6 Note-Taking and Studying Tips to Help You Ace Your Exams

Big test coming up? Stressed already? Don’t worry—crunch time gets us all sweating. Whether you have a few classes left before the exam or are re-watching lectures to catch up, we’ve got some tips to help you get the most out of your study time.

1. Eliminate the unhelpful distractions.

Sometimes a little background noise isn’t a bad thing. The hums of a conversation or a calm, low-fi beat can actually improve our focus. However, there are certain distractions that don’t help us when we need to study most. This could include anything from constant social media notifications on your phone to a never-ending inbox of emails, or the TikTok videos that your friend sent from last night. All these things can disrupt our study routines, and if we eliminate them for just an hour or two, we can get more done.

2. Take notes in the way you like to learn.

You know how some people are visual learners, while others get the most out of listening to a compelling lecture? No matter how you prefer to gather information, structure your notes in the same way. For example, if you’re an auditory learner, record all your lectures and listen to them on playback throughout the week. If visuals improve what you remember, drop images into your notes to help you later on.

3. Embrace the break (but don’t take advantage of it).

When you’re feeling the pressure of a test, it can be tempting to lock yourself in a room for hours on end to review your notes—but that might not be the best move. Professor Andy Adcroft, head of Surrey Business School, shared with HR Dive research that indicates short study bursts might be the best way to remember important information. He noted that “the results showed that spaced learning could be more effective than traditional methods in getting students to understand key concepts.”

So, what does this mean for you? Study in bursts, and don’t be afraid to pencil in a break or two! Now, that doesn’t mean your break can last a whole week. Avoiding your study sessions is worse than a study marathon.

4. Unlock your brain by beating The Forgetting Curve.

The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve is a scientific graph that shows how our minds forget. Put simply, we experience a steep memory decline in the first 24 hours after learning new information. A slower decline then comes in the days after. How do you combat the forgetting curve? You start by giving yourself a little grace. It’s totally normal (and human) to forget! The second thing you can do to combat the curve is repetition over time, instead of “cramming” information. Don’t count on your brain to remember everything in one lecture or one study session; plan to regularly and frequently review what you need to know for the exam.

5. Use your outside resources.

You don’t have to do this solo, even if you’ve got your notes ready and study guides prepped. There are lots of resources, on and off-campus, that you can use to help you plan for your exam. Take advantage of office hours with your professor or TA, and use online review tools to help you go through the material. The more you diversify the ways you learn, the more likely you are to retain the information.

6. Change up your note-taking techniques.

For the last tip, it’s back to the basics. There are a couple of things that can make your notes work better for you:

  • Start practicing your shorthand: it can be hard to keep up with a speaker in a lecture. Instead of trying to type out every word perfectly, try using some shorthand combinations to replace longer vocabulary. That way, you can focus more on listening and less on getting the right spelling down.
  • Keep a section for big ideas: at the top of your notes page, keep a section open for bullet points on big ideas. Collect the recurring themes or big ideas from the lecture in one space so you can review them at a glance.
  • Become the artist of your own notebook: whether you prefer color-coding or doodles, the way you format your notes can impact how well you retain them. Note-taking is an art of its own, so let yourself design a creation that serves you!

Time for the Test

Alright, it’s time to put pen to paper and start studying. It’s okay if you don’t get everything perfect right away. Take it one day at a time, and tackle your exams in the way that works best for you!