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How to Prepare for a College Exam

College students are a diverse bunch. Some are noted for their devotion to academia but others (the larger half), call to mind images of wild fraternity parties, baseball caps, skipped classes and fleece pants. These two groups of students, however dissimilar, have one common challenge ahead of them—college exams.

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The truth is that even in your last year of college, the announcement of a test, exam, final, or quiz (the most jarring of all), is disconcerting for slackers and committed students alike. If a test is looming in your future, whether it is two weeks or two hours before, you can take control of the outcome by using the right study strategies. Throughout my own college career I have tackled exams using every tactic in the book—from taking the exam cold turkey (not the most successful approach), to pulling an all nighter and even sometimes, studying for weeks in advance.

Whether you are an A type student (the punctual kind who writes everything down in a little black planner, never misses an exam, and showers on test day) or a B type student (the antithesis of A who rarely graces lectures and doesn’t carry a little black planner) these study tips can help you prepare for even the most loathsome of college exams by beginning on the first day of class.

Exam preparation begins on the first day of class

This is one of the most important pieces of information for a college freshman to understand. On most college level exams everything mentioned in class is fair game. It’s not uncommon for a question like—what’s your professors favorite tie?—to appear as an extra credit question on an exam. Every class that you attend, assignment you complete, and contribution that you make in lecture will help prepare you for any questions that may appear on an exam in the future. Throughout the semester you are adding to your base of knowledge in a variety of subjects. When answering an essay question, information that you may have considered irrelevant can be used to support your thesis and to demonstrate that you have been involved in the class. The more involved you are in lectures the less information you will have to cram the day before the exam.

What topics does your professor appear most enthusiastic about?

All professors have a favorite topic. Not surprisingly, this topic usually makes up a significant portion of any exam that your instructor administers. I would suggest keeping a list of the topics that your professor spends an excessive amount of time exploring. This will help you remember the most important highlights of the class when the time comes to prepare for an exam.

Hold on to your syllabus

Too many times when preparing for an exam I discovered that I had lost my course syllabus—big mistake. This is arguably one of the most important sheets of paper that your instructor will give you. A syllabus will help you organize the information as you take it in and give you an idea about what topics will be emphasized on the exam. When it comes to preparing for the test, your syllabus will create a study guide for you. As the class progresses, add a few notes to your syllabus. Circle books, topics, and themes which are likely to appear on an exam.

Participate in class

Not only does participation help you get closely acquainted with course material, but it also shows the professor that you are interested in his class. In college, it can seem as though professors don’t even notice when you show up for class. Don’t let them fool you, they notice, and your test grade usually reflects this. Any teacher that doesn’t use a blind grading system, though he may not acknowledge it, is influenced by personal bias. By participating in class you can ensure that your involvement and commitment to the course is recognized.

Keep copies of quizzes, essay questions, papers etc.

I have found that most papers handed out during class come in handy when preparing for an exam. Storing such handouts in a folder is another step that will help you develop and efficient study routine. Additionally, quizzes typically test your knowledge of a topic that the professor really thinks you need to know. Whatever the topic, if it’s significant enough to appear on a quiz alone, it will most certainly appear on your exam.

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