By Sean Alexander

As students get older, exams take on outsized significance in grades. Unfortunately, many schools don’t take the time to teach you how to study for cumulative exams that cover material and skills you may not have recently reviewed. However, with these tips for studying at home, you can learn to optimize your study habits, so you’ll be ready to ace your next exam.


6 Tips for Studying at Home for a Big Exam

The good thing about exams — if there is a good thing — is that you usually have plenty of advanced warning before one. Whether you’re taking in-person or online classes, the syllabus usually lists exam dates. Cramming for an exam doesn’t work, so plan to start studying well in advance. Below are some tips on how to study at home more effectively.

    1. Create an Organized Study Space

    An organized study space is your “home base” for exam prep. If you sit down to study only to find that you don’t have something you need, it’s all too easy to get off track when you start searching for supplies. You want to spend your productive time studying, not looking for notecards.

    To create an organized study space, try the following:

    • Start with a desk or study table and a comfortable — but not too comfy — chair. Set it up in a quiet location without distractions, such as video games.
    • Get rid of any clutter you don’t need for your current classes.
    • Use a desk organizer or drawers to store your necessary materials, such as paper, pens, pencils, sticky notes, folders, etc.
    • Hang a large wall calendar nearby to keep track of due dates, exam dates, extracurricular activities, and other commitments.
    • Use color coding to organize materials for different subjects.

    2. Establish a Routine and Stick to It

    Consulting your calendar, set aside time to study each day that doesn’t conflict with other activities. If your schedule is too packed to allow study time, you may need to eliminate some other commitments. If you don’t prioritize study time, it won’t happen.

    Write your study time on your calendar and treat it like you would soccer practice. When it’s time to study, you should be in your study space, ready to work.

    3. Focus on One Area of Study Material at a Time

    Start each session by creating a study plan. It might be reading a chapter, reviewing a study guide, or practicing a new type of math problem. Depending on the length of your study session, you may set two or three objectives. Start with the most challenging task first, so you can work on it while you’re fresh. An excellent way to end your study process is by reviewing past concepts.

    Spaced repetition is the most effective way to learn something long-term. It’s the process of reviewing something right before you’re about to forget it. You’ll review concepts more frequently at first and then spread the review over longer periods as the information moves from your short-term to your long-term memory.

    Even if you don’t have an exam coming up, it’s a good idea to incorporate a few minutes of review into each study session. You can do this by quizzing yourself on past material or using a tool like Anki.

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    4. Take Care of Your Mental Health With Scheduled Brain Breaks

    Studying for long periods without a break is the quickest way to burn out. Taking purposeful breaks during your study session can help you stay focused and accomplish more. However, your breaks should be short and intentional and not turn into an excuse to quit studying altogether.

    Your breaks should be anywhere from five minutes for a short study session up to one hour if you’re spending much of the day studying. A purposeful break doesn’t include scrolling on social media, which can hinder your productivity and performance.

    Instead, consider activities like:

    • Taking a short walk
    • Doing some stretches
    • Listening to music
    • Getting outside in nature
    • Taking a shower
    • Eating a healthy snack
    • Calling a friend
    • Spending a few minutes squeezing a stress ball

    5. Eat Healthy Snacks and Ensure a Good Night's Sleep

    Munching on chips and candy while you’re studying can negatively affect your health and also cause you to be tired and stressed —not an ideal study state. Instead, choose healthy snacks, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole wheat carbohydrates, to maintain your energy.

    You should also leave time in your schedule to get enough sleep — and the amount of sleep you need may surprise you. Depending on your age, you need between eight and 12 hours of sleep every night. Night owls often struggle since school starts so early. Over 70% of high school students don’t get enough sleep on school nights.

    A lack of sleep makes it harder for you to learn. It’s associated with lower grades, trouble concentrating, anxiety, and depression. Because of this, staying up too late to study can actually cause you to do worse on an exam.

    6. Get a Tutor for the Topics You Struggle With

    If you’ve made an effort to study on your own and you still aren’t making progress, enlisting the help of a tutor can give you the edge you need. A tutor can provide extra practice and explain things in a way that makes it easier for you to understand.

    Teachers have to stick to their lesson plans and teach to the entire class. A tutor provides individualized instruction and ensures you clearly understand concepts before they move on. They can even help you follow an approved home study course.

    You can learn anything if it’s explained well enough and you’re willing to invest the time and effort. One-on-one online learning with a tutor is usually more effective than being one of many in a classroom.

    Find the Right Tutor To Help Improve Your Study Techniques

    Working with the right tutor can supercharge your studying. You can learn at your own pace and make more progress than working alone. At Alexander Tutoring, our experts have extensive experience helping students succeed in math and physics. Our proven approach gives you a personalized study program and makes learning fun.

    Reach out today for more information.


    • Sean Alexander

      COMMAND PILOT, OWNER Sean has been a professional educator for 15 years and has taught math, physics, and astronomy at all levels.  His experience ranges from working at a high school for severe learning differences to teaching advanced physics at Stanford.  After completing his graduate work in theoretical physics Sean founded Alexander Tutoring, with the mission of revealing the deep connections between math and nature to as many students as possible. 

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    Download our Ultimate Guide
    to Conquering Test Anxiety
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