How I Study for Exams

Hello, lovelies. If you’re in a similar situation to me, you’re currently amidst the October wave of Midterm Exams for college. As a first-year, this is very nerve-wracking. I don’t entirely know what I’m doing or if it’ll be very effective, but I thought I’d share with you what I’m doing regardless.

Of course, studying for different classes/subjects will look very different. But, I am going to share a simple, 4-step process that can be applied to most of my classes.

Step 1: Take the Notes

For these study methods, I’m working from a baseline of my notes, so it would be a good idea to read my post on How I Take Notes before you proceed with this one. Basically, the first part to adequately prepare for an exam is to pay attention in class and take notes.

If you’re reading this one or two days before your exam and it’s too late to take this crucial step, try taking some notes on the slides, the book, or your friend’s notes if it comes down to it. Either way, you should always start with a good set of notes. After all, what’s the point of taking notes in class if you’re never going to look at them again?

Step 2: Annotate the Notes

This step occurs either every day class meets or every week (so every two classes, in my case) depending on where the priorities fall. I annotate my notes using my typical annotating system you can see here. I will use my color-coding, as well as add or clarify as I see fit. If there’s something that makes no sense to me that I wrote, I may refer to the book, ask a friend, or if it comes down to it, go to office hours.

At this point, you’ve seen all the information twice. Once in class, once annotating. Yes, we are keeping track here.

Step 3: Get Creative

After my notes have been taken, re-read, and annotated, I like to get creative with them. My way of doing this is by creating little notebook guides that simplifies each lecture onto one half of a sheet of blank paper, and I assemble these into a book. I use my calligraphy skills and very limited drawing abilities to represent the ideas of the lectures in a more creative way.

By doing this, I’m interpreting and translating the information more than just reading over my notes. I have to put topics into context and think about them long enough to come up with a visual representation. Every time I open the booklet to add a section, I always go over all the previous ones. This way, I’ll get yet another exposure to the material each lecture set I put in. I’ll typically do these before a quiz, or after each major topic is concluded.

Step 4: Practice and Engage

At this point, after writing the lecture notes and going over them both analytically and artistically, I can typically feel like I absorbed the information pretty well. At this point, it’s all about applying it. Going over practice questions, doing example problems, reviewing past quiz questions, etc. are my final step toward preparation.

Photo by Startup Stock Photos on

This way, I know not only what the information is, but how to apply it on an exam. I think this is where a lot of students fall short. They wait until before the exam to do their note review, and so they are just trying to get the information down and never get to the point of applying it, so they aren’t able to perform as well on the exam.

I think the biggest thing to note here is that I did steps 1-3 of my studying throughout the lecture period, not leading up to exam day. Honestly, just keeping on top of studying throughout the semester, rather than re-learning it all before the midterm, is the best advice I can give.

If you’re reading this mere days before your exam, do your best. Try to understand the information as quickly as you can and then go to applying it. It’s easy to mix up concepts when you’re reading them on notes or slides and not applying the knowledge that’s contained in them.

Don’t cram. Take breaks. Try not to stress out too much. Take a breath. Take care of your mind and your body. Get sleep. Eat well. And good luck!

Please let me know if you have any questions or tips of your own in the comments or tag me on IG @alicia_life_tips !

❤ Alicia

A good follow-up read for those who are struggling this exam-season.

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