With finals season dawning upon us, I thought I would share some tips I used to prepare for exams throughout my college degrees. Do note that these are based on how I prepared for courses in my chemical engineering degrees. There may be differences or things that may not work better or work for your line of study but I will generalize enough so that you get some takeaways. These tips have had great success for me and even influenced some of my friends to adopt these methods for themselves!
Write It Out
This is something you should adopt for day-to-day classes AND study sessions. Many studies and science prove that physically handwriting notes help retention of material than typing the notes. If you are worried about the environment, you can use a tablet/iPad and stylus to take virtual notes. The motions are the same and will work the same for your brain and save paper and resources!! Plus it makes it easier to find certain keywords, and store the notes. I’ve had many instances where I’ve sat on the floor contemplating if I should take a notebook, that I have put so much time into, to California or Pittsburgh with me. Trust me — it’s not an easy decision.
Throughout undergrad, I’ve always taken handwritten notes with notebooks, paper, and color pens. I still have some of my treasured notes that I’ve used so many times for grad school and work. But there have been times I was done with it and I remembered to recycle! In grad school, I transitioned to taking notes with an iPad. Anytime I prepare for an exam or make study notes, I always remember to handwrite.
So I mentioned color pens. Handwriting notes is tedious and takes some getting used to if you are used to typing your notes. The speed at which you take your notes down won’t be as fast — and constantly remembering which color is for what topic might drive you mad. But trust me — this could be a wonderful way to help compartmentalize some information and give you a leg up when exam time comes around. I personally love writing with this wonderful pen set from Paper Mate. The writing motion is super smooth, and that additional pop of color really helps me keep going with the wonderful masterpiece (of equations) haha!
I take notes in a way that I color code concepts or sets of equations I need to remember or practice. Colors keep it interesting for the eyes and make it easy to find things. Soon your brain starts to associate a color with a concept or set of equations and has helped me a lot in retaining information. I have also tried different ways of color-coding such as keeping headings one color, keeping all equations another color, etc. But doing it by concept is the most functional for me.
Make Cheat Sheets
When I study or prepare for an exam, I go over all my class notes and reference the readings and textbooks for concepts I need to understand better. Most times, googling concepts and finding online study aids have also given me much needed clarity. As I go over all the class notes, I rewrite all the concepts and equations into the form of a cheat sheet or booklet. This helps me refresh my memory, compile all the concepts, find the connections and flows between topics, go through the motions of writing something out, and have an amazing color-coded revision sheet to look at before the exam to brush up on things.
Even if you don’t need a cheat sheet or aren’t allowed one for the exam, the process of making one is highly beneficial! It forces you to cover all the material in an efficient manner and recognize the main important concepts from the concepts that just build on it. If you need a cheat sheet for the exam, you can either start by making revision sheets and then make a cheat sheet that fits the exam rules or just go ahead and make that cheat sheet straight away. I usually do the former as it helps me learn and condense better and I can make my efficient exam-abiding cheat sheet in one go. Once I compile all the material for the said exam, I redo the homework sets that the material covers with the revision sheet I just made. This helps me apply the knowledge again and get more familiar with my revision/cheat sheet. Using the same color codes here will also be a big PLUS. A lot of my professors also provided us with practice exams that I treated like the real exam to see if I can get through it. The cheat sheet comes in great advantage here when you want to use the practice exam as a learning experience.
Now get to studying and good luck!!