details in the lectures before moving on to the text.

I realized that beginning my studying with the lectures always gave me a solid foundation for the material that will be tested on the exam.





Works consulted

 Using computerized study guides to increase performance on general psychology examinations: An experimental analysis.Psychological Reports, 79, 235-241.