Study Central: Ask a Tutor


Melissa Schmitz, OPINION EDITOR

Welcome to the first edition of Ask a Tutor where I, a tutor, will answer your study-related questions. That’s right, your questions [just send us an email at [email protected]]. This is pretty self-explanatory, so without further ado let’s get started!

“I’m in my freshman year and I am having trouble pulling up my GPA. I feel like I study, I put most of my time towards studying, however, I never end up with the marks I want. Do you have any advice for effective studying and doing well on tests?”

If you’re a freshman, don’t worry yourself too much over the grades you’ve received thus far. They are important, indeed, but you have three more years to bring them up if you have a few blemishes on your transcript right now.

I have several suggestions for you, the first of which is to peruse my past study tip articles [they can be found on our website!], if you have not already. I have a lot to offer you, but that would be a very long article, so check there.

One thing that could be adversely affecting your grades, despite your hard work, is simply poor study skills. Students often delude themselves into thinking that spending copious amounts of time on studying means they will do well, putting too much focus on, “Well, I spent 20 hours on it this week so I deserve to do well on this!” and not enough on making sure what they’re doing is actually worth their while. For example, some students study by rereading their notes. Sure, they can say they “studied” by doing this, but the chance of retaining any of that information is very low because it is passive studying. What you need is active studying, such as taking a practice exam or writing short summaries of parts of the book or your notes, transforming the information somehow.

Doing well on exams is a little more tricky in terms of advice. Everyone approaches exams differently. In theory, if you know the material well enough, tests should be no problem. After all, that is what they’re designed to show. So, though vague and not helpful, making sure you study everything—and thoroughly—technically should lead you to success.

Now for the actually useful tips.

Depending on the subject, the formatting for your exams will be different, and so should your test-taking strategies. However, for any exam you should do a quick read-through of all the questions before you actually start answering anything. This may seem pointless, but it gives you a solid idea of what you will need to do. Your brain will turn over those questions in the back of your mind while you’re consciously answering other questions, which is helpful for the tougher ones.

If you know an exam is going to be very long and you tend to find yourself spending too much time on certain questions, take a moment to briefly split up the test via time you want to spend on each section, page, or question [depending on exam type]. Subtract 10 minutes from the total exam time and then distribute your time however it makes sense to you. The 10-minute buffer is just in case you find that you end up needing to spend more time on a certain part of the exam, then you will have it. If you simply split up the full time you have you might end up taking your time on other parts of the exam, time you may have needed for that one particularly difficult question. Depending on the length of your exam you could make your time buffer a little longer, but I would advise against making it any shorter than 10 minutes—you don’t want to be cutting it too close.

Which reminds me, wear a watch. If you don’t have one you should get one. Some younger people I know have expressed how useless they think watches are because they are single-function devices, but it’s a single-function device that you can bring into your exam. You may not have a clock in view while taking your exam, and looking at your wrist is quicker than peering over a crowd of students to that clock on the wall way over there. Even if you have an intuitive knack for timing out exams without conscious effort, you always want to be aware of the time.

I definitely can’t speak for everyone, but when I take exams I’m usually too focused to get anxious about having a tough time on a few questions… Usually. One of my first quizzes this semester I legitimately thought I was going to fail, so I started panicking slightly during. As it turned out, I got a 90 on it. Now that will not always be a happy ending for everyone, but it’s really not worth panicking about getting something wrong during the exam. I know some people can’t help it, but if you can, do. Worrying yourself about it will not make your grade better or worse, so it’s best to just keep on truckin’ regardless.
I hope that helps! Happy studying!