Megan Robins, medical school candidate in the continuing education program, studies for her physics midterm at the University of Colorado’s UMC on
Megan Robins, medical school candidate in the continuing education program, studies for her physics midterm at the University of Colorado's UMC on Monday. (Colorado Daily/ Mark Leffingwell)

I t is mid-semester at the University of Colorado and for most students that means one thing -- midterms.

Some students said they will spend the week cramming while others have been browsing their notes and past assignments for weeks, but Karen Wyatt, an academic skills specialist at CU, said there's a better, easier way to prepare for exams.

"Textbooks can seem overwhelming for some students, but if they're used correctly, they can be a really great tool for learning," Wyatt said. "It's about developing the academic maturity to understand what to do with them."

Survey

Wyatt said, young readers -- freshmen and sophomores -- are more likely to try to read every word in the relevant chapters the night before the exam.

That method doesn't work because it's just too much information for the brain to consume at one time, Wyatt said.

Instead, Wyatt suggests surveying the chapters for highlighted information and key terms. "Open the chapter, look at the titles, summary, pictures, captions, highlighted words, and get a sense of what it's about and what is the focus," Wyatt said.

CU senior James Muller said he skims textbooks and is more focused on his notes from class and handouts or slides from the professor when it comes to studying for exams.

The survey method works best if students are keeping up with the readings throughout the semester, surveying the suggested readings before class and taking notes and highlighting throughout the course, Wyatt said.

Reading the prof

Broader topic courses, like philosophy, and lower-division classes often lend themselves to the survey method, while science classes, like biology or psychology, typically require more detailed reading.

CU senior Anna Anuszkiewicz said she visits the Desire2Learn portal, where professors post lecture notes and other course materials, to find clues about what information is most important.

"I focus on what the teacher posts and talks about most in classes," Anuszkiewicz said. "Then I just use the textbook to verify and explain things I don't understand from there."

Wyatt said studying success often comes down to knowing the professor and what information he or she may include on the test.

"Figure out from a prof how they use their textbooks, what they want you to read -- detailed reading versus skimming or just the main ideas," Wyatt said. "A lot professors will tell you what they want if you listen carefully in class."

Time management

Regardless of how diligently a student studies for an exam, they will not be prepared if they don't learn good organization and time management skills, Wyatt said.

"This is the key to everything," Wyatt said. "Good organization will keep you on track all year, not just around midterms and finals."

Anuszkiewicz said she never crams for tests the night before because she's learned the stress of last-minute studying and lack of sleep add to her performance on an exam.

Wyatt suggests planning at least two weeks in advance for tests and studying about an hour per day over that time, rather than cramming 14 hours into the night before.

An hour a day seems more manageable and creates less stress, Wyatt said, which is also helpful during midterms.