You've staked out your turf in the library and are ready to get started. If you've attended every class, taken impeccable notes, and have underlined, highlighted, and summarized all the readings, congratulations! If, on the other hand, you have no idea how to begin studying, welcome to college!
Different people have all kinds of different study methods, and not all of them will work for you. The important thing is figuring out which techniques work for you, and how you need to tailor them to different courses and different test formats. Here are some basic tips you might want to try, beyond reviewing your lecture notes and reviewing the reading:
Play catch-up - For starters, ask a friend to borrow his or her notes from lectures you missed. And if the test is right around the corner, skim any reading you haven't yet done. Even if time is scarce, try to at least glance over and skim through everything that's been covered in the class. Maybe remembering a catchphrase or some detail will help you fudge your way through an essay, or take a mildly educated guess at a multiple choice question.
Be a flash card fanatic - If your class requires a lot of memorization, such as vocabulary for a French class, paintings and dates for an art history class, or chemical formulas for an intro chemistry class, try making flash cards. Just writing down the information on index cards can help you absorb some of it.
One important thing to note is that you're not going to be able to memorize 200 paintings, artists, and dates in one night. It's a cumulative process. If you already had a midterm in the class, you've probably learned a lot of the material already and just need to refresh your memory; if the final is the first time you'll have to regurgitate a lot of facts and details, you'll need discipline. Your best bet is to start studying in advance.
Look to the past - If they're available, look for past exams. Professors, especially in the sciences, sometimes give out old exams; sometimes they're available in the library; and sometimes your Teachers Assistant (T.A.) can provide you with one. Looking at an old exam will give you a feel for what information you're supposed to know and how much detail you'll be expected to go into. You'll also get a feel for the format and for the professor's style. If you've gotten a copy of an old science or math exam, do the questions or problems in it. While the numbers or details may be different, the methodology behind solving the problems will probably be similar.
Peruse problem sets - To prepare for science, math, or econ tests, look over your problem sets, and rework the questions on them. Your professor will probably ask similar questions on them.
Attend review sessions - Go to optional review sessions, especially those led by teaching assistants. Teaching assistants will give you at least some general information about what will be on the test just as a reward for showing up. And more often than not, they'll let some juicy tidbit inadvertently slip, possibly saving you some valuable study time. Review sessions also give you the opportunity to set up or join study groups with other students in the class.
Be a study groupie - Give a study group a try. Warning: these do not work for everyone. You may not be comfortable preparing for a test with other students. And inevitably, some people in a group are going to be less prepared than others. But it can't really hurt to meet briefly with other students to share notes and information, and discuss broad themes that might provide fodder for an essay on exam day.
Take a short cut - If all else fails, look for short cuts. Read the introductions and conclusion of all your assigned chapters. If you know that someone else takes better notes than you, ask to borrow them. Of course, the lender is not always thrilled about this; someone we knew junior year walked into class the day of the midterm to find twelve Xeroxed copies of her incredibly detailed lecture notes floating through the room. She was not pleased.
Remain calm - Please extinguish all cigarettes. An oxygen mask will drop from an overhead compartment, and you may use seat cushion as a flotation device... Oh. Sorry. Wrong crisis. Seriously though, don't panic, especially if you've pretty much kept up throughout the semester. Again, it's really crucial that you find a study system that works for you. You might like to work chronologically through the syllabus, you might like to work thematically, you might like flash cards, or outlines, or summaries. It'll probably take you a while to develop effective study habits. Give yourself adequate time to do it. And whatever you do, don't leave it all for the night before.
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