How to study strategically for exams?

Published on 27 April 2018 by Edu Aid | Study and Exams Tips & Guide


How to study strategically for exams? This is the question most students would have been thinking about at some point in time. Very likely this question comes along when a student is faced with multiple subjects to study, with multiple topics per subject and the looming exams week. There is a high chance the student is already entertaining panic attacks. Then comes the question – with highly limited brain space and time, how do we still score adequately well in our exams? Is there any hope for redemption for a recalcitrant student who only studies at the last minute?

We all know that there is a difference between learning and studying for exams. When we are truly learning, we may not be prepared for exams. The converse is true – when we are merely preparing for exams, we may not be truly learning. Unfortunately we are growing up in a paper-chasing society. Even if you don’t feel that you are losing out without a proper qualification, the Nay-Sayers around you will probably make it their life ambition to convince you to think otherwise. Your exams results are important – in fact more important than your learning. This is the message that society is imposing on us. So, here you go – some tips on how to study strategically for your exams.

[Read: How To Study Smart In Singapore: An In-Depth Guide]

Work on your Strengths, Not your Weaknesses

If you focus on all the topics per subject that you are weak in, you will probably end up too paralyzed by your fears to do anything constructive during your revision week. Most students approach their studies from a position of weakness rather than a position of strength, because their teachers and parents encourage them to do so! “Do this, because you are weak in this, you need more practice!” – does this sound too familiar? “Weak”, “weak”, “weak” – when you hear too much of such helpless negativity your legs only feel softer come exams week. Not only do those practice you did not help at all, you simply feel so unprepared even though you have gone through so much practice on your “weak” topics.

Here’s what you should do instead – If your subject has 20 topics to study, you should first rank your topics according to your strength. The first topic will be your strongest topic and the 20th topic your least strong topic. Notice we don’t use the word “weak” here. Everything is strong, it’s a matter of ranking. When you change your language, your confidence level follows. The way you practice will be different too. You wouldn’t believe you can’t solve a question you are supposedly strong in! You would go figure what went wrong and how to approach similar questions if they appear during your exams. When you use the word “weak” often, you are likely to give up easily during practice, rendering the whole process of practicing useless.

Now, after ranking your 20 topics, select the last 5 topics and ditch them altogether. Do not spend any time on them. Practice the top 15 topics you are strong in. If you do not have time at all, ditch 10 topics and study 10. Then, cross your fingers and pray that those you didn’t study won’t be tested during the exams. In a situation where your time is limited, it’s easier to improve from an area of strength than from an area of weaknesses. Work on your weakness only when you have more than 1 month away from your exams week. Anytime nearer to your exams – it’s just too late.

Pick Questions

You can try to pick questions and make sure you know how to answer them to score full marks for those questions. Most students know we should be picking questions, but not many know what kinds of questions exactly to pick, or how to pick strategically.

Again, you ought to pick questions from your topics of strength. When you are familiar with a topic, there is a higher chance you will be more accurate in your questions guessing. For such topics, you would be so familiar with them that you know exactly what kinds of questions could be tested. Make sure you are able to score full marks when such questions are tested. Don’t pick questions and then leave them in your notebook without attempting to match it with the perfect answer.

For example, if you are studying for General Paper in JC, you can pick the potential essays questions based on hot issues. Some hot issues could be LGBT rights, the controversial subject of fake news, whether execution can be justified, etc. Once you have picked a few essay questions, do not leave them as just predicted questions, but spend some time to very quickly research on enough information to write a full essay on those topics you have picked. Make sure you score really well in these essays if they were to appear in your exams paper.

Memorize, Memorize, Memorize!

If you cannot understand anything, at least memorize something! What you memorize may come in useful for your exams. For example, for Geography, even if you cannot understand the process of precipitation, just memorize the entire chunk of descriptive words and pictures you need to draw. It may not help you score a full mark for a related question, but at least if you can put something decent down on paper you get some marks.

[Read also: 7 Definite Tips To Help You Ace Your Next Examination]

If your English is bad, maybe a grade C6 and you make an effort to memorize beautiful phrases before your exams and use them appropriately in your composition, your beautifully written composition may put your English grade at B3 overall! If you can’t understand a Math concept, remember the problem sum question style and memorize the steps required to get the answer. The rule is this – whatever you can do well in or understand, just resort to memorizing. Of course, if your time is little there is a limit to how much you can jam into your brain through memorizing. So let this technique be your last technique.

Two hours of exams cannot determine your brilliance. However, it probably can determine the effectiveness of your exams preparation techniques. If you are struggling and are at your last month of preparation, it is not too late to hire a tutor to help you pace yourself. All the best!

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