How to Ace Your First Exam

I have been seeing quite a few people in the libraries lately which can only indicate one thing, EXAM TIME. Now, it is spring semester so this is probably not the first exam time of the school year for most people. Now if you are reading this and it is fall semester, it probably is the first exam that you have had in a good while. Don’t be afraid though, exams are an unfortunate, yet necessary, part of college. Also, you will pass, I promise.

Now, grad school is notorious for giving some hard and long exams. I once had an exam that took me 2 whole days to finish. It was a take home exam but was so long that I needed the full two days to do it. If you aren’t so lucky and have only in class exams, well, you better get on the study train, ASAP!

First exams can be a little intimidating, unfortunately. It is the first time seeing an exam for that class and you really don’t know how the professor will score it, or how hard it will be. If you are familiar with the professor, you may definitely have an advantage. I liked taking classes with the same professors because you knew how the exams would be as well as how hard or easy. If you don’t have that luxury, don’t panic. Most of the time, the first exam isn’t the hardest of the semester.

first exams

What to Expect on the First Exam

The first exam will most likely cover the basics that you learn in the first 3 or 4 weeks of class. You are just starting to get into the meat of the class but are basically reviewing some key concepts prior to tackling the harder subjects. This is why I believe the first exam is usually the easiest. I have had many classes where the first exam was the hardest, but it was always curved at the end. Professors don’t want to fail half the class before spring break, so they won’t make it too terribly difficult.

Two Men Studying Together

Review Sessions are Awesome!!!!

Usually before the exam, the professor will have a review session. Some of these review sessions are during class, but others might be outside of class. Make sure to go to them! They will hopefully cover the topics on the exam. Sometimes they just review everything which doesn’t really help lol. This is a good time to ask questions and get a better understanding of what concepts will be covered. They may even tell you what each question will be on exactly. Take full advantage of these sessions and write notes. Spend your time studying the material that was brought up and get a good grasp on all of those ideas and concepts.

Week Before Exam

First off, pray that you don’t have like 3 exams all in the same week. If you are lucky to only have one, focus on that mostly. The week following up to the exam is a good time to brush up on the previous few weeks of material. You probably only have like 3 classes so you should know at least what that class is about and not confusing it with another lol. Start reading your notes and getting familiar with those subjects. It is easier to start studying early than at the last minute. Cramming was all good and fun in undergrad, but you won’t last long if that’s what you do in grad school. These concepts might take a few days to understand fully as well. If you are in a STEM program, you’ll probably be doing math, so learning how to do equations and problems the night before is a recipe for disaster. Trust me lol.

Woman Sleeping

Make Sure to Sleep

The reason I suggest studying during the week is so you do not burn yourself out. If you study at the last minute, you’ll probably pull an “all nighter” and do really bad the next day due to lack of sleep. Don’t be this person, be responsible. Getting enough sleep is essential for brain function and retention of information. Remember, grad school is not just go to class, take a test, graduate. No, it’s go to class, learn the material for research and your career, pass the exam because you know the material, and retain the info to be a better scientist. Sleep allows you to retain the information better. One of my favorite things to do, which allowed me to get a 3.91 GPA in my Master’s program, was to study at night, right before bed. I would study before sleep and then immediately go to bed. The next day, I would literally remember everything from the night before. Apparently there are studies going on about this exact method. So, Get some sleep!

Person Behind Books

Day of the Exam

So make sure you get plenty of sleep before the exam. Make sure you have studied a sufficient enough, but really watch “overstudying”. One time, I studied for a chemistry exam for 3 weeks. I was so sure that I was going to get an A until I got the exam and completely bombed it. I studied so much that I started to confuse myself and was completely confused during the exam. Unfortunately, I received a D on that test O.0. Try not to over study. And, above all else, make sure to actually wake up and go to the exam!!! Don’t oversleep (happened to a friend of mine).

One thing that I have a bad time doing on exam days is being overly caffeinated. As you guys and gals know, I love my coffee, so I tend to drink way too much on exam days because I am afraid I won’t be awake enough to do well. This usually makes me overly anxious. Something that is not good when taking an exam. If you are going to drink caffeine, try tea as an alternative to coffee. It will wake you up but won’t make you overly anxious.

Brown and Black Wooden Chairs Inside Room

After the Exam

After the exam, take the rest of the day off. Go do something fun or just stay home and watch a movie. Pushing yourself too hard is not good and taking an exam will really push you hard. After exam, I like to treat myself to a good dinner or lunch, depending when the exam is. I also like to just stay home and treat myself to a movie. Relaxing is one of the best things to do because you may need more energy soon to take even more exams. So take full advantage of this period where you can rest and relax.

Final Thoughts

Good luck on your first round of exams. If you study hard, sleep well, don’t over do it, and limit caffeine, I am sure you will ace it. Also, just know that GPA really doesn’t matter in grad school, so getting that B is totally fine. Focus on the research lol. If you have some secret tips to pass your first round of exams, share it with us in the comments! Until next time, take care everyone.

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