When studying for exams sometimes it feels like all our hard work is for naught because NOTHING we study ends up on the exam. There is no worse feeling than putting hours of studying into an exam, only to realize that what you are studying isn’t even on the radar of your professor. Here are some tips to making sure that you are not wasting your time when it comes to studying.
1 | Read Up On Your Professor
There are TONS of resources to figure out what kind of tests your professor is likely to give. Here are just a few of the ways you can do a little recon on your professor to see what kinds of tests they give and the relative ease/not ease of the tests they give.
Rate My Professors
This isn’t used nearly as much as it was in the past, but it can still be a good source of information about your professor. Go through and look for what they talk about, specifically if they have any comments on them about tests and test-taking. Beware though, most of the time RateMyProfessors has a slightly negative tinge to it. Most people don’t think to post a review unless they had an extremely negative experience, some are likely to post if they have an outstanding experience too so this won’t always be 100% applicable to the average student.
Talk Directly To Old Students
Chances are you may be able to find a student who has taken this professor before, maybe not in this exact course, but professors tend to have the same teaching style regardless of the class they are teaching. Get a feel for the type of professor you will have by simply getting to know some old students and discussing their thoughts on the test. Bonus points if you can find someone who took your exact class in a different semester, those are the real gems when you are talking to old students.
Read The Syllabus
Doing research from other students is great, but there is also a treasure trove of information right in the syllabus. Read the syllabus, especially in the sections where it discusses assignments. You may be able to pick up some clues about the test or other assignments while reading.
Use Your Right Now Judgment
Above all else, use your “right now” judgement. Professors change over time. They may have had a particularly rough semester when someone left their review of the professor's teaching style (or conversely an amazing semester that semester.) They could have changed the course exponentially based on past reviews since an old student took them. Syllabi almost always have a few tweaks to them by the end of the semester. You can pull from all of these sources to make predictions about how your course will go, but your right now judgment is the best judgment that you can use to determine what your professor's tests and assignments will be like.
2 | Listen To The Lecture
Professors are pretty great about giving you clues if you listen intently enough. The best way to make sure you are able to listen for those context clues is to be fully present and alert in class. You can be present, and not present at all. When in class it should have your undivided attention because otherwise you could easily be sidetracked by the million things happening in other places.
I am going to give it to you straight, Facebook probably is a 1,000,000 times more interesting than anything your professor has to say.
What does this mean? It means you can’t give your Facebook a reason to compete with your professor because chances are your Facebook page will win. Your text message thread will win. Your game will win.
I am telling you this because it is true and these distractions will potentially cost you in a number of ways:
- You will miss out on all of the important clues your professor will hint at throughout course lectures about what will be on the test.
- You will potentially be burning bridges with professors because they will be able to tell when you are on your phone, no matter how sneaky you think you are being.
Instead of being attached to your phone, get attached to participating in the lecture. This is also important because the #1 way to cut down on your necessary studying time, especially for classes like the liberal arts, is to pay attention to course lectures.
3 | Understand The Main Concepts Driven Home By Any Textbooks
Let’s talk about course textbooks for a second, it is really important that you are able to understand the main concepts driven home by textbooks. Here are some examples of things you can do when you are reading course textbooks. Be able to:
Define All The Definitions
Go through your textbook chapters and be able to define the definitions of most of the concepts. Depending on the course you are taking, you may not need to be able to define them explicitly, but your professor will more than likely write the test in the same language used in the book and during lectures so you need to be certain that you will be able to understand what all the language means when you see it.
Say At Least A Few Sentences About Each Header And Subheader In Your Textbook’s Chapters
The headers and subheaders of anything are really important. As you can see, even in this article I use headers and subheaders to break up various points. If this was something that you read for a test, you should be able to say something about all five points I am making in this article. Do the same with any textbooks or academic articles you are reading.
Answer The Questions At The End Of The Chapter.
Chances are your textbook has questions at the end of each chapter. These are really awesome because they tell you what the author of the text really wants to drive home because those are the summary questions that were picked. Some professors pull a few of their questions straight from this section, so it would be a great thing for you to take a few moments to understand what the questions are and try your best to answer them.
4 | Fill Out Any Study Guides Or Create Your Own
If your professor provides a study guide, ALWAYS FILL IT OUT. There are no if, ands, or buts to this situation. Professors who give study guides are golden creatures that should be treated as such. Are you filling out the study guides your professor gives you? There is no better way to get a study guide than to get it from the person who wrote the test, so be sure to fill it out. Professors often write the test first and then give a study guide based on the test, so they are extremely valuable.
Professors don’t always give study guides though. The lovely Amélie of A Wanderer’s Adventure wrote an amazing post about this very topic last semester. In the post How To Create A College Study Guide Amélie discusses how to create your own study guide, because sometimes you have to take things into your own hands a bit. Read that post for more information on how to adequately create your own study guide.
5 | Talk With Your Professor About What You Have Been Studying & Where You Need To Improve
Okay, this is the piece of the equation that you CANNOT miss. If you want to know if what you’re studying will be on the test, ask the professor. Professors want to help, but you have to be specific.
Come With Questions, Not A General Air Of Dissatisfaction And Confusion
I cannot stress the above phrase enough. Come with a plan, a set of specific questions, and come after having wrestled with the material beforehand. If you come to your professor's office, having done zero work on your own, you cannot expect a good result to come from it. Your professors want to know that you have dealt with the material at least a little bit before they feel comfortable answering your questions.
Let your professors know that you want to do well on the test, that you have been studying, and that you would like help with what direction you need to focus your attention. Give them a spiel about what you have been working on.
Above All Else, Have Time To Implement What Is Being Discussed In The Meeting
If you are going to ask your professor what you should be studying, you can’t do that on the day of the test. This is a strategy that is better used when you have at least a few days before your test. It will be difficult to discuss anything you need to study when you don’t have time to adequately study it. You want to give yourself time to take action because this should be a very action-oriented conversation that you will have with your professor.
Studying is important in college, but more importantly when you are juggling five courses, is studying efficiently. I hope that these tips will help you become a more efficient studier so that you can make sure that the time you do take to burn the midnight oil, will have a positive impact on your life as a student.
What is your best studying tip for students?
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