6. How should I prepare for exams?

In all honesty, the night or even a couple days before an exam is much too late a time to learn what you should have been learning all along. So the first and best advice on how to prepare for an exam is:

  • attend all classes;
  • do all assigned reading in the textbook; and
  • do all homework assignments.

A few days before an exam, you should:

  • begin to review your notes, especially examples done in class, making a list of any questions you have so that you can get them answered at lecture, at discussion, or through some means of additional help;
  • work again through some of the homework problems that gave you any particular difficulty (some homework problems allow you to try another, very similar, problem after the due date);
  • solve as many problems as possible from the sample exams posted on the Exams page, taking note of any about which you are unsure or which you are unable to solve.

Although your instructor or TA may solve sample exam problems at a review session just before the exam, watching your instructor or TA solve the problems is no substitute for working hard to solve them yourself! (That’s why we don’t post solutions to sample exams: it’s just all too tempting to read our solutions and not learn what you would by working on the problems yourself.)

A day or two before the exam, we recommend that you:

  • make a summary, just a page or two, of the key ideas, definitions, theorems, formulas, methods, etc.;
  • make a list of “troublesome” things—particular formulas, etc., that you seem to have trouble remembering— and review them; then
  • without looking at your list, write out the formulas, etc., and compare with what you wrote down.

Most importantly:

  • Do not stay up all night before the exam studying! Otherwise, you will simply be too tired to function effectively at the exam.