Ready, Set, Study: Tips for First Exams

6 Sep


My first year at the University of Arizona was a huge learning experience. At the onset, I thought, I have everything figured out about college, but I was far from knowing anything at all.

My first semester, I was enrolled in MATH 112, which is a common freshman course. For me, this course was a prerequisite for my public health major. I soon fell behind in this class because I was unfamiliar with the fast pace and large work load. We would have at least 45 homework problems to complete every night, and exams every two weeks.

Although this course was taught in a small classroom, the material was still taught at a fast pace. I did not apply myself, and stuck to the study habits that I had practiced throughout my prior years in school.

I ended the semester with a bad grade in MATH 112. This discouraged me, and made me rethink my study habits. Luckily, because of this experience, I did learn a lot about the difference between taking and prepping for an exam in high school compared to taking a college exam. Below are a few key differences I discovered, and some tried and true tips to help you succeed your first time around.

Studying for a high school exam…

  • Studying the night before an exam can still earn you a decent grade.
  • Teachers give out exactly what you need to know for the exam.
  • You are given the entire class period to complete your exam.
  • Make up exams are given if you are absent.
  • Homework is turned in for credit, so you are forced to practice the material covered in class.
  • More than several exams are given out throughout the semester, meaning that you have more than several chances to do well on another exam and raise your grade.
  • Teachers are constantly reminding their students when assignments are due and when exams are drawing near.
  • Exam reviews are given the day before an exam to review the material covered in class.

Studying for a college exam…

  • There are a variety of answer-formats that one exam can include, not just multiple-choice exams.
    • It would be helpful to not just memorize material, but to use critical thinking to actually learn material. This will help you prepare for essay questions and short-answer responses.
  • Exams consist of material covered over weeks, or even months.
    • A tip would be to take detailed notes in class. Keep them organized so that you can reference them when reviewing for an exam.
  • Because college exams consist of so much material, it is essential to study days before your exam date.
    • It’s important to go home and understand the material covered in class on that day. This way, you are keeping up with the course, and not cramming a month’s worth of material the night before an exam.
  • Homework is not always worth credit, so sometimes students feel no need to complete it. They do not get the practice that they need.
    • Do the homework; the professor would not have assigned it to you if weren’t important.
  • Professors assign independent reading to help reiterate what was discussed in lecture. Sometimes this shows up on an exam.
    • Try to read assigned reading before class so that you know what the professor is going to cover, and it can be used a repetition study skill.
  • College is based on independent work ethics and study habits. It is on you to take notes, study, and be successful.
    • Find out what study skills work best for you, and take your courses seriously.
  • Some classes only have a midterm and final exam that determines the outcome of your overall grade.
    • Visit your professor’s office hours to see what topics to focus on for these exams.
  • Everything mentioned in class is fair game for exams; you are not told exactly what to take notes on for the exam.
    • Take notes on everything presented in class, and highlight important topics that your professor spends time on.
  • Your syllabus is your survival guide when knowing about all your exam dates.
    • Buy a planner, and as soon as you receive your syllabus, write all the important dates for your courses in it so you are always planning ahead. You can reference Ciara’s blog post for tips on how to read your syllabi.

I hope that these tips will help you know what to expect when you are getting ready for some of your first college exams. Ready, set, study!

–Jocelin Calcagno

3 Responses to “Ready, Set, Study: Tips for First Exams”


  1. MythBusters: College Edition | Student Affairs Outreach - September 13, 2013

    […] me start by referring to a blog that was posted last week on the differences between High School and College. Did you read it? Okay, so now you know that the pace of college life is a whole other animal. My […]

  2. How to Study for a Comprehensive Final Exam | - October 13, 2013

    […] Ready, Set, Study: Tips for First Exams ( […]

  3. Surviving College as a Freshman - Penny Thots - April 18, 2014

    […] Ready, Set, Study: Tips for First Exams […]

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