Academic Support

Study Skills Guide

Trained OAS tutors are available to provide Study Skills Assistance to students. If you would like individual assistance, you can submit a tutor request form online or in our office and we will email you with the appointment date and time. If you are interested in arranging a group workshop, please contact Stephanie Daniels.

You can also click on a topic below to learn strategies to improve that study skill.

Time Management and Organization

  1. Be realistic-allocate more time than you think it will take to complete a task.
  2. Break any large assignments into smaller, manageable tasks.
  3. Do not plan to study for hours at a time plan on short sessions which are more productive than marathons.
  4. Use the time between your classes. Review notes or prepare for your next class.
  5. Study difficult subjects first. Do not postpone studying your hardest classes.
  6. Be sure to review your notes as soon as possible after class to keep them fresh in your mind and also to determine what questions you have on the material.
  7. Catch up and plan during the weekend as well. Remember that you may need to study 5-20 hours each weekend.
  8. It may also be helpful to keep a blank weekly schedule with you. On this schedule, record how you truly spent your time. You can recognize your time management strengths and weaknesses by noting when you followed your plan and when you strayed from it.
  9. Organization is key. Keep a weekly and monthly calendar.
  10. Establish daily and weekly goals for yourself.
  11. Prepare for each day ahead of time.
  12. Make lists. List tasks on a calendar or in a notebook. Cross off the work as it is finished.
  13. Prioritize! Prioritize! Prioritize! Give each minitask a numbered priority and work through in the order you assigned.
  14. Find a place where you can study that is free from distractions.
  15. Determine if you are a morning or evening person, and work during your peak time.
  16. Set deadlines and attempt to stick to them.
  17. Concentrate fully on the task at hand.
  18. Get started now!

You have 168 hours every week to decide how to spend. How many of these do you spend:

  • sleeping? (8 hours per night = 56 hours)
  • eating? (3 hours per day = 21 hours)
  • class, labs, etc.? (15-20 hours per week depending on your course load)
  • working? (campus jobs at Xavier are typically 10 hours or less per week)

This leaves only 63 hours (9 per day) where you have to decide what to do. Make a calendar, allocate this time, don't just let it pass without knowing how it was spent.

Types of Calendars

Types Pros Cons
Pen and Paper Easy to hold on to, can go anywhere. Messy to change. Easy to lose.
Cell phone app; outlook calendar; online calendars Easy to hold on to, can go anywhere. Difficult for people who don't like or work well with technology.

Principles of Scheduling

  • Don't worry if you don't stick to the schedule for every minute, or hour, of the day. It may take a while to get used to a new time management habit. Just don't get too impatient and give up completely.
  • Try not to over-schedule yourself. Leave time free each day for "fudge" time.
  • Schedule time for sleep.
  • Trade, don't steal, time from your schedule. (If you go out while you scheduled study time, study some during time scheduled for socializing.)
  • Get into the habit of studying every day. Set aside at least one hour each day to work on homework, even if you don't have anything due the next day.

Why do we procrastinate?

We see what we have to do as hard, inconvenient, boring, or frightening. Identifying what is negative about the task or why it is unpleasant may help to get on to doing it. We may also procrastinate because of perfectionism, feelings of inadequacy or discomfort, or worrying.

Common signals that you are procrastinating, and what to do about them

"I work better under pressure anyway!"

If this is truly the case, establish early deadlines for yourself. The keys to this technique are:

  1. Establish specific goals.
  2. Identify when they actually need to be met.
  3. Make an early deadline for yourself.
  4. Tell someone (your roommate, mom, professor, coach, ...) about that deadline, and agree with them to meet it.

"I just don't know how to do it!"

Don't let this stop you from getting your work done! The point of college is to LEARN HOW TO do it! Talk with your professor, e-mail them, or talk to others in your class.

How to handle procrastination:

  • Take advantage of impulsiveness. When you get the urge to start working on that project, start right then. Don't put it off.
  • Figure out what you need to do first. Then do it. What needs to come next will probably fall into place as you're doing the first step.
  • Use your imagination. If something seems terribly hard to do, go over it in your mind, imagine doing it, or talk about it out loud with a friend.
  • Be your own best friend: be positive, not critical, of yourself.
  • Work in a study group.
  • Ask for help.
  • Use your friends. Talk about it with someone. This may help get a block out of the way.
  • Remember that nobody's perfect. Don't expect your work to be either.
  • Reward yourself when you complete a task-and really earn it, don't just let yourself have it if you haven't accomplished your goal.
  • Tell people what you're going to do. Be affirmative, direct, and clear. This will help you remain accountable.
  • Say "I will ..." (not "I'm going to try to ..." or " I think maybe I'll ..." or ...)
  • Stay off the phone, internet, etc.
  • Delegate when possible. If you're the president of the Bass Fishing club, you don't have to do ALL the minor tasks involved in running the organization. Ask others to help you.
  • Avoid busy-work rationalizations.
  • Relax before you start. This will help deal with fears and perfectionism, which you can handle better when you're relaxed.
  • The secret to conquering procrastination is to start now. Just begin. It will be much easier to work on it once you've begun.

10 Reasons Not to Procrastinate

  1. Wasted time
  2. Missed opportunities
  3. Too much attention given to low priorities
  4. Poor performance
  5. Low self-esteem
  6. Increased stress
  7. Being swamped at the end of the semester
  8. Angry parents
  9. Lack of sleep
  10. Having to study while your friends are having fun

Reward Yourself

Play the Procrastination Game: Give yourself point rewards.

  • 1 pt = 5 minutes of reading
  • 1 pt = an easy part of a project
  • 3 pts = a medium part of a project
  • 5 pts = the most difficult parts of a project
  • Take a break when you reach 10 points.
  • Give yourself a big reward when you reach 100 points.
  • Play this game with your roommate or significant other. See who can reach 10, or 100, points, first. Encourage each other to reach the goals together, and then reward yourselves together by going to the park, etc.

Reward ideas:

  • Take a walk.
  • Fly a kite.
  • Have coffee/snack with a friend.
  • Go dancing.
  • Plan your Spring Break.
  • Buy a CD.
  • Call a friend.
  • Watch a movie.
  • Play Basketball.
  • Go on a picnic.
  • Go to a concert.
  • Play music or sing.
  • Just doing something-anything-else for a little while.


Associate things you need to remember with something funny, obscene, dramatic, or colorful, especially when this something is involved with one of those "series of images [that] flits across our mind. They may be connected to the material being read, or they may seem irrelevant. It doesn't matter; they are potentially valuable as spontaneous enforcers." (Brain Train)

  • Memorization for Kinesthetic learners: Identify objects in the room you're studying in with items you need to memorize. Walk around the room and pick up each object as you memorize the item. For example, picture a guy trying to pick up your bunk beds to help you memorize the definition of gravity.
  • Use your distractions: When you look up from reading to stare absently at something (hopefully while pondering a profound question raised by the text), or to listen absently to your music, take note of what you're looking at, or listening to, to help you recall what you're reading at that point. You can create visual or auditory memory triggers that way.
  • Use your senses to create memory triggers: Chew the same flavor of gum while you are studying and while you are taking your test. Wear the same perfume or cologne while studying and testing. Listen to music and try to replay the music in your head while taking a test.
  • Mnemonics: Create them for yourself. Keep them simple. Complicated mnemonics are harder to memorize than the original material itself.
  • Utilize ten-minute breaks in your day: to review vocabulary for a second language or science course, or facts, data, or names from a history course, etc. After initially learning the material well once, five days of a ten minute review per day should thoroughly cement the material in your brain.
Additional memorization techniques
  • Figure out a reason to be interested.
  • Study first the material you want to remember the longest.
  • Learn everything from one chapter, or unit, at the same time. You'll have to recall it all together.
  • Diagram or draw out relationships.
  • Use flash cards, lists, or acronyms.
  • Make it funny! Make a joke out of things to memorize-you'll remember!
  • Use your senses. Relate items to sense experience. Think about how badly something from biology would smell-or taste!
  • Study with a group.


  • Don't waste your time. There's no point in reading if you do it mechanically without learning. If you're not getting anything out of it, quit reading!
  • Take regular breaks. You'll be more alert
  • Never read for longer than 20 or 25 minutes. Then take a break and start again.
  • Divide chapters into small (1 page or less) sections instead of going non-stop all the way through.
  • Mark up your books. Write, highlight, and draw all over your books in meaningful ways.
  • Alternatively, take notes in a separate notebook while you're reading.
  • Meet with a friend to discuss what you've read. This will force you to get the reading done by a certain time, and will do wonders for retaining the information.
  • Materials: A new text book
  • Action: heck your book over. Try to figure out what it's going to be about, what major elements will be covered. The basic principle here is not to just dive in, but to test the water a little first.
  • Results:
    • You have a better knowledge of what to expect.
    • You've taken the first step toward pre-reading the material.
    • You may find out there's a glossary of terms, or a table of verbs, or an exhaustive timeline in the appendix, which could make your life, and studying, a lot easier.
  • Materials: Chapter, article, or other assigned reading, and Clock
  • Action:
    • Break the text into several sections.
    • Set a goal of a couple of the sections.
    • Estimate how long you think it will take to read these sections.
    • Note the time when you begin to read.
    • Read the sections.
    • Note the time when you finish reading the sections.
  • Calculation of Reading Rate:
    • Subtract your beginning time (d) from your end time (f).
    • Note how many pages, paragraphs, or lines you read.
    • Divide the length by the time. This is your reading rate.
  • Difficult Reading:
    • reading from different classes, and reading that is fun.
    • See also how your rate differs depending on the conditions you're reading under (environment, amount of sleep, whether you ate right before hand, etc.)
    • Better estimate how long it will take you to read a given text
    • Know what your optimal reading conditions are
    • Know when you are not performing up to your abilities in your reading rate, and decide to take a break until you are better able to do the reading.
    • If you have a problem with backtracking, put an index card on the line above where you're reading.
    • Trace your finger underlining the words as your read, focusing on the material at hand. Move as quickly as you can without losing comprehension.
  • Example: 30 paragraphs in 20 minutes = 1.5 paragraphs/min and repeat. Repeat this procedure to discover your rate reading different materials.
  • Result: Greater control over your reading
  • The Next Step: Work to improve your reading rate.
  • Materials: A text you must read thoroughly. SQ3R works particularly well for books with many subject headings, such as books for sciences, math, and social sciences.
  • Action:
    1. Survey: Look the text over. Note the subject headings, words in bold, key points, outlines, graphs, questions at the end, etc. This should be quick, and will give you an idea about what the text is about.
    2. Question: Ask questions about the text. For each subject heading, and sub-headings, ask a question. It can be as simple as turning the subject heading into a question. For example, "The Origin of Language" could be turned into "How did language originate?" or "When did language originate?" Write these questions down.
    3. Read: Now, finally, read through the material. Only it won't be nearly as boring as it usually is. Because you used the first two steps to pique your interest about the material. Now, you want to know the answers to your questions. So find them, and write them down, too.
    4. Recite: Once you've finished reading, you're not done yet. You need to solidify the information in your mind. Read through your questions and answers. Check if you've left anything important out of your notes. Then read your questions and answers ALOUD. Quiz yourself, using your original questions OUT LOUD. Listening to yourself say it will help you figure out if you really know what you’re talking about.
    5. Review: Don't let your knowledge fall out now! You've done so much work, so don't forget this last step. In order to cement the material in your long-term memory, review the material again a day or two later, and then a week or so after that, etc. Keep quizzing yourself. If a month later you can still recite all the answers to your questions, you've retained all of what was important in your reading! Good Job!
  • Result: Greater retention of reading material. Instead of feeling like you've been reading and reading for hours, and not remembering a thing, you'll remember a whole lot! In turn, you'll be better prepared to hear about the material in lecture, study for the exam, and take the exam!
  • Materials: A text which you are just beginning to read, or which you must read more quickly than usual.
  • Actions:
    1. Read the introduction and conclusion: of the book, each chapter, or each section.
    2. Read the opening and/or closing paragraphs of each chapter.
    3. Read any summaries provided by the author(s).
    4. Read the first and last sentence of each paragraph.
  • Results:
    • A quick perusal of the text, so you can go back and read it through with some idea of what the author is talking about.
    • Only a cursory idea of what the text is talking about, without the specific details that come from thorough reading.
    • Lower retention because very little of the information will be solidified in the long-term memory.
  • Materials: A text you must read thoroughly, which does not work well for the above version of SQ3R because it does not have a lot of subject headings, words in bold, graphics, etc.
  • Actions:
    1. Glance over the material. Put in your own headings when you think the author is onto a new point. (This should look approximately like an encyclopedia article, with a few words in the margin every couple of paragraphs.)
    2. Read. As you're reading, check if you were right in what you guessed the author was talking about. See if they surprise you, or if you were dead on. Have fun, make it into a game!
    3. If you weren't right, modify the heading accordingly.
  • Results:
    • You're more interested in your reading because you're always trying to figure out if you guessed right.
    • You have notes throughout your reading (i.e. your own subject headings) that cue you in to what the author is talking about, so you can quickly find what you're looking for when you look back.
  • Materials: A text which you need to read.
  • Actions:
    1. Ask lots of questions of the text. Pretend you're having a conversation with the author(s). What would you like to know?
    2. Write the questions down, and search for the answers while reading.
  • Examples:
    • "Does Descartes really believe in God?"
    • "What is an example of this from my life?"
    • "How does what the author says mimic or differ from my experience?"
    • "What is your point?"
    • You can also use chapter headings to formulate questions.
  • Results: You will be more interested and involved in the text as you read it, just like you are much more interested and involved in a conversation when you are talking and asking questions, as opposed to when someone is constantly talking AT you.
Break the material down into parts. Figure out what you already have a grasp on, and what is least likely to be on the test. Throw these out of your agenda. Then decide how long you are going to take to get through the rest. For each section, skim first, look for key concepts, ask yourself the "who, what, when, where, and how?" Recite what you have learned in order to retain the material. When your time limit is up, move on to the next section.

Test Taking

  • Take good notes. Many professors test just as much from their lectures as they do from the book. Also, your notes should help clarify material from the text.
  • Take care of yourself. One of the worst things you can do is go into a test without enough food or sleep. Your body won't be happy, and it will distract your mind and will prevent it from working at its fullest potential.
  • Learn the vocabulary of the course. Treat it as a second language, and use flashcards and other memorization techniques.
  • Read the material..

Keep in mind that effective regular study will produce more positive results, better grades, and greater long-term memory than intensive, stressful, and time-pressured study.


Make a "review sheet." Make a list of the MOST IMPORTANT items you need to know. Imagine you could have your "review sheet" with you, and think what you would put on there. Then memorize it.

Make sample tests. Try to anticipate test questions. Write them down, and then answer them.

Talk to your professor: What kind of questions or problems will be on the test? What content will it cover? Do they have any old or sample exams?

Figure out what kind of output is expected from you. Do you have to repeat facts, draw connections between them, analyze them, make inferences from them, or give your opinion about them, etc? Talking to your professor and examining the material you are working with will help you to answer these questions.


  • Studying for Short answer tests:
    • List the important terms and their definitions.
    • Note examples, illustrations, pictures, etc. of terms.
    • Why is the term relevant to the course? What is its relationship with the other content of the course?
  • Studying for Problem-solving tests:
  • Do practice problems.
  • Figure out the main points to be covered and/or create possible test questions.
  • Write down notes about these topics.
  • Review these notes with your professor to see if you're on the right track.
  • Studying for Essay tests:
  1. Read all directions carefully, and reread anything not clear. Read ALL the choices for multiple choice questions.
  2. Fill in (ALL) the blanks. If there is no penalty for wrong answers, be sure to answer all questions. Even if you are penalized, answer all questions about which you have some knowledge. For fill-in-the blank questions, never leave a question blank. Give it your best guess. You might guess correctly. And even if you don't, you might get partial credit.
  3. Work through the exam quickly once, answering all questions, even with a best guess as you go. Identify those you're not sure of with a tick mark off to the side. Return to review these questions if time permits. If items are of equal value, the more correct answers you give, the higher your score.
  4. In rechecking your answers, change an answer ONLY if you are CERTAIN that your first answer was incorrect. First impressions (initial guesses) are often correct.
  5. In matching questions, mark out those items as you use them, unless directions say the items may be used more than once.
  6. In multiple choice questions, eliminate obviously wrong choices first, then carefully consider the remaining ones. If the directions for multiple-choice questions specify BEST answer, mark only one answer. If the directions say more than one answer can be correct, treat each choice as a true-false question.
  7. For fill-in-the-blank questions, write in your best answer even when it does not fit the number of blanks. Use a different phrase or fit in the number of words that work for your answer instead of leaving it blank. Your rephrasing, though not what the instructor was initially looking for, may still get you the points or partial points.
  8. Ambiguous questions, statements which can be taken two ways, should tactfully and quietly be brought to the attention of the instructor. Or you can pick the answer which lies within the scope of the course, and write a note in the margin as to why another option could also work.
  9. Grammar counts too. If an alternative doesn't grammatically follow the question, it's probably incorrect. For example, if a question asks for a plural answer, make sure you pick the plural.
  10. Partly true and partly false statements are false.
  11. Don’t read too much into the questions. Interpret questions literally.
  12. Use your test to help you take your test. Answers often pop up in other questions. This is especially helpful on second language exams.
  13. If an answer comes to you from out of the blue, it's probably a pretty good guess. Don't fight this intuition unless you're sure it's wrong.
  14. When a question is difficult to visualize, draw it.
  15. Assume a possible answer. Then work backwards to see if you're right.
  16. Sit in front of class. Ambiguous questions can be cleared up much more easily when you're near the instructor.
  17. Stick around. Stay until the very end. Questions may be clarified by the instructor as an afterthought or if a student quietly and tactfully asks for a clarification.
  18. Guess intelligently if needed.
  19. In answering multiple-choice questions, you may come across a question for which the "best choice" is not necessarily true but is the best among the choices offered. In a multiple choice question for which you don't know the answer:
    1. Cross out statements which are false or impossible.
    2. Cross out statements which are partially false.
    3. Cross out statements which are more general than the remaining choices.


  • When you first get the test, list all formulas you might forget.
  • First look over the test quickly.
  • If anything comes immediately to mind when looking at a specific problem, write down a few notes in the margin.
  • Make sure you are absolutely clear on what each problem is asking.
  • Watch out for "stupid" mistakes. Check your decimal places, positives and negatives, and other easily missed items.


  • Note the givens and unknowns in your own words.
  • Turn words into variables and numbers, or vice-versa, depending on your preferences.
  • Draw pictures for relationships.
  • List all the formulas with any possible relevance. Compare them with what variables you have values for and work from there.
  • Simplify. Substitute variables or numbers for complex numbers or other unknowns.
  • Break the problem up into small parts.
  • Guess. Check if it works.
  • Work on other problems and come back to it.
  • If you run out of time, try to at least set up the solution plan for a problem; you might get partial credit.
  1. Read all directions carefully and reread anything which is not clear. Write on the question. Underline important words in the question to help you when you look back at the question.
  2. Be sure you know what is meant by directional words such as "name," "define," "compare," or "discuss."
  3. Read the entire exam. This allows you to have more time for any blocked information to surface as well as to write answers which do not overlap.
  4. Make informed, conscious decisions on optional questions.
  5. For each section budget your time in proportion to the credit value of the answers. If one question is worth more than another, make a comparable adjustment in time for that one.
  6. For each question spend a few minutes jotting down key words or phrases which will serve to stimulate other ideas. Note any technical vocabulary which needs to be mentioned.
  7. Allot specific amounts of time for each essay. Stick to these limits-a partial answer for #1 is better than no answer for #3.
  8. Begin with the easiest essay. Ideas about the more difficult questions may occur to you as you write.
  9. As ideas about the other questions occur to you, immediately jot them down on scratch paper before they slip away.
  10. Figure out what your main point is. State it clearly and directly as a thesis statement. Think of the thesis as the trunk of a tree, and the examples, arguments, facts, and details are all roots and branches that lead back to and support the tree.
  11. Before starting to write, jot down a quick outline. A little time spent on a brief outline pays big dividends. A planned answer saves you from a lot of excess wordage which wastes time and could be detrimental to your grade.
  12. If you don't know the answer to a question, try to reason it out. If you can't, don't waste time giving an erroneous answer.
  13. Say as much as you can, use short paragraphs, write legibly, and use proper English. Volume, quality, clarity, and neatness pay off. You may also want to skip lines for neatness and in case you want to add something in later.
  14. Star or underline important ideas appearing late in the question or in your answer.
  15. If information you have given in one answer connects to a different answer, point out the interaction.
  16. If you run out of time, quickly outline or note the rest of what you would say if you had time.
  17. Reread directions before turning in an exam. Did you define terms when you were asked to compare them?
  18. Proofread. Use the entire period to double check. Check your paper thoroughly before you turn it in.

Here are some terms that frequently appear on essay tests. It is important that you understand what they are asking in order to do well on your exam.

  • Analyze: Break down the subject at hand and talk about each point.
  • Comment: Talk about the subject in an organized way.
  • Compare: Show similarities. Examine qualities or characteristics in order to discover resemblance. The term implies that you are to emphasize similarities, although differences may be mentioned.
  • Contrast: Show differences. Dissimilarities, or how associated things, events, or problems are not alike should be emphasized.
  • Criticize: Express your judgment with respect to the correctness or merit of the factors under consideration. You are expected to present the results of your own analysis and to discuss the limitations and strengths of the plan or work in question.
  • Define: Tell what this word or phrase means. Supply concise, clear, authoritative meanings. In such statements details are not required but boundaries and limitations of the definition should be briefly cited. You must keep in mind the class to which a thing belongs and whatever differentiates the particular object from all others in the class.
  • Demonstrate: Support an opinion with facts, experience, citations, or theories.
  • Describe: Help the reader understand something, or 'see it' by 'showing'. Recount, characterize, sketch, or relate in a narrative form.
  • Diagram: Present a drawing, chart, or plan, or relate in narrative form.
  • Discuss: Examine, analyze carefully, and present pro and con considerations regarding the topics involved. Provide a complete and detailed answer.
  • Enumerate: Concisely recount one by one the points required, either in a list or outline form.
  • Evaluate: Make conclusions about the value of something. Present a careful appraisal of the problem, stressing both advantages and limitations. Evaluation implies authoritative and, to a lesser degree, personal appraisal of both contributions and limitations.
  • Explain: Tell about the issue and give reasons why it is the way it is. Clarify and interpret the material you present. State the "how" or "why", reconcile any differences in opinion or experimental results, and, where possible, state causes.
  • Give examples: Provide specific instances, places where this has occurred or is discussed, people who have said the same thing, etc.
  • Identify: Name.
  • Illustrate: Explain or clarify your answer to the problem by presenting a figure, picture, diagram, or concrete example.
  • Interpret: Translate, exemplify, solve, or comment upon the subject and usually give your judgment or reaction to the problem or topic.
  • Justify: Give strong, compelling reasons or evidence to explain and support an opinion. Prove or show grounds for decisions, opinions, or conclusions in a convincing form.
  • List: Just what it says. Make a list of whatever is being asked for.
  • Outline: An organized description. Give the main points and essential supplementary materials and present the information in a systematic way.
  • Prove: Establish something with certainty by logical reasoning or by evaluation and citing experimental evidence.
  • Relate: Show the relationship of or analyze and comment briefly in organized sequence upon major points of the problem.
  • Review: Provide a critical examination. In an organized sequence, analyze and comment briefly upon the major points of the topic.
  • State: Express the important and significant points in brief, clear narrative form. Details, illustrations, and examples usually may be left out.
  • State the significance of: Place the item in context, possibly historically, chronologically, or within another framework discussed in class. Tell why the item is important, to the content of the class, to the present day, or to the other items with which it interacts or is in relationship.
  • Summarize: In condensed form, give the main points or facts. All details, illustrations, and elaboration are to be left out.
  • Trace: Give a description of progress, historical sequence, or development from the point of origin.

After The Test Activities

  • Past tests and/or quizzes on which you performed poorly
  • Pen/pencil and paper

Look over the test. Make a list of all the mistakes you made, and why you made them. Try to find patterns. Some of the reasons may include:

  • misread or misunderstood questions
  • "stupid" mistakes (computational errors, misplaced accent marks or spelling errors, etc.)
  • just plain didn't know the answer

Also, think about the testing environment and atmosphere, and make a list of things that may have negatively influenced your performance:

  • Was there anything that particularly distracted you?
  • Were you or other people very tense?
  • Did you feel particularly pressured by time constraints?

Look over your lists of problems on the tests and environmental factors. List one or two things that could help fix these problems. The following chart lists some possible solutions to typical problems, though they may not be the answer for you. The only person who can truly understand why you got a poor test grade is you.

Problem Possible solutions
misread questions
  • make an effort to take more time reading the question
  • highlight or underline important elements of the question
  • rewrite the important elements of the question in your own words
misunderstood questions
  • make an effort to take more time reading the question
  • don't be afraid to ask the professor if you need clarification on a question--they may be able to rephrase it for you
stupid mistakes
  • make an effort to take more time reading through the question and working the problem out
  • carefully double check your work
  • for mathematical problems work them out again backwards with your answers
just plain didn't know the answe
  • spend more time studying the material
  • talk with your professor to get clues on the most important subjects to study and better ways to study the material
  • experiment with new memorization techniques
distractions during test
  • figure out what distracted you--other people, thoughts about something that's bothering you, worries about the exam...--and then try to figure out what you could do to help stop those distractions next time, such as moving to a different seat, or trying out some test anxiety coping techniques.
  • stay away from other worriers before the test, they'll only stress you out more
  • try out some test anxiety coping techniques.
pressure from time constraints
  • try out some test anxiety coping techniques
  • make sure you know the material very well before you go into the test
  • talk to your professor about your concerns--they may not mind if you finish the test in their office afterwards
  • if you have a documented disability, talk to the LAC about getting exam accommodations.
  • better understanding of factors influencing your performance
  • better performance on the next exam, if appropriate steps are taken

Some signs of test anxiety include:

  • Nervousness.
  • Low test grade, despite good preparation for an exam.
  • Upset or tight stomach.
  • Cold or sweaty hands.
  • Headaches.
  • Insomnia.
  • Forgetfulness during the test, only to remember it immediately afterwards.
  • Overanalyzing.
  • Careless errors.
  • Feeling especially miserable around midterms and finals.
  • Stop studying an hour or so before the test and relax.
  • Immediately before your test, STAY AWAY from other students, especially nervous ones. Anxiety and group paranoia is highly contagious.
  • Arrive early for your test.
  • Have all the supplies you need. Some things frequently needed and forgotten include:
    • #2 pencils (more than one!)
    • calculator
    • colored pencils, pens, or highlighters
    • blue book(s)
    • extra blank paper
    • books or notes, if an open-book or open-note test

Sit where your view of other students is minimal. Try to find a place where you will be less likely to see people turning in their tests. This will reduce your anxiety level. Students suffering from serious anxiety should contact Health and Wellness for further help and information.

Note Taking

The idea with notes is that:

  1. You pay attention (and learn) while in class. (Just the act of writing it in the first place will help you to remember and learn it. Note taking enhances listening.)
  2. More importantly, you can review what was taught later on.

In order to do this you need to:

  • Sit at the front of the class. You'll pay attention better.
  • Write legibly!
  • Stay awake.
  • Participate in class.
  • Read the assignment before class, so you don't end up frantically noting information that you didn't know was in the reading.
  • Give yourself lots of space on the paper. Write on a standard-sized notebook, skip lines, and leave blank space, write on the right-hand two-thirds of the paper. You can write in further information later from things you remember and from your reading. In addition, it will be easier for you to read it when you review.
  • Highlight or star those items which are very important.
  • Learn how to differentiate the essentials. Don't write down unnecessary ramblings, musings, stories and so on and so forth ...
  • Keep organized.
  • Review your notes within 24 hours of the class. Don't just say you will. Notes are much more effective this way.
  • Use highlighters and different colored pens to mark up your notes and write in the blank spaces.
  • Recopy your notes if it helps you. While doing so, simplify and organize the information, check if you missed anything, etc. Other people map their notes, a specific recopying technique.
  • Organize your notes chronologically. Always date your notes, and keep the dates in order.
  • Use individual notebooks (or sections of notebooks) for each class. Biology and Philosophy notes don't mix.
  • Pick a system to consistently use. For example, a system might be outline form, or using bullet points. You might want to always fold your page in half, taking notes on one half, and saving the other half to write in things you missed, or notes from the reading. Mapping your notes is another technique that you might try.
  • Harness your doodling powers to help you more effectively learn the material in class. Strong visual learners may benefit significantly from drawing their notes, for example, in a notes mapping form, instead of writing them in paragraph or outline form.
  • Use your own abbreviation system. Make up abbreviations for longer words you seem to use ALL THE TIME. Make a key on the inside cover of your notebook if you have a hard time remembering.
  • Take notes while reading. This can be especially helpful if you are easily distracted while reading, and if your professor frequently takes test questions from the reading. Taking reading notes can help you organize the material in your own brain, and can help you make sense of complex ideas and relationships.
  • Take deep breaths, providing your body with more oxygen.
  • Pinch the skin between your thumb and pointer finger—HARD.
  • Smile.
  • Eat.
  • Ask if you can open a window; it is harder to stay awake in a warm classroom.
  • Follow your professor's argument intently, even if it's confusing.
  • Take copious notes constantly.
  • Write questions to yourself in your notes about the material.
  • TALK.
  • Occasionally ask questions.
  • Sit up straight, don't get too comfortable.
  • Doodle.
  • Change pens (use one with brighter ink).
  • Sit in the front of the class.
  • Contribute to discussions.
  • Try to stay well-rested.
  • Class participation means talking (reasonably) intelligently about the subject matter.
  • Asking Questions: Remember, there are no "stupid" questions. If you don't understand, ASK. The likelihood is you're not the only one who doesn't understand. Also, asking questions is one of the easiest ways to build up your courage to talk in class.
  • Answering Questions: Don't think you have to have THE "right" answer. In a lot of college courses, there are many "right" answers. And even if you're not going in the right direction, the professor will probably appreciate your effort.
  • Responding to others' comments: Do you not agree with what someone else just said? Raise your hand and tell the class why. Your reasoning and initiative will probably impress your professor.


  1. Go to class.
  2. Sit up front. It helps you keep awake, it can encourage a positive attitude and confidence, and it shows that you are sincerely interested in the material being presented.
  3. Read BEFORE Class. You might understand what's going on better.
  4. Take notes. This keeps you on track with what the professor (or someone else) is saying.
  5. Smile. Make eye contact. Your professor will notice.