So it’s exam time once again. We’ve all been there; stressing out about the next test and spending hours trying to cram every single last bit of information in. Here are a few tips on how to stay on top of your classes and improve your studying habits so you can ace that test. They range from little tips on how to maximize your studying time to more long-term beneficial studying habits that can really make a difference.

1. Review your material after class. This is probably the simplest step with the biggest payoff. We retain information much more if we review it soon after being presented with it. Try to read over your notes ideally right after your class or that same evening. It doesn’t have to be a long study session, simply reading them over will do the trick.

2. Set yourself up nicely before you start studying. Make yourself a study station; a distraction-free place with good lighting where you do school work. Don’t study in your bed, or beside your gaming computer, or at your kitchen table during family gatherings. You’d be surprised at how much more you can get done just by setting yourself up properly before starting. Even turning off your cell phone is a good idea. It doesn’t stop there, make sure you also have all your material beforehand. This includes pencils, eraser, ruler, calculator, paper, computer, textbooks, exercise books, snacks, water and anything else you might need. The last thing you want to do is interrupt your studying to get something you should already have.    

3. Don’t cram. This is probably old news to you, but cramming is not a good way to study. You forget the information, making it harder to study for future tests on the same topic (like math…). Try spreading out your studying or even making a schedule if you can. Breaking up your class into various topics and studying one a day up to your exam is the best way. You won’t be stressed while you study and you’ll retain the information much more, making future studying much easier. I can tell you from experience, doing this is the BEST way to study. Instead of cramming the night before your exam, take it easy and REVIEW the material. You should never be studying something for the first time the night before your exam.

4. Don’t get bogged down by details. A trap students often fall into, especially the extra keen ones, is to get distracted by details. Learn the basic principles first and then learn the details after. Details are important, knowing them is what truly distinguishes you as a student. That being said, often details only become clear once the “big picture” is understood. You will be much more efficient at studying this way.

5. Make yourself memory aids. This trick may not be for everyone, but it works like a charm. It works best if you’re studying from a book with a lot of information to filter through (history, biology), but it also works for math and math-related classes (math, physics, chemistry). As you study and read through your class material (notes, books, etc.), write down the important information very cleanly and systematically on a separate sheet of paper or workbook. The more structured your new notes are, the clearer the class will become in your head. You will retain information much more if you have written it down as well, and these sheets make a perfect tool to review the night before your exam (see tip #3) or for the final.

6. Make sure you UNDERSTAND the material. This applies mostly to math and science classes, but it is also a pretty universal concept. Make sure you actually understand the topic you are studying. Don’t just read over formulas or concepts and tell yourself: “Yea I get it!”. Actually solve problems or do related exercises. Convince yourself you truly understand the topic. For math and science specifically, it helps to do the derivation yourself from scratch when learning a new formula.  

7. Take breaks. After studying for a long time, your brain will inevitably become saturated with information. This is normal and is part of the reason why cramming isn’t good. While you study, work well and efficiently, but take breaks.

8. Spend the night before your exam reviewing. This was mentioned in tip #3. Getting together with friends and quizzing each other is a great idea. Review your notes. The real trick is to not be stressed the night before an exam and get to bed early.