You told yourself this semester would be different.
You told yourself, this semester I’m going to keep up with my school work and start studying for exams super early.
It’s a lie most of us tell ourselves at some point during high school. We start off the year with the best of intentions, but before you know it, exams are a few weeks away and there’s SO MUCH to study in such a small amount of time.
If this is you (or your teen) right now, you probably want to curl up in the foetal position and wish for time to fast forward to exams being over.
Well, uncurl yourself from the foetal position because it’s not too late. You may not have given yourself enough time to prepare for your exam to the very best of your ability, but there’s still time. You just need to use it wisely.
When you have a lot of study to do and not much time to do it in, these are our biggest dos and don’ts:
You have to focus on the critical topics
This is something you should do whenever you’re studying, but it’s particularly pertinent when you don’t have much time.
Your exam will of course contain some questions designed to be difficult; designed to make you think; designed to be answered well by only a few. But — the majority of the questions in the exam, or at least the majority of available marks, are going to involve the topics you’ve spent the most time on in school.
For instance, an Algebra exam is going to include questions involving quadratic equations. A Cell Biology exam is going to include questions involving cell division processes (mitosis, meiosis). Whatever the subject, you should be able to identify what topics are the key topics of that subject. These are the topics you need to understand well.
It is absolutely vital that you understand the key topics of a subject well. When you’re short on time, don’t worry about peripheral topics and extraneous details. You don’t have time. The bulk of your marks in an exam will come from demonstrating that you have a solid understanding of the key topics.
So before you launch into a study session, make sure that what you’re about to study is a key topic.
Attempt at least one past exam
Past exams, or practice exams, will contain questions very similar to the questions that will come up in YOUR exam, so they’re an incredibly important resource.
When you’re studying under time pressure, it’s tempting to just try and cram in as much information into your brain as possible, and to feel like it’s not a priority to attempt practice exams when you feel like you need to learn more first.
But this would be a mistake.
Students who get good grades do well, at least in part, because they know how to APPLY what they have studied to questions asked.
Application is something that is much too commonly overlooked, but it’s a crucial part of being well-prepared for exams.
You might know a lot of information, but if you haven’t looked at any past exams, you might be thrown by the way a question is framed, or not understand what a question wants you to say if you haven’t tried to answer them before.
You might know a lot of information if you’re asked to regurgitate it, but that’s generally not what exam questions want. Most often they’re designed to get you to respond to a particular proposition, or take a point of view, or adapt what you know to fit a particular situation. And these are skills that require PRACTICE.
So if you haven’t practiced applying what you’ve studied, sometimes, you might as well have not bothered learning it in the first place.
The take home message here — make sure you set aside time to try at least one past or practice exam. The time you spend practicing how to apply what you’ve been studying will help you prepare for your exam much more than just studying on its own.
Don’t waste your time on ‘pretty stuff’
When you leave yourself plenty of time to prepare for exams you’ve got time up your sleeve to dedicate to study tasks that are helpful to your study, but not crucial.
When you haven’t started studying in time and you’re under max time pressure, you don’t have this luxury.
If you would normally like to color code parts of your study notes, you’re going to have to live without. If you would ideally like to create beautiful neat flow charts of all of the biological processes you need to know — don’t. If you would have liked to make a pretty study timetable and print it out to stick up by your desk — a quick hand-drawn list of the crucial topics you need to cover should take its place.
The reality is, when you’re cramming, your study doesn’t need to be pretty — it needs to be smart.
Don’t waste your precious time on tasks that are ‘nice-to-do’ tasks. Sure, when you have heaps of time, some tasks (like making pretty flow charts) can be really helpful. But when you’re cramming, your time is going to be better put to use by drawing something quick and simple.
If you need to draw a diagram to help you understand something, then by all means do it! We’re not saying you shouldn’t do things like that. What we are saying, is that you don’t have time to make a Picasso of it.
The bottom line when you’ve got no time —
The common thread among all of these points, is that when you’re short on time, it is your job to use your time wisely.
This doesn’t mean studying aimlessly, and it doesn’t mean trying to cram absolutely everything you could be asked about in the exam.
It means you have to be even smarter about how you use your time than usual.
And finally — if you feel overwhelmed and like you’re never going to get through it, take a few deep breaths (seriously, this really does make you feel better), and focus on these points. You will get through it!
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