1) Find Out What You Already Know

Use syllabi to make a list of key concepts you must know for the test.

Hide all notes and books and test your understanding on each key concept.
How well can you:  summarize main ideas, do sample problems, recall facts from memory, apply concepts in a new way?

How did you do? Rate your skill and understanding on each bit of content from your list using this simple scale:

3 = I know this well

2 = I know this some

1 = don’t know this at all


2) Make a Study Smart Plan

Active Studying

Make a study guide, merging main ideas from class notes and readings.

Choose study tasks to practice the content you rated with a 1 or 2, including:

  • Make mind maps, time-lines, flash-cards.
  • Study with a partner.
  • Teach concepts to someone else.
  • Write or speak aloud the main ideas.
  • Generate higher-level thinking questions to test yourself with.

3) Make a Study Schedule

Once you’ve selected study tasks for concepts rated 1 and 2, estimate how much time you will need to complete them.

Look over your calendar and identify available time-blocks for above.

Lay out plan on a calendar, noting exactly what you will be doing and for how long.  Example:

  • 8:00 – 8:45: Flash-card review for chapters 1-3

Save time in your calendar for Self-Testing.


4) Test Yourself

When you’ve completed your Study Plan, it’s time to test yourself again.

Hide all materials and test your understanding on concepts you rated 1 and 2 the same way you did in Step 1.

  • Can you do a problem from memory?
  • Can you restate or rewrite what you learned?
  • Can you teach these concepts to a friend?
  • Can you answer questions you generated (not simple recall!)
  • Still stuck on a particular concept? Keep practicing!

Download PDF: Strategic Test Prep

REMEMBER: The UNC Learning Center is a great resource! Both Peer Tutoring and Academic Coaching can help you create a balanced approach to succeeding at Carolina. Our friendly staff is ready to help – drop by or make an appointment!

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License. You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Learning Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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