Notes and Time Management
Time Management and Spacing Reviews
General time management strategies are covered in detail in the Time Management page. Specific tips as they relate to exam preparation are presented here.
Time management is the key to avoiding the pitfalls of cramming. But remember that the amount of time spent studying for an exam is not as important as what one does during that time. Make effective use of time budgeted for exam preparation by following these guidelines.
Develop a plan of action
Develop a plan for exam preparation well in advance of the test. Any combination of these activities may be included in the study plan: complete reading assignments, complete lab assignments, complete homework problems, meet with the instructor or tutors, meet with study group members, reorganize or recopy lecture notes, review information in the notes and the readings, and prepare study aids (flash cards, practice questions, visual aids, etc.). The activities selected will depend on the type of test and personal learning styles.
Budget your time
Estimate how long it will take to complete each of the activities in the preparation plan. Organize your hours to include ample time for completing the activities, relaxing, and sleeping. Daily and weekly grids are effective methods for budgeting time; examples are given in the Time Management page. Make up a schedule and stick to it.
Space test reviews
Break exam preparation into manageable amounts of time to avoid boredom and loss of concentration. Sessions lasting twenty to thirty minutes are best. Mix up activities (outlining, reviewing, organizing, etc.) so that the information is processed in a number of ways. Studying for six half-hour sessions is much more effective than studying for three straight hours.
Reduce and organize information
Few students are able to remember everything in their notes and books. Therefore, time spent reducing the information to major ideas, key words, and key phrases is time well spent. Reduction should be followed by organizing, or providing a logical structure to the information. Not only will reducing and organizing cut down on the amount of information to be remembered, it will provide memory triggers during the exam.
Word from general to specific
Review the main ideas in general terms first. Be sure to understand how the major topics are related. Then focus on the details for each major idea.
Begin to prepare early
Ideally, exam preparation should begin the first week of class or immediately after the last test. By starting early, information is stored in long-term memory and test anxiety is reduced.
Use spare time wisely
Short periods of "down time" between classes or before meals may be used effectively for exam preparation. Use such opportunities for small tasks, like flipping through flash cards or working a few math problems.
Set two alarms
For early morning tests, or for students who have trouble getting up, set two alarms or have a friend call to make sure you are awake. Students who commute should plan to arrive one hour before the test, in case there is car trouble or heavy traffic. They should also have a back-up plan for getting to class.
The night before the test
If one has prepared wisely for a test, spacing reviews and beginning preparation early, then the night before the test may be reserved for a final, relaxed review of the material. Your rewards will be a good night's sleep, a positive attitude about the test, and reduced anxiety!
Recopying and Organizing Notes
Recopying and reorganizing notes aids in exam preparation in three ways (D. Applegate, CAL). First, it helps students identify main points and supporting details discussed in class. Second, it helps students structure the information in such a way that it is more easily recalled and organized during the test; this is especially important for essay exams. Third, it provides the student with opportunities for reviewing the test material; the more times one goes over the information, the more likely one is to remember it.
Using notes to prepare for an exam should be as active a process as possible. Don't just read over the notes. Involve more senses by reciting the information aloud or by listening to tape recorded versions of the material. Use colored pencils, highlighters, pictures, etc. to enhance the notes.
Select an effective strategy for organizing lecture material. Several options, including the Cornell and outlining methods, are discussed in detail in the Note taking page. The organizational method chosen will depend on the nature of the information and the type(s) of questions that will be on the test.