5 Ways to Prepare for the BIG Exam
When I started teaching AP U.S. Government & Politics, I placed a countdown on my board that read “_____ weeks until the AP Exam.” Each week, I changed a sticky note with the number of weeks on it.
Most of the year, the kids completely ignored the sign. However, as May approached, they started commenting on how close the exam was getting. When we hit single digits on that sticky, they realized that studying just got real.
My sign wasn’t meant to freak my students out, though I suspect it did that. It was meant to show them the passage of time and the importance of preparation. For most of my students, this was their first AP class and their first high-stakes exam. They needed to know that preparing for this exam was different than studying for a regular test.
Are you preparing for a big exam? It could be the SAT, AP, LSAT, or your final exam. Whatever your exam is, it’s time to get ready. You got this!
Ways to Prepare for the Big Exam
Know your schedule
If you’re not using a planner, get on it! You need a planner so you can understand your time. What time is already claimed by afterschool activities or nonschool commitment, such as church or dance? Are you taking a vacation before the exam? What family commitments do you have?
Grab all your calendars and add those date to your planner pronto! Then look at the time you have left. This is the time you can use to prep for that big exam. Put time aside as much as possible for exam prep – and label it as such.
If your schedule is already completely full, it’s time to prioritize your commitments and possibly drop something for a while. When I was working and in grad school, some of my socializing and hobbies went to the wayside.
Evaluate Your Knowledge
What information do you need to know or skills you will need to show on the exam? Make a list of that content or skills and evaluate just how well you know and understand. Could teach it someone else? Or do you have no idea what your instructor is talking about? You will use this information in the step below.
If you don’t know what content or skills you will need on the exam, it’s time to find out. If you’re taking a standardized exam, head to the website. (Just google the test name.) Most standardized exam sites will list all the major content areas or skills necessary. If you’re taking a teacher-created exam, look over the course syllabus and talk to your instructor.
Create a study plan
Remember how you set time aside earlier? You will use that time to create a study plan. Now you will return to those dates and add the specific information you will study. Always work backward in your calendar from the exam date. Spend the most time reviewing the information you know the least. Just do a quick review for content or skills you know well.
A note on time – for standardized exams I would ideally start studying 6 weeks before the exam, but no later than 4 weeks. For final exams, start studying at least 2 weeks ahead of time.
Work with Others
While studying by yourself can be effective, working with others in a study group can be even more effective. There are so many advantages of study groups, from filling knowledge gaps to creating a community of support. Worried your study group might become a problem? There are ways to set up your group to make sure it’s effective!
As you go through this process, keep it real. Are you really going to study on Friday night? Probably not, so don’t schedule anything then. Will you be able to study for a marathon 8 hours one day? Also unlikely. Instead, try to spread that studying out over time.
Remember that no one is perfect – you don’t need to know every single piece of content. You will know a lot, but not all. For example, I’ve taken many AP U.S.Government exams. Even after teaching it for years and earning a graduate degree in a government-related field, there are questions I don’t know the answer to. Strive for excellence, not perfection.