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Succeed at Exams

Do More than Memorize

University exams usually require you to do more than just recall content; you will often be expected to: 

  • Apply theoretical concepts from the textbooks and lectures to new situations 
  • Identify connections and relationships among course concepts 

To ensure that your studying methods are active and go beyond memorization and recall, try some of these suggestions.

Create a Practice Test

Testing yourself using your own practice exam is one of the most effective ways to study because it provides feedback about what you know and do not know. Predicting questions and answering them will help you strengthen your ability to recall information during the exam.

  • Use content from a variety of sources, such as the course outline, quizzes, lecture notes and the textbook, to create your test questions.
  • Stay away from simple questions that ask you to repeat knowledge. Try using verbs like "apply," "evaluate," or "justify" to create questions that aim for a deeper level of understanding. 
    • For more information about creating higher order thinking questions, Bloom’s Taxonomy can provide ideas about creating challenging test questions. 
  • Create questions that emphasize the relationships between course topics. Can you choose two or three course concepts at random and create a test question that integrates the concepts? 
  • If you know the format of the exam (multiple choice, short answer, essay), create questions in that format.
  • Create questions with a study partner or study group. Their perspectives will help generate a variety of possible questions. 
  • Try to develop the habit of answering practice questions thoroughly before checking the answer. Try to really test yourself; it’s okay to struggle to recall material in the beginning. 
  • Material on the exam may be presented in a randomized order rather than by chapter or theme; prepare by shuffling and re-organizing your questions or flash cards.  

Create a checklist for practice tests

My practice test…. 

  • includes questions about all the material for the exam (found in course notes, course outline, quizzes, textbooks, and other materials and resources provided in class) 
  • includes questions in a randomized order  
  • is in a similar format to the exam’s format 
  • includes questions that use verbs like “apply,” “evaluate,” or “justify.” 
  • includes questions that integrate course concepts 

Try distributive studying

Distributive studying emphasizes short review sessions over a long period of time rather than a few long, intensive review sessions in a short amount of time. It’s an effective way to help your brain create contextual cues that will help you recall material in the future.  
Distributive studying works in 4 phases: 

1. Classwork 

The first step to distributive studying is your regular, everyday work in your course, when you are exposed to course material through lectures, textbook reading, problem sets, seminar discussions and other methods 

2. Wait time/Reflection time

You may not feel that you’re learning anything, but taking time between initial classwork and Step 3, Retrieval, gives us space to think about what we’ve learned.

3. Retrieval /Recall 

After you’ve learned something in class and have taken some time away from it, test your recall. What do you remember? Can you write down key ideas? Recalling information is vital to solidifying the information in your brain.

4. Repetition 

In a later study session, try recalling more information. You will no doubt need to review information and relearn some of it. That is all part of the process of learning, understanding, and remembering. The process is repeated, and material is re-learned over several retrieval/study sessions. 

Resources to help with studying*

Guide: Work Effectively in Groups - Create an Online Study GroupHandout: Study Smarter Not HarderGuide: Study Effectively

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