So it's exam time and you're stressing. Do you need some study tips?
Toronto professor Bernie Gaidosch will let you in on the study secrets he's developed over his decades of teaching.
Gaidosch is the author of many books, including "The Professor’s Secrets: Breaking the silence — How to write essays and Term Papers" and "How to get top marks on tests and exams." He's also a consultant to school boards and various educational organizations.
Please send us your questions and then check back here for his answers.
First question: I've been up studying well past midnight every day for my exams this term but I still don't feel prepared. My parents say I shouldn't be up that late and be better organized but at this time of year and with the amount I have left to cover I think I need to stay up that late!!!!!
A: There's a big difference between effective studying and just "going in circles" and not really achieving anything. When you're simply reading without a purpose, you're not focused on a specific goal. You end up going over the same page numerous times, but without retaining useful information or concepts. This can lead to feelings of frustration, anxiety or purposelessness.
Try these tips to help yourself focus your reading and studying:
*Create a list of "chapter objectives" - ask yourself "what are the goals or highlights of this chapter?" and then itemize them
*Use cue cards (or a computer file) to connect the most important chapter points to your most important lecture notes
*Review class notes regularly to make sure you're on the right track
*Make up possible test/exam questions for yourself
*Connect with classmates to compare your notes and ideas about the material
*Look over previous tests, quizzes and exams you've done to identify possible future test questions
*Review definitions, terms and concepts highlighted by the teacher
Following this kind of study pattern on a regular basis allows you to prepare in advance - and that means you're not just "spinning your wheels" at the last minute.
Q: What is the best way to study for a multiple choice exam? Short-answer essay?
A: Your worst enemy for multiple-choice exams is guessing. As a "remedy," students sometimes play the odds by marking, say, all the C's on the test in the hopes that the majority will be the right answer. But that's still a guessing-game. The best solutions for doing well on this kind of test are:
*Eliminate the guesswork by preparing - start studying a minimum of one week before the test
*Memorize the most important concepts, ideas, definitions and statistics
*Work on identifying primary material from material that is only secondary in importance
*Practice making up likely test questions
*Work with a study group of your classmates to ask each other questions you've all made up
*When you're writing the test, read it over quickly first, then answer all the easier questions
*When you read through it a second time, tackle the harder questions - but you'll already have some confidence from the ones you've answered.
For a short-answer essay exam, do everything above as well as:
*Write a one-line answer to the question that's being asked
*Cluster only two or three main supporting ideas - then develop each one briefly
*Create a short outline before you write the final draft
*Leave enough time time to correct for errors in content and writing.
Q: Hi there. Are the early hours of the morning the best time to start studying? I always find when I wake up in the morning it takes me a lot longer to get rolling with the different sections/chapters because by around 2-3 pm, that’s when I actually have a grasp on things and I’m actually focusing. And in addition, I always find myself reading and calculating for about 5-30 minutes and then I take breaks in between these intervals. What can I do to make my studying time much more efficient? Or is my current method good? Regards, Aumharan.
A: Students function at their peak levels in many different ways. I've seen students exhausted in my early morning classes and I've also seen them exhausted in my late afternoon classes. So there's no one right answer for everyone, but there are things all students can do to maximize their energy efficiency and alertness:
*Know how you function on a physical basis - knowing if you're a "morning person" or a "night owl" can tell you much about when you'll do your best work
*Get sufficient rest and eat well-balanced meals - if you're hungry or tired you're not going to learn much
*Learn how to deal with "test stress" - prepare a week for a test, compare notes with classmates, learn some calming techniques
*Alternate the material you're studying to avoid boredom or inattention
*Learn how to deal with procrastination - tackle your task immediately, break it down into manageable parts
*Make the most of your break times - change from sitting to standing to walking, make a pattern of your study times
*Use "down time" productively - that is, any time you spend in transit, waiting in a dentist's office, or even a few moments during lunch or class breaks.
Q: Thank you for taking my question. My question is I'm not so concerned about exams, but about how to stay on top of things during the school year. I am always cramming at exam time and I do well but I don't like to have to cram. Is there a way to balance work and study on a week-to-week basis?
A: That old saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" can be rewritten for students as "an ounce of preparation is better than a ton of struggles." There are students who always seem to be grasping at anything before a big exam and then there are those who are confident because they're prepared. Here are some tips to focus your study time so that it becomes useful:
*Prepare over the whole semester, not just right before the "big test"
*Write your important test/assignment/essay/exam dates onto a big box calendar so you can see what's coming up and when
*Create a study system--cue cards (or computer files) to capture lecture highlights, colour-coded folders for each course to minimize confusion
*Learn how to "take notes from your notes" by condensing highlights onto cue cards for quick and easy reference
*Pay attention to signals/reminders from your teacher or professor as to what could appear on the test
*On a regular basis, review class handouts, chapter highlights or summary sheets
*Make study checklists - include important dates, tasks, assignments and skills needed for each course
*Use a study group of motivated classmates who can meet regularly to go over course material
*Create a time managment system for yourself that blocks off class time, work time and study time so you know exactly what time is available to you.
Q: I am a graduate student and, thankfully, my program doesn't have tests or exams. I tend to do relatively well on the written assignments, but I tend to go overboard with essays sometimes. I always want to find another source and up-to-date information on my topic. This often stresses me out and, ironically, even makes me miss deadlines sometimes even though I start my essays way ahead of time (usually well before my peers). How can I better plan my time, train myself to accept that I cannot possibly know everything about a possible topic, and feel more comfortable about handing in my work even though it might not contain every possible source out there? Thanks in advance!
A: What you're describing is the tendency to overwrite. Rather than focus on a finite response to an essay question, your impulse is to create the "perfect" answer - and that usually results in your trying to do too much.
A better alternative is to understand that a good essay doesn't have to say everything - it just has to same something well. Use these tips to set reasonable parameters for your essay writing and you'll probably be more pleased with the results:
*Look at your essay as an answer to a question or as a response to a proposition
*No matter what the length of the essay finally becomes, reduce your answer to one sentence: "I'm trying to prove that...."
*Refer to your one-sentence statement as a guideline while you're writing to keep from going off topic
*Pick a few of the best points that led you to your answer and develop each one into a supporting paragraph
*Structure your points from "strong" to "strongest" as you're building toward the conclusion
*Be sure to inform your reader of your answer and its supporting evidence in the introduction
*Use the concluding paragraph to drive home your answer strongly now that you've given your evidence for it.
If you imagine you're a lawyer arguing that her client is not guilty of the charges, your argument simply depends on how effectively you shape the existing evidence in the case. You certainly aren't required to deal with every iota of material - just with what's germane to your point of view. In short - it's up to you to control the material, not the other way around.
Q: Hi - I am not able to concentrate while studying, though the will is there - I feel motivated and intrested but can't get a plan into action. Could you give me some suggestions so that I can get good grades?
A: The whole idea behind writing a great test or exam is to be able to focus effectively on the task at hand. This situation is usually only a short-term one, so it doesn't require an ongoing heightened state of concentration. But it does require you to do certain things well over a few days or a week before the exam to achieve the best result possible:
*Become proactive - itemize and focus on actual things you can do instead of giving in to negativity
*Isolate yourself - avoid the distractions presented by well-intentioned friends and family members. Hang a "do not disturb" sign on your door if you have to and let people know what your "off hours" are
*Do some "creative cramming" - review highlights from notes, quiz cards and old tests. Create possible test questions for yourself. Know something about every topic instead of everything about only a few
*Use the "bits and bites" method - break down your task into manageable chunks rather than become overwhelmed by the entire task as a whole
*Use word association as a memorizing technique - to help retrieve facts, connect a concept with a name. For example, "mortgagee" rhymes with "Eddie"
*Alternate course material regularly - interchange studying from your textbook with reading over notes as well as reviewing previous tests
*Use positive visualization - painting a mental picture of yourself doing well on that exam is a helpful technique to reduce stress levels.