Tip: Studying for Essay Exams

When you walk into a humanities course, such as English literature, you know: there will be essay questions on every. single. test. But! No need to fret. With these tactics, you can knock those pesky essays out of the park.

Read the text before class. Participating in those class discussions can help you form an opinion of the ideas in the text. Developing a perspective and position on a topic is half of formulating a good essay. It is all about making an effective argument, regardless of your view.

When preparing, focus on analyzing and interpreting the information as you read. Reflect and ask questions: What is the significance of the text? Pick out themes, metaphors, and know why the text was written. Compare to other readings in the course, as you will likely be asked to discuss multiple texts in your essay.

During class discussions, be sure to take notes. Many teachers base exam questions on the topics touched on during these discussions. You could separate out the question, professor’s comments, and student comments in your notes to help you better remember the course of the discussion as well.

Review after class and reflect on the reading and class discussion as a whole. Did your perspective change? Figuring out exactly what you think about issues in the text can make formulating arguments on the essay exam much easier. Another way to review is by annotating the text. Identify themes and symbolism as discussed in class, marking important passages as you go.

If you follow the main ideas in discussions, you may be able to anticipate possible essay topics. If you are fairly certain of a test topic, you could outline the question for practice. Truthfully, other than doing the reading, being involved in class is probably the best way to prepare yourself for any question. As you participate, you will be forming a position on the text, which, with a bit more planning, will ensure your success on the test.


Tip: Studying for Objective Tests

We all know that the term “multiple choice” can be a polarizing statement. On one hand, there is always a chance that you can get the question right by eliminating unlikely choices, whether you know the answer or not. The bad news? There is no partial credit. And sometimes, professors can be tricky with the questions they ask. To better prepare for potential deer-in-headlights moments, there are some study strategies you can use.

Read, take notes, and then re-read all material before the test. Make a study guide featuring a list of key points. Break down those key concepts by organizing this information around broad concepts.

Constantly review. The more you work with the material, the more likely it is that you can anticipate the questions and pick out what concepts will be tested more than others.

Self-testing is a great way to prepare for objective tests. If you have a study guide, homework, or past quizzes to look over, do it. Using problems in your textbook can be really valuable as well. Going through these problems will help you to identify what concepts you are struggling with, allowing you to then concentrate on areas of weakness. Troubleshoot those areas, work hard, think through the problems clearly on test day, and you should come out with a score you can be proud of!

Tip: Studying for Tests

Start early and do all the reading that will be tested. Complete the reading a few days before the test so that you can process the information. Take notes while you are reading at home. When test week comes, you can read through your personal notes and the notes from class.

Schedule some time each day over the week leading up to the test. Please do not try to do it all at once! Weekends are helpful for studying more than you may be able to during the week. However, don’t burn yourself out. You could get tired or discouraged instead of getting the most out of your study time.

As always, being successful means finding balance. You do not want your health or other factors outside of school to affect your educational performance. Stay healthy by eating regular meals, exercising, getting adequate sleep, and building supportive relationships.

Following a regular study routine and self-testing can prevent panic and unhealthy habits later. After self-testing, study the concepts you need the most help with again to make sure you understand the material before taking the test. There is nothing worse than walking into a test only to realize that you are unprepared.

Study groups formed with the right mix of people can be very beneficial. Breaking up the work and teaching others concepts may help you understand the material better. Engaging in discussion forces you to think about topics from different angles, which should give you a new perspective and better understanding. Even if you do not like the study group structure, you can simply study with one classmate. If you work well together, why not team up?

Another awesome trick:

If you are a commuter or an auditory learner, reading your notes and book chapters aloud, and recording your voice can be a great option. You can listen to the recordings on your daily drive or in down time between classes. Getting in that extra study time will be worth it! There is nothing worse than an hour of wasted time (daily!) because you are driving. This way you can make that lost time more productive.

People study best in different ways. Your job is to find how you best process and learn information. Once you find that perfect mix and balance, studying will no longer feel overwhelming. Your productivity and your test scores will be through the roof!

Simple Guidelines to Ensure Success in Class

Showing up is only part of college. Yet sometimes you have to take a class that always seems to drag. Luckily, there are some simple ways to become more interested in the subject and getting the most out of every college class, because, hey, you are paying to be there! Get your money’s worth with some of these tips:


Read the syllabus

It may go without saying that professors appreciate students who know what is going on in their class. Simply reading the syllabus and writing down assignments can keep you informed.


Know and follow the class rules

Some professors have their quirks. If your teacher has a late policy, try your best to honor it. Increasingly, professors are turning to harsher cell phone policies as well; you could be asked to leave class, no negotiation, if your phone goes off during a lecture. Not only would you miss out on that day of notes, but also give your professor something negative to remember you for. It pays off to follow the rules. Imagine if one of your professors waived final exams (i.e. 100%) for students who had perfect attendance and came to class engaged! Abiding by that policy could seriously benefit you.


Sit up front

Sit in the first row of the class to keep yourself accountable for your attendance and attention. The professor will notice when you are not there and if you are, whether or not you are engaged with the lecture. This helps you stay alert and take better notes.

If you are not interested in the subject, try leaning forward. Not only do you appear more engaged through body language, but also may actually become interested by pretending to be. Hopefully, your mind will mimic your body and you will be able to get through the lecture gracefully.


Ask questions

You have heard it before: If you do not understand, ask. If you want to know more, ask. No need to be embarrassed. Really. And if you need help, please ask for it sooner rather than later. It will save you stress later when you are studying for exams. Added bonus: you will score points with the professor by showing that you have been actively listening to lectures.


Interact with your professor

Participate in the classroom conversation, ask questions, visit during office hours, and communicate via email to get to know your professor. You will likely get more out of your education this way. Plus, should you ever need a letter of recommendation, you will have a good option in a professor you made an effort to interact with.

Use Classes to Explore Possible Interests

One of the greatest tools during your time in college is the plethora of classes and subjects that are available to you. This is particularly useful if you have a variety of career interests or if you want to specialize in your chosen field.

As colleges tighten up their required curriculum, it can be tough to earn all the credits you need to stay on track for graduation. Most people would rather graduate in 4 years, or as soon as possible, instead of dragging it out. However, you can develop a strategy to get in the credits you need and those classes you would like to take as… experiments.

Explore interests within your program’s requirements

General education requirements typically dictate that you must earn a specific number of hours in each curriculum area. For example, perhaps a program requires nine hours each of social sciences and fine arts/humanities. The social sciences section could include subjects such as economics, psychology, philosophy, and political science. Theater appreciation, art history, dance, and literature courses are examples of fine arts/humanities options. These subjects are varied that afford you many different combinations. Choosing classes for your general education requirements is a prime opportunity to branch out and consider other avenues.

Sometimes that one random class (Geology? Eighteenth-Century Women Writers?) ends up changing your entire career trajectory. Aside from finding a new life goal, you could find a new interest or hobby. Even if the class is not what you hoped for, you know that subject is not for you, and you can make better choices because of it.

If you are already considering changing a major (or adding a minor), take a class in that field of study as an introduction. For example, if you were considering switching from chemistry to English literature, you could ask others studying English literature and your professor for more information about the field. Between asking questions, reading, writing, and attending class, could discover whether you are truly interested in literature before you make a huge change. It could save time, stress, and money!

Informational Interview

When you are in introductory classes (or any class, really), go to office hours and ask your professor or TA about what they do, the subject area, or any other topic you want to know more about. An informational interview could be helpful to get a feel for the subject and whether it is something you would like to continue studying. Showing enthusiasm is always best over the alternative, so do not be afraid to interact with your teachers. Not only can it expand your knowledge, but also ensures that they will remember you. It could be a segway into a good relationship, which can lead to a good reference should you ever need one from a professor.

Follow your interests!

Put simply: pursue subjects that intrigue you, and your experiences will point you toward a path that suits your skills and personality. Approaching college as a time of exploration could help you find a path that you truly love. After years of hard work, coming out of college with a degree you are confident about should fill you with pride and excitement for your upcoming professional journey.