Making a study plan for exams is really tricky because if you start too early, you may forget the previous part you’ve reviewed. Or, if you think you still have time, you may end up with not being able to cover everything. Therefore, having the right review plan is the first step to a successful exam result.
Here are some study planning tips from 4th year student Yixuan He (Global Management Studies major, Economics minor), who has been working as a Peer Academic Coach at the Academic Success Centre (ASC) for two years.
If you are not sure how long it will take you to review for each course, here is my guideline:
- 15 hours for midterm preparation
- 25 hours for final preparation; 40 hours if you’re at risk of failing
Keep in mind that the time may differ based on your daily contribution to the course. The more familiar you are with the content, the less time you will need to review it. This guideline is still useful for anticipating how much time to initially allocate to your review. We recommend that you use the Exam Planning Inventory to get the closest estimation of time needed. You can find the editable PDF version of this sheet on the ASC website under Test and Exam Preparation.
You can put “Chapter 1…” or “Week 1…” on the very left column, then answer the questions listed. For example, answers to additional material or support needed can be: ASC Tutoring Centre, Economics Help Centre and Math Support.
Finally, give a time estimate to each task. Remember to always give yourself buffer time.
After you finish the inventory plan, calculate how many hours you will need in total. Think about how long you want to review each day. Do simple math and you will get how many days you should start in advance. Afterwards, map out those estimated hours in a seven-day weekly planner.
Make sure to put specific tasks you would like to complete during the hours assigned. In doing so, you will be aware of the review progress. Don’t plan a continuous three-hour studying session; break it into one-hour blocks. A person cannot focus on studying for too long. My habit is to plan study time only on weekdays.
So, you don’t need to worry if you miss tasks on your schedule, just cross out the one that’s done whenever you finish it. And you can use weekends as time for you to catch up. This way, you are not stressed about catching up with the schedule while making sure that assigned tasks are finished within the week. Also, it’s quite important that you study at least one hour per day to avoid cramming. You will find that when that mandatory one hour starts, you might want to study longer.
If you have midterms right after Reading Week, it’s better for you to start to plan now so that you can study more efficiently and leave more time to enjoy the break.
Another tool that I’ve found useful is the Grade Calculator. Before your exam, put the course evaluation and the marks you get into the single course calculator. After that, enter your ideal GPA in Tools and it will tell you how much you need to get for that specific exam. In case you are short on time or behind the schedule, you will know how to redistribute time for each course. There are more functions to explore and this tool is really helpful for goal setting and understanding where you currently stand.
Deep Learning vs. Shallow Learning
When you are reviewing, you should find that most of the content is familiar and you could easily believe that you already know the concept and move on. However, you will end up finding that you only have a fuzzy memory during the exam. Is memorization the whole story? NO!
Even if you remember the concepts word by word, you might still get confused by two similar options during an exam. This happens because of shallow learning. Shallow learning is a simple regurgitation of concepts without understanding. Exams require students to at least know how to apply those concepts. If you don’t know where you are now, refer to the Bloom’s Pyramid to Master Course Content.
Another thing you can do is to explain the concepts to yourself based on the key words after reviewing each chapter.
There are three steps of how we learn: encoding, storage and retrieval. Encoding is our first contact with the information and it usually happens through our senses: through our sight when we see or read, through our hearing when the professor lectures, and so on.
This content is stored in our brain in tiny cells that connect to each other; those connections are called neuropaths, and the more we stimulate them, the more we will remember; but when we do nothing to work on them, we forget what we have learned. As they say, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.”
Finally, retrieval is our ability to find the information when we need to remember it, such as when we are taking a test. The more senses we involve when we study, the greater is our ability to remember.
It applies to reviewing for exams too. Use as many senses as you can. And quickly go through the concepts you’ve reviewed yesterday before you start today’s tasks. Other than that, I like to leave one day before the exam to go over everything again. So, I actually can review three times during my whole reviewing period, which not only strengthens my memory, but also improves my understanding of the contents.
- Plan ahead using the Exam Planning Inventory and Seven-Day Weekly Schedule
- Use the GPA Calculator to allocate time for each course
- Avoid shallow learning by following the Bloom’s Pyramid
- Use as many senses as possible to strengthen your memory
- Go over what you’ve reviewed to improve your understanding
If you have any further questions, or you would like a Peer Academic Coach to tailor your reviewing plan, book a one-on-one appointment today.
I hope you all have a wonderful Reading Week!