With the Name of Allah, the extremely Merciful at this very moment, and the extremely Merciful at all times
Here are 10 ways that have helped me improve my study habits and I believe will help maximize your test scores:
1. A good plan of action
Every test is a game, to play the game well, you need a good strategy. Every test also has “high yield” and “low yield” topics. The skill that most students learn to develop with time is to recognize and focus on “high yield” topics- topics more likely to be tested- and ignore less important “low yield” topics. This is especially true for finals, where the whole semester’s coursework is summarized on a 60 question test.
To recognize “high yield” topics, focus on topics the teacher has focused on in class. If the teacher spent 5-10 minutes on 1 topic, then it’s more likely to be tested. If you haven’t gone to class ( 😉 ) then the approach is more subtle. Focus on topics that have multiple slides in your powerpoint. A topic that takes 7 slides to explain will more likely have 2-3 questions versus a topic with 2-3 slides, which maybe will carry 1 question. Once high yield points are identified, focus your time on understanding them before getting bogged down in the details of everything else.
2. Study in hourly chunks
The problem most of us have is that we try to study for 10 hours and we get about 2-3 hours yield from it. A more efficient approach is to divide your total daily study time to 4-5 hours. Divide this “block” of studying into 1 hour blocks. Every 1 hour, study the topic in depth, but once 1 hour comes to a close, take a mandatory 10 minute break. This break is for anything you want, Facebook, eat, bathroom, etc. After those 10 minutes are up though, you must go back to that 1 hour block. After 3-4 of these blocks plus break methods, take a 1 hour break for lunch. Doing this allows you to assess how much you need to get done after lunch, or if you even need to study after lunch at all.
3. Cut down on distractions, but don’t burn out
Finding a balance with breaks and studying can be difficult, however, its not impossible. I’m a big proponent of taking breaks and continuing your normal routine during study time, because it keeps me relaxed and stress-free. Don’t seclude yourself from your family, lock your doors, or forbid your favorite pastime during test weeks in favor of studying for 10 hours a day; you’ll burn out and be stressed. Similarly, don’t be on Facebook for 10 hours while you have your powerpoint open on another tab and call that studying. If you have your lecture and Facebook open at the same time, its not study time, its break time, so don’t show off that you studied for 10 hours when you were on Facebook for 7 of them at the same time; that means you actually studied for 3 hours.
Enjoy your pass-times on your break times and study during your study time. If you study in blocks, then chances are the rest of the day after lunch you’ll have time for yourself. Enjoy it, because you’ve earned it.
4. Do Practice Questions!!!!
To truly do well on exams, you have to do practice questions. Try to find them in review books for your classes or past exams. The reason is that there can only be 4-5 ways to ask a question on a different topic. If you’ve already seen each different way of asking the question before your test, 9 times out 10 you’ll find that the same style of question will appear on your test, and that’s when you’re really in business.
An effective way to use practice questions is to do them to learn from them, not to see how many you can get right. Read the question and try to answer to the best of your ability. If you get it wrong, you will remember it better because you’ll be mad at yourself for getting it wrong. Read the solutions thoroughly because you will consolidate the information better. Lastly, try to figure out what led you to make your mistake: was it because you read the question to fast? Didn’t know the material? Got tricked by another answer? Once you figure out your common test taking mistakes you can correct your test taking weakness and score even higher on your exams.
5. Review, review, review
To truly rock your exams, you have to put significant revisions into topics you aleady know. If you read a powerpoint to the point your sick of the same pictures and are predicting the next word and slide, you know you’ve reviewed well.
Review after every lecture you go over. What were the high yield points? What’s the big picture? Do I understand all of the points? Am I able to explain it to someone who has no idea about the topic? What kind of questions can the teacher ask me about this lecture? Asking these types of questions allows you to be prepared for whatever comes your way on exam time and at the same time makes that lecture easier to review on the 2nd go around (or 3rd).
6. Teach a struggling student
I understand taking the time to teach someone a topic is hard. Your sacrificing time you don’t have, but rest assured, it will pay off. You will not only understand the topic better after you have taught it, but you will get help from Allah, as the Prophet (saw) mentioned:
“Whoever relieves some worry of a believer, Allah will relieve a worry of his on the Day of Requital. Whoever makes things easy for one in times of hardship Allah will make things easy upon him in this life and the next. And whoever conceals the faults of a Muslim, Allah will conceal his faults in this life and in the Hereafter. Allah helps his slave as long as he helps his brother.” (Muslim #2699)
7. Don’t eat while you study
The problem with eating while you are actively studying is that you are training yourself to get hungry during the exam. Your training your body to eat while its doing work. While your working in your exam, you will get hungry because your body is conditioned to eat while you work. Theres no food in the exam though, so you get hungry and that distracts you from answering the questions correctly. Trust me, you won’t get hungry when you study for a 1 hour block and can’t eat that pack of almonds and candies.
Moral of the story: Don’t eat while you study, eat on your breaks.
8. Don’t rely on coffee and energy drinks
The prevailing myth during finals is that we need to stay awake with energy drinks and coffee to maximize our time. We are so busy, we have too much to cover, we can’t get through it, so we ask: What should we do? Many of us would say: “I’ll have a red bull and stay up all night.”
Say no to drugs
Sugary energy drinks will give you that energy, but then also give you a nice crash. Coffee is fine if you like the way it tastes but don’t rely on it to stay awake, because it can also give you a crash. You can stay awake without any supplements, people have been doing it for years and continue to do it. Don’t train your body to be addicted to something to stay awake, because it can stay awake with healthly eating and sleeping habits.
An easier way to prevent fatigue is to stay hydrated with water. Many of us get dehydrated and this contributes to fatigue. Drink water instead of coffee or energy drinks and see if that helps.
The fact of the matter is that we don’t *need* anything extra or special to stay awake. We can stay awake if we get enough sleep and if we minimize stressors. Try it out with confidence and experience the difference.
Moral of the story: Relying on coffee and energy drinks might maximize your time being awake, but not necessarily your effective time studying.
9. Sleep, even if you didn’t finish your work
Sleeping has been proven to be a time where you actually consolidate what you learned throughout the day. In other words, as weird as it sounds, that’s where you get most of your learning done. So if you’re sleeping less than 6 hours a night during finals week, your not contributing to the learning process. Instead, use your time effectively by studying in blocks, this will allow you to get your work done faster, have more time to enjoy yourself, and sleep at a reasonable time to learn everything you studied.
I would go as far as to say that even if you didn’t finish all the material and you had a choice to sleep 3 hours the night before your exam versus skipping 1 lecture and sleeping for 7, I would skip the lecture.
Another reason sleep is so important is because it allows you to think clearly on exam day. More sleep the day before your exam helps to avoid re-reading questions multiple times leading to wasting precious time, making less silly mistakes, and earning better grades.
Sleep is good during our free times. It’s even sweeter during finals week.
10. Finish your test
We sabotage our scores when we don’t finish the whole exam. If you’re a slow test taker, try to pick up the pace. A good method is to mark a hard question and come back to it later. A “hard question” is defined as a question that takes you more than 1.5-2 minutes to figure out. Chances are if you don’t get the answer within 1 minute, you’re wasting your time thinking more at that moment. Move on to the next question and come back.
The reason finishing your test is important is because questions 1 through 5 may be the hardest questions on the test, while #67-75 are the easiest. Don’t screw up because you didn’t see all the questions. Sometimes seeing the whole test also allows you to get hints from later question stems that inadvertently help you get the answer to an earlier harder question!
Maximize your score by finishing the test.
These techniques are the byproducts of years of school. I believe they are proven techniques because they have helped me get as far as I am now and continue to push me forward. They are indespensible gems I have collected from more intelligent students. I hope that they help you as they have helped me.