Skills booster: Exam preparation

The exam period is just around the corner. For many students, this means stress, cramming and temporarily putting your social life on hold. How do you make good use of your time? And how do you make sure you master the content of a subject? Have a look at the video or the tips below to get a grip on your learning so you can effectively prepare for your exam:

1. Find out what you need to know and be able to do.
2. Make a schedule based on priorities.
3. Choose the right study strategy.

1. Find out what you need to know and be able to do

Unsure what exactly is expected of you on an exam? Don't start learning the material from week 1 straight away. There is a risk that you will get stuck in learning minor details or that you will have little time left for the material from the remaining weeks. To study effectively, you must have an overview and be able to distinguish between main and secondary issues. Then you will be able to place and remember the details better.

So, start by reading the course description. That is a short summary (a kind of abstract) of the content the course is focused on. Can you detect thematic lines or main issues in the description? Are there any topics that are explicitly mentioned? If so, you have the main focus of the course. Next, you can think about the relationship between the different sections and what topics belong to them.

In addition, we recommend that you consult the learning objectives of the course. These can usually be found in the course manual. Learning objectives provide information about what you should be able to do at the end of the course with what you have learned. Do you need to reproduce knowledge? Apply what you have learned to a new case? Make connections? You can also use the assignments and any reading questions to find out what type of questions to expect on the test. In case a practice exam is available, review it now instead of after learning for your exam. It may sound silly, but you can use it to get clear on how to learn for your exam.

2. Make a schedule based on priorities

Refrain from working from Week 1 to Week 8. Many students who do that run out of time or spend unnecessary time on things they already know. Make an overview of the content, your understanding of the topics, and then start planning. The following steps can help:

  1. Determine what you need to focus on in preparation for your test. In what ways should you be able to master the material (learning objectives, trial exam, cues given by teachers)? Can you distinguish main and secondary issues? If not, grab the course manual and your lecture notes again.
  2. List the themes/topics you have a good understanding of.
  3. Make a list of themes/topics you have not yet mastered well enough.
  4. Determine how you prioritize. To do this, you can download the table below. 
  5. Based on the table, make your own study schedule. When doing so, work from the end (day before the test) to the start (moment you start learning for the test) and begin planning the parts you have not yet mastered well. Check out the Skills booster "Plan like a pro" to learn how to make a schedule that actually works.

3. Choose the right study strategy

See what materials you will need for the exam and determine how you will really master the material. Learning is more than passively reading through your notes or summarizing the book. Actively engage. Come up with questions, create diagrams, flashcards and practice tests. If you find that boring or difficult, you can also meet with a fellow student to quiz each other or discuss questions. Choose a way of learning that fits the requirements of the subject, and helps your master the content. The Cornell University website has a list of study strategies and activities to get you started. And don't forget to take breaks, because you need time and space in your head to let what you've learned sink in. That way you'll keep learning fun and effective!

More tips

Looking for more writing and studying techniques you can implement right away? Check out the overview of all tips and knowledge clips.

The Skills Boosters are brought to you by: Educational Development & Training, Skills Lab and the National Programme for Education (NPO).