4 Helpful Tips to Study for Exams in US and Canadian High Schools

Written By Sally Forsyth

As the end of the school year approaches, many students will be preparing for final exams. Effective exam preparation can be a challenge for some students. They may get stressed or anxious, or they may manage their time poorly in the weeks leading up to the final exams. It is a good idea for teachers to spend some time in class, or perhaps in advisory time, to review helpful exam study tips. Here are some strategies that your students may find useful. As students, we all tend to forget things quickly, but with exams coming up, you cannot afford to forget what you learn. Did you know that in order to remember something, your brain has to go away and retrieve it again? When the brain sees the same information repeatedly, this means it will find the information faster when needed in an exam situation.

Tip #1: Review, Review, Review!

This means you cannot just look over the information once the night before the exam! You need to be constantly reviewing the material in the weeks before the exam dates. Reading your history textbook, however, is not enough! You have to actively review information by taking notes or highlighting important points. This brings me to the importance of taking notes.

Tip #2: Why note taking is so important

First, get yourself organized and gather all your class notes, teacher handouts, and any other class material together in one file. If you have been absent from class for any reason, ask a friend or your teacher for the handouts or class material you may have missed on that day. If you have notes, handouts, and worksheets on your laptop, tablet or on google drive, be sure to have everything in one folder for each subject for easy access. We all have many files in our electronic devices in different places, and then have trouble finding them when we really need them to study for a test!

Now that you have everything, you need to begin the review process and make notes as you go. You may make your notes on paper or electronically or using index cards. You can also try online graphic organizers like MindMeister or Popplet which work well with phones, laptops or tablets.

The process of actively making notes will help your brain to remember and makes it easier for you to concentrate as well. Using different colors for highlighting information, or making mind maps or other visual aids, will also help your brain to remember the information.

Tip # 3 Mnemonic techniques

Mnemonic techniques have been around for centuries since the time of the Greeks. Mnemonics is a tool to help our memories, which are often overwhelmed with vast amounts of information. Popular mnemonics are songs, short phrases or acronyms. For example, Every Good Boy Deserves a Favor is a popular acronym for the lines of the treble clef in music. I use one for my English students to help them learn poetic devices. P.O.S.S.A.M. stands for Personification, Onomatopoeia, Simile, Sensory Imagery, Alliteration, and Metaphor. Mnemonic techniques are useful to help students remember important information during a test or an exam. Students can make up their own songs or acronyms or teachers can suggest ones they have used before.

Tip # 3: How to cope with exam stress

It is perfectly normal for students to feel some stress before exams; however, some students can get overwhelmed with anxiety. First of all, the basics: students need to get a good night’s sleep before exams and avoid staying up too late. They need to eat before going into an exam, so having a good breakfast or healthy snack is essential. Getting up a little early to study may be a good idea as long as you get a good amount of sleep. I had one student who decided to get up at 2 am to study for an exam. Then of course, when she took the exam around 9 am, she was really exhausted, ultimately affecting her performance on the test!

 Here are some practical tips for students coping with stress:

  • When you are feeling stressed, you need to talk about it. Talk to your friends who are there to help. This will help you realize you are not alone and they will give you support. Also, be sure to talk to your teachers or parents who can help you problem solve and find practical solutions.
  • Be sure to take regular breaks when you are studying and program some time to relax. Take some time out to do fun things and spend time in nature.
  • Try revising with friends, which will not only keep up your social life but also help to not feel isolated and alone.
  • Practice relaxation techniques, mindfulness and concentrate on your breathing. Try to stay in the moment and focus on your revision. Avoid worrying too much about the exam results and what grade you might get! Try to stay calm and focused.
  • Try to make time for some regular exercise, which is a great way to blow off steam and help your body and mind to de-stress.
  • Make sure you get a good night’s sleep. Try to have a routine and go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day

Tip # 4: The Study Environment

Where do you study best? Do you prefer to study in your room at home, or do you prefer to go to the library or maybe even to a park? Find a place that works best for you. However, you need to try and get rid of distractions, so be sure to study in a place with the least amount of distraction possible. Try making a goal of studying for an hour for example, then switch off your phone and the television during that hour, to avoid distraction from chat messages and social media.

Remember, it is better to really focus 100 percent for one hour than to study for several hours while constantly distracted!


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About the author

Sally Forsyth is a High school English teacher and an educational coach. She has worked in national and internatonal schools in different countries and different school systems, She is also the founder of CoachMyFuture, a coaching organization focusing on coaching teachers and educators in the educational sector.

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