Study Strategies for The Exam Season
With the start of the new semester and McMaster students now heading back into the swing of assignments and tests, it’s of crucial importance to have an effective study and work routine that can help you achieve all your tasks and goals. For our first article of this year, Macademics has summarized some useful preparation strategies for helping you handle your workload as well as solid study techniques, and uncovered some interesting tools that you can use to do so.
Most of us employ a “Prospective” timetable, in which we sit down a month before the test and lay out a revision schedule for the next month. This is what it looks like:
Although some individuals like this strategy, it’s difficult to predict which topics you’ll be having trouble with, in a month’s time, and it’s doubtful that you’ll stick to such a strict plan. A “Retrospective” timeline, on the other hand, is a scheduling strategy that some people prefer. This is what it looks like:
In a Retrospective Timetable, instead of planning what you hope to study in the future, you record the subjects you covered each day so that you can see your strengths and weaknesses when you look back at the schedule near exam time. The dates are color-coded to represent your ability level on a topic for that day, so you can decide which area needs more focus when you are looking back at the table. The advantage of this method over the Prospective Timetable is that you get to decide what to focus on based on your preparation rather than being forced to stick to a rigid schedule that doesn’t account for your strengths and shortcomings. Notion is a great software to make such a table. The user experience is simple and very satisying. If you want to learn more about the Retrospective Timetable, you can watch this video.
Using flashcards to study for the exam is a really useful method. Making short questions and trying to “actively recall” the knowledge instead of just reading the textbook, going over your notes, and watching lecture modules ensures that the information sticks. Making real cards is a traditional method, but I like to use the software Anki for flashcards. Anki is a free desktop programme (it’s a paid app for mobile devices) that allows you to create personalised flashcards. Anki has an interesting feature in that it uses a concept called Spaced Repetition (a learning approach in which you revisit learnt information at gradually increasing time intervals) to ensure that you are practising the flashcards you previously got wrong. My favourite feature is that you can download pre-made flashcard packs from the Anki website, which is extremely useful because it allows you to begin studying right away without having to create flashcards from scratch. You should watch this video if you want to learn more about Anki. Even though this video is aimed at medical school students, anyone can benefit from the material.
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method in which you work on a task for four 25-minute intervals, taking 5-minute breaks in between, and then taking a longer rest when the four intervals are completed. If you’re unfamiliar with this strategy, you might be asking why it’s useful for learning. When we set the timer for 25 minutes to focus on a specific activity, our brain is tricked into thinking the task is simple. Whereas, if we decide to complete a whole series of tasks in, say , 3 hours, we can get overwhelmed. This allows us to complete each task efficiently and without anxiety, while the 5-minute pauses in between allow us to maintain our attention span. Another advantage is that it aids us in overcoming procrastination. For this strategy, you can use a traditional alarm clock, but mobile apps like Flora seem more convenient. This video will teach you more about the Pomodoro Technique.
On top of these strategies, make sure to prioritise courses in which you have performed poorly or in which the final exam weighs more than the rest of the coursework. Another good suggestion is to practise questions in groups before the exam so that everyone may fill in the gaps in their knowledge by learning from one another. Topic summaries/notes on one page are also handy. Finally, the most important thing is to look after your mental health, which should always come first before anything.
Written By: Khawja Labib
Abdaal, Ali. n.d. “How to Study for Exams — The Retrospective Revision Timetable — YouTube.” [Video] Accessed November 30, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7o09a7t4RA.
Highley, Zach. n.d. “Medical School Anki Beginner Tutorial | AnKing Deck — YouTube.” [Video] Accessed November 30, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbi90aa-h3I&t=905s.
Frank, Thomas. n.d. “My #1 Method for Stopping Procrastination — YouTube.” [Video] Accessed November 30, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0k0TQfZGSc.