It is finals season! That means that the library is packed, collective stress levels are high, and the line for coffee in Brody is always at least five people deep. Finals can be stressful, but I am a big believer that the best way to do well on any exam is to win the week with sleep, and to take care of yourself in order to make all the time you dedicate to studying much more effective.

It’s taken me quite a while to get a study routine that I am actually happy with. I’ll admit that my concentration during is lectures is widely variable from day to day, and because of that, I don’t always rely on my lecture notes in class when I am preparing for a test. One thing that has helped me this year is the fact that both my Genetics/Biochemistry classes record lectures, so I am able to rewatch videos to reinforce concepts I might not have understood during the first pass through the information.

When I am getting ready for an exam, the first thing I do is make summary sheets for each concept and lecture. I’ve learned over time that I really really hate lined paper, so plain printer paper is the best way for me to make these summary sheets. I usually divide up the paper in half so that I save the most space, and try to go through each lecture and write down the most important points in my own words, and with my own commentary and explanations so that things stick in my head.

Examples of lecture summary sheets from my last biochemistry exam.

If we are assigned textbook reading, I’ll do the same thing for each chapter as well. I try not to get too crazy with taking notes from the textbook, and instead only write things down that will reinforce what we’ve learned in class. I find that often, the textbook will have a different focus or emphasis than the lecturer, and unless explicitly stated in the syllabus, the lecture content is vastly more important than the textbook content.

After I’ve done my chapter/lecture summaries, I read through each one, and then make an effort to consolidate all of the important information onto one or two whole summary sheets. This takes what can be 6-8 front/back sheets and make it into one sheet with must-know information. I broaden the focus for the subject categories so that I am able to emphasize the connections between topics from different lectures, and am able to visualize how different topics and concepts fit together. This is especially useful in Genetics or Biochemistry, because there are so many connections between sections in the course, and often, these connections are what you’ll be tested on.

summary sheet

Examples of summary sheets from my last biochem exam.

This study method might not be the most efficient, however I think that if you give yourself enough time before your exam to prepare these study materials, you’ll be set up for success. I find the practice of summarizing and writing out connections a much more active way of studying than simply reading or watching a lecture. I also find it much less time consuming than making and reviewing flashcards, and I also think it saves space and paper.

I try to make my notes neat and organized, but I don’t obsess over making sure my lines are straight, my handwriting is perfect, or whether or not I have nice flow charts or illustrations. I really just try to focus on the information, and I’ve found that this has worked well for me so far!