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How to Study for Exams: Strategies and Tips You Must Know


When you’re hard at work earning your degree in higher education, it pays to know how to study for exams as they are an inevitable part of your academic experience. While everyone has different preferences and practices, there are ways to maximize your study time and efficiency to retain information and perform well on test day.

It’s important to work both hard and smart, but while doing so, it’s equally useful to take proper study breaks so that you don’t burn out or suffer from anxiety or stress. Let’s take a look at some of the best strategies and tips to study for exams.

When to Start Studying?

Rather than procrastinating until the night before the exam, one of the best ways to be prepared for a test is to stay on top of your work throughout the class from the get go. By taking proper notes, staying engaged in the information and studying a little every week to review what you’ve learned, you will find test-taking to become easier and less stressful.

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Start in Class

Begin learning effectively while you’re in the classroom. This can be done in the following ways:

  • Ask the right questions
  • Pay attention in class
  • Take good notes
  • Ask about the exam format

If you’re attending an online university like University of the People, you can leverage the classroom forums and still connect with your professors and peers digitally to remain informed and ensure you understand all the content.

Get Organized

Once you’re ready to get to studying, organization will play a large role in reducing your stress levels and preparing you to absorb the information. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Study Space:

You want to make sure that your study space is designed for you to learn. This can be accomplished by keeping it clutter-free and only having the necessary tools in reach. Turn off all electronic distractions, and if you’re studying online, you can use apps and plugins like Block Site to make sites like social media unavailable so you won’t go off track.

2. Study Materials:

Before you get to studying, be sure to organize your notes, handouts and worksheets. By knowing where the information is, you will be able to make the most of your time.

3. Prioritize:

It’s likely that you will have multiple tests around the same time. You should set your schedule and break up your time accordingly. You can do this by working backwards from the test date and assessing how much time you will need for each subject and then allocating the right amount of time to each subject.

4. Review Previous Tests:

In order to better understand the test format, you can look at previous tests to get an idea of what to expect. Additionally, the syllabus may serve as a guide that explains how tests are graded and formatted so there won’t be any surprises. If this is the first test in the class and the information you seek is not in the syllabus, don’t be afraid to ask!

Create the Best Environment for Learning

Scout for or create the best place to work that suits your needs. If you are attending a traditional on-campus university, it is likely that there are 24-hour study rooms or libraries that are open for you to study in. Additionally, you can try coffee shops if you like some background noise. When you’re studying online, you can create a study space in your home or find a location nearby that suits your needs.

Everyone has different study habits and practices. Some people prefer to be in places with some noise, others like music, and some need absolute quiet. Find out what works best for you and then get to studying!

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Practice Makes Perfect: Mix it Up

Once you’re in your desired location, you can take advantage of different ways of learning to absorb the most information. Many students may think that reading a textbook or reviewing their notes is the only way to learn. However, you can mix up your study techniques to make it a more interesting experience. Additionally, the more ways in which you can absorb information, the better.

Here are some ideas on how you can study:

1. Take Practice Tests:

Many professors will provide you with previous exams to test your knowledge. These will help you understand how the test is formatted as well as how much time it may take you to answer each question.

2. Watch a Documentary on the Topic:

You don’t have to just stick to course material to learn. Try searching YouTube or Netflix for a documentary on said topic to learn more in a fun way.

3. Make Flashcards:

The mere act of creating flashcards is one of the best ways to learn. Then, you can also use them to test yourself if you prefer to study alone. Try these tips from Thomas Frank on how to use flashcards effectively.

4. Use Color Coding:

Visually creating materials that differentiate information can help you on a test. Use color coding to highlight or write information down based on whatever key you need to separate the information.

5. Join a Study Group:

Sometimes, the best way to learn is in groups! A study group can help because if there’s something you don’t know, you’ll have a peer who can potentially teach it, and you can also bounce information off of one another.

6. Create Your Own Study Guide:

You can utilize your classroom notes and textbook to create your own study guide in whatever style you like to learn. Like flashcards, the creation of a study guide will help you memorize the material.

7. Utilize Memorization Techniques:

Memorization techniques like mnemonic devices and the creation of songs can help you retain information. When it comes to test day, you can use a memory dump by writing everything down before the start of a test that you think you may need (i.e. important dates, formulas, etc.).

Be Efficient

At the heart of every successful student is time management. Cramming for an exam will only increase your anxiety levels and it won’t give you the right amount of time to absorb the information. Instead, find the right hours to study and start early.

On test day, you should be sure to take your time to read the questions carefully and start by answering the easiest questions first. You can always mark the questions that are giving you trouble and come back to them, but it’s most important to get as many right answers as you can in the time you are given.

Stay Motivated

Studying should be a marathon, not a sprint. Proper learning goes hand-in-hand with taking care of your overall health. Be sure to get enough sleep and avoid an all-nighter because sleep actually helps you to retain information.

Furthermore, you will want to fuel your body with healthy snacks rather than sugar-filled junk that will make you feel sluggish and cause your body to crash. Try superfoods like roasted chickpeas or kale chips and antioxidant-rich fruits like berries as delicious study snacks.

While you’re fueling your body properly, you may want to also take breaks to relieve stress. Some good ideas include: exercising, meditating, doing yoga or going for a short walk.


One way to really test if you know the material is to teach others. Within a study group or online, you can work together with your peers to see what you really know!

For example, at University of the People, the education is fostered on a pedagogical model where students interact with one another and even grade each other’s work. In this way, peers can foster deeper relationships with each other and also ensure that they understand the information strongly.

The Bottom Line

The truth is that there is no one right way to tell you how to study for an exam. But there are countless ways to optimize your time and be prepared for your next test. Whether it means studying in a group or learning alone, creating flashcards or watching videos, reviewing the textbook or making your own study guide, you can set up your study routine to work best for your needs.

Remember to take study breaks and take care of your overall health so that you can perform to your best ability on test day!