Preparing for Exams: Study Techniques That Work

The Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy (IOAPA) allows Iowa students to take APTM classes online. IOAPA is especially meant for rural schools that do not have the resources to support APTM classes. Educators can learn more here.

Students may already bubble with excitement as we approach winter break. Before this break becomes a reality, though, most will have to face exams. The end of the semester can be stressful, but having the right study skills can assuage some anxiety.

As Scientific American Mind reported this fall, there are numerous ways to study—some of which are less useful than others. For example, many students highlight text while studying, perhaps to emphasize important information that may be on exams. Although highlighting is a common practice, it does little to improve performance. Another dubious study practice is rereading.  Rereading a textbook chapter or class notes once may lead to some learning gains, but rereading text more frequently is a poor use of study time.

Before the panic sets in—“But I spent all Tuesday night highlighting and rereading my U.S. Government notes!”—consider more effective options. Some researchers argue that the best study strategies are those that require the learner to manipulate the information to be learned. One way students can accomplish this is through self-testing, such as using flashcards or answering questions at the end of the chapter. Another suggested strategy is interleaved practice, which encourages learners to compare different kinds of problems.  For instance, a student using this method to prepare for a math test alternates between practice problems of different key topic areas rather than completing all problems of one set in one go.

Lastly, distributed practice, or spacing study sessions across longer periods of time, is an effective way to structure study time. Unfortunately for the inner procrastinator in us all, the longer the learner spreads out short, intense study sessions, the more likely the learner will acquire and retain information.

Selected References 

Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K., Marsh, E. J., Mitchell, J. N., & Willingham, D. T. (2013, August 29).  Psychologists identify the best ways to study. Scientific American Mind, 24(4), 47-53.

Winne, P. H. (2013). Learning strategies, study skills, and self-regulated learning in postsecondary education. In M. B. Paulsen (Ed.), Higher education: Handbook of theory and research (pp. 377-403). New York City, NY: Springer Publishing.

Writing Study Skills Suggested by College Board

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