student sitting at a desk and writing in a notebook with laptop open infront of them 

Clare Written by Clare (she/her), student

I'll admit, in high school I wasn't great at studying — I didn’t know how to!

Since then, I've learned a lot about how I like to study, and what I need to do to feel prepared for a test or exam. Here's what works for me, and I hope it helps you figure out what works for you!

Planning is everything

For me, if I don't plan what and when I'm going to study, I usually end up leaving it to the last minute. I find it helpful to plan out a study schedule about a week or two before a final, setting aside little chunks of time for when I want to study.

My study schedule also includes what I plan to accomplish during those times, like reviewing specific modules, reading certain chapters of my textbooks, or writing notes to quiz myself with. Outlining my study steps ahead of time ensures I’ll actually get my work done without having to do it all in one sitting.

Student typing on a laptop at desk

It also helps to take notes throughout the semester and follow along with the units accordingly, so you’re not scrambling to learn everything at the end — studying is about reminding yourself what you already know!

If you’re unsure exactly what you should be focusing on in your studying process, a key thing I like to do is to try and think like my prof. What have they emphasized during class? What core themes kept coming up? In what ways did the assignments test my knowledge? What questions are they likely to ask and do I know the answer? You can always take another look at your course’s learning outcomes too, to remind yourself what the primary goal of each lesson was.

Trying different study techniques made me realize what worked for me and what didn’t.

Find what works for you

When I first started university, I watched how the people around me were studying. Trying different techniques helped me realize what worked for me and what didn’t. Now I know that I'm definitely not a flashcard person, but I also know that doing practice problems really helps me out.

Try out some of these study methods.

  • Re-write your study notes — writing them out by hand reinforces memory retention, and colour coding sections can help you categorize your thoughts!
  • Create flashcards to quiz yourself.
  • Read your study notes out loud.
  • Study with a friend from class and quiz each other.
  • Teach the concepts to someone else — this forces you to really know what you’re talking about!
  • Create an audio recording of your notes and play it back.

I’m most productive a couple of hours after I wake up, in the early afternoon, and my focus starts to dwindle around 67 p.m. Some of my friends can rise and grind until the sun sets, while others don’t even touch their notes until 9’oclock — everyone’s approach is unique!

Naomi (she/her), English student

I encourage you to try out a few different study methods to see what works best for you and figure out when you’re most productive. Remember to take breaks and not overwork yourself!

Stack of textbooks beside a coffee cup

Try to limit distractions

Find a place that helps you focus and study. It could be your kitchen table, the library, a classroom no one is using, or a coffee shop with Wi-Fi (or no Wi-Fi, depending on your preferences).

I have a few go-to places and I find rotating between them and sometimes exploring new spots helps me to stay focused. Alexis, a Waterloo student, uses different apps to help her stay focused (e.g., turning off her notifications and timing her study breaks — or when to buy that next coffee).

When I’m studying, I put on classical music, which helps to increase my focus and motivate me. I also turn my phone off, so I’m not tempted to scroll through Instagram.

Naomi (she/her), English student

Have a good pre-final ritual

Having little habits before tests or exams can be great for dealing with stress and clearing your mind.

To really feel confident for a final, I like to go through a ritual. This doesn't mean studying right up to the moment of the test or exam, but rather taking some time to "get in the zone" beforehand.

For starters, I try my best to get seven or eight hours of sleep the night before. I also like to listen to some bubbly music and make sure I have all the supplies I need. Moving my body always rejuvenates my mind and keeps me alert (as does coffee), so I try to do a little work out or stretch a few hours before.  

I heard once that students who drink water during a final do up to 5% better, so I always make sure I have water, and I study up to 5% less. Just kidding! But I do always bring water to my tests, as it helps me stay hydrated and focused.

Once I have everything I need, I get to the exam location nice and early and try to relax before the assessment.  

You might be thinking, "easier said than done" — I’ve been there. But if you take the time to prep in advance, stick to the schedule, and destress yourself along the way, you’ll feel better prepared walking into your tests and exams.  

Good luck and happy studying!



Related articles