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T here may not be a magic method for acing an exam, but Karen Wyatt, an academic skills specialist at CU, has some tips for improving your study habits and, hopefully, your grades.

Some students spend hours cramming before an exam. Others browse notes and past assignments weeks ahead of time. But Wyatt said there's an easier way to prepare for tests.

If you're still searching for an effective study method, try out these five tips from Wyatt that will help you stay focused all semester.


Younger students (freshmen and sophomores) are more likely to try to read every word in the relevant chapters the night before the exam. But that doesn't usually work -- it's just too much information for the brain to consume at once, Wyatt said.

Instead, she 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," she said.

The survey method works best if students are keeping up with the readings -- and taking notes and highlighting -- throughout the semester, Wyatt said.

Read 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.

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."

Planning ahead is the key to staying on top of your work, she said. A calendar can be helpful for balancing your schedule.

Stress less

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

An hour a day seems more manageable and creates less stress, Wyatt said.

School someone

Trade in your notebook for a laser pointer and take on the roll as the prof.

Teaching others is one of the best ways for students to review information and find the holes in what they think they know, Wyatt said.

"Teach your goldfish anatomy," Wyatt said. "Don't get stuck in traditional study habits. Reading isn't studying so make sure the information is sinking in." If you can teach a classmate or a friend about the subject, you know it, she said.