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I am having exams in these two weeks. But I still haven't studied thoroughly on each subjects. For physics, I have spent more than a week studying electric charges, yes, only electric charges. I spent much time reading materials online and I tried to understand each word on the textbook. I still don't think I have a thorough understanding on electric charges. But heat, gases, light, sound and electrostatics are included in the exam. I don't think I have enough time to study.

Besides, I have more than ten stacks of reference books on different subjects (mostly on physics) at home. My mom always says that I should have been a professional if I have read all the books. I actually don't think I can finish reading all of them in two years but I keep buying a lot of books.

On normal school days, I always feel very tired at night and sleep early (before 10:30 pm). That's why I seldom have time to study.

My questions are

  • How can I study efficiently?
  • Is it normal that I always feel tired at night?
  • Should I study late at night?

Thanks in advance.

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Thank you all for answering! I will study earlier next time. – z_z Jan 5 '13 at 5:27
You can select the answer which you have liked by clicking the tick mark icon. – TheIndependentAquarius Jan 5 '13 at 5:59

11 Answers 11

up vote 5 down vote accepted

There is one author I think you would really like to read, he has a lot of information about "efficient" studying. He also has a blog, so you could look there, or read his books. I have the two about university, and I haven't read them all the way through yet, but they've been helpful, and address exactly what you're getting at. The author's name is Cal Newport, and his books are How to become a straight A studnet, and How to win at college. He also has a blog where you can find a lot of material on "deliberate practice" which is something he is a huge proponent of, and it's a great idea.

I'll give you a little bit of the basic premise, but to be honest, if you feel this way with two weeks left, nothing we say is going to help you. What I will say though, is that I've taken the classes you're taking right now, and it shouldn't take that long to study electric charge, so these books and techniques will help you for next semester.

On to some techniques. You should only study in 90 minute increments. Study for 90 minute, then take a half hour break or something along those lines. You need to give your mind time to rest so it can process what you've been studying. This is what the research says. Also, when you're studying, you need to be in an environment that is conducive to your studying. Some people like studying in coffee shops since they're surrounded by people who are working, and that kind of pressures them to work as well. He recommends finding some quiet spots where you won't be interrupted, no phone, no internet, nothing but you and your books.

The big kicker technique is the "deliberate" part. Only study things that are difficult, if something is easier than other things, don't study it. I don't think this really applies in your case though, as it seems you haven't really learned most of what was taught this semester. For next semester, read the books, read the blog, it should help you out a lot.

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First of all, you were procrastinating if you only have two weeks left. You want to study the whole semester not just right before exams.

Only you know when the best time to study is for you. It doesn't sound like it is late at night if you have to ask. As far as being tired, are you eating/sleeping enough? Are you overcommitted?

Look at where your time goes. Can you study between classes? Before class? After work?

As far as the last minute, focus on learning enough about each thing for the exam rather than everything thoroughly. Then next semester, study regularly so you can learn deeper as you go.

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Good answer, time is very important. There are some things most people cannot fully understand just by reading some examples, other things are much easier to remember when you "re-learn" them. Also organizing your time is very important for the long-term well-being. There is nothing worse in college when studying something hard than to have the constant feeling you still have something to do or learn even if you want to relax or go to sleep. – Yves Sep 14 '14 at 16:15

Sleep is very important for learning. The more you learn, the more drowsy you'll feel. Late night studying is a poor habit, and if your body doesn't feel like it, chances are that it doesn't work for you.

Try studying at other points in the day. Everyone is short on time, but they manage it. Maybe you're better off in the early morning or between classes?

Make sure you've got enough food and exercise as well, because a good diet is necessary for concentration.

If you have problems concentrating, try the Pomodoro technique: Study for 25 minutes, then force a 5 minute break. Then repeat with another 25 minute study followed by a 5 minute break. After three 5 minute breaks, take a 15 minute break. This is probably the most efficient way to cram.

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For academic studying, I have always been a fan of the following method, which is generally accepted as an efficient way to learn and memorise information for exams (this may not be best for all subjects, especially those requiring activities etc)

  • During classes, take notes highlighting key points and listing all unfamiliar terminology
  • Ideally after each class, but at worst case at lunch and after classes, revise the key points and ensure you understand the highlights. Take notes of all key items and research any unfamiliar items
  • At the end of the week, carry out a high level review of the week's review points
  • As you get close to exams, review the very high level points first to see if you are comfortable and familiar with them, then drill down into those you have more difficulty with

This procedure helps to push information into your longer term memory, thus helping it stick around longer.

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And human beings have better retention if they take notes in writing rather than on a computer. – HLGEM Jan 3 '13 at 16:18
Taking notes on a computer seems just fine. IMO, what matters is that it doesn't require any brainpower for the act of taking down notes and you can easily revise them later. Paper is great because it's the best medium for mind maps, whereas touchphones are the worst, because you spend a lot of focus on writing. – Muz Jan 5 '13 at 5:30

How can I study efficiently?

  1. Read summarise of what you are going to study, Normally its always at back of every chapter... 
  2. Then go for introduction...
  3. And then skim read entire chapter...
  4. Repeat step 3 till you feel you know comfortable...

Is it normal that I always feel tired at night?

It depends individual's energy level, but normally most people get tried after staying awake whole day...

Should I study late at night?

You must study whenever you can... that's what ideally students are expected to do during exam...

And just for mentioning reference books are meant to just be refferred during douths, so don't worry about having lot of reference book, more the better...

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To study efficiently you should keep good concentration. This is hard, but to able to learn you need to clear your head. You might want to schedule your time so you know when to take a break, when to study. This is very essential for people who have a long list of things to do.

Your schedule should be well balanced. This means you don't spend too much time at work, or too much time to have fun. Statistically, average people can keep up their concentration for 45 mins, doing longer would only be a waste of time.

Therefore, I don't suggest you to work late at night, instead you might want to sleep early and work in the morning. This is because lack of sleeping drops your concentration, your memory and reaction.

Aside from above studying is such a boring practice.

Don't forget to make your revision interesting! It's good to try to involve your family and friends when you study, for example ask your friends to test you. This benefits your concentration and helps you absorb the knowledge, and sure avoid you from becoming all grumpy and antisocial.

By the way, you need water. Drink them.

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Most other responses have already addressed how to efficiently study in a long run. Now let's focus on this two-week issue. Here are some tips I usually use near the end of the exam, hope they may be able to help you somewhat.

Immediately schedule a meeting with your instructor/teaching assistant: Talk to them and express your concerns of lack of an efficient study tactics. Show passion to understand the subject, just not too sure how. There are a few pluses of this meeting. First, you put a face to your name, and even very subconsciously, the instructor/teaching assistant may take that into account and give you very minor lenience when grading. Second, they may give you some concrete tips on how to prepare as well.

Ask for a copy of previous test questions: This kind of documents allows you to gauge the breadth and depth of the test questions and general style/format. You can also use the questions for practice, but do not study the past test papers as preparation, because most instructors do not reuse questions. On the contrary, you may allocate less effort to study topics that were heavily covered last year or so. Chance is they are not as likely to appear compared to other topics.

Be very familiar with the syllabus: Dig out the course's syllabus and highlight all learning objectives. Use them as your study guideline because instructors usually use these objectives to guide their exam design. For each objective, at least be able to:

  1. define the key terms in the objective
  2. locate the chapter/section in your text(s) that cover the very objective
  3. describe at least one example or experiment relevant to the objective
  4. mention at least one application/implication of the objective
  5. say two to three pros and cons of the concepts in the objective

Use these as your guide to determine if you can check that objective off. Do not study anything that is clearly not stated in the syllabus. Strive for broad and systematic understanding, avoid potential ivory tower because you cannot afford it for now. Those types of in-depth learning should not happen 2 weeks before the test.

Once you have all of the objectives laid out, spread them out along your calendar and stick to clearing them batch by batch every day. Save the last day studying nothing, instead, use that day to go over some question and answer schemes in the books and review previous exams if you have obtained a copy.

Read the summary of each chapter first, and then read the main text: Most texts tend to concentrate the contents in the later chapter summary. Read that first for an overall impression of the structure. And then, with the syllabus objectives at the side, skim the text and look for key sections. Read those section carefully, and start to integrate them into your syllabus objective checklist. Once you feel that you have got about 80% of it, move on to tackle the next objective.

Keep notes, preferably handwritten notes: Using the syllabus as your foundation, expand it into a more structured "summary" of your study. Use only this one tool, don't jump from gadget to gadget.

Scrutinize the exam instruction: Read carefully what you can bring and should bring. Some exams allow books and some allow notes. Some require students to bring a calculator and graphing tools, some don't. Get those all clarified. Also, clarify with your instructor/teaching assistant that if formulas are provided or not.

On buying books: My attitude to books is always: Don't buy if you can rent, don't rent if you can borrow, don't borrow if you can take. A stalk of books on each topic within a subject is a bit ridiculous. First, most of them will be outdated or have a new edition by the time you can read them; second, they become a discouraging eyesore that only makes you feel guilty; third, most of them probably contain overlapped contents. A book not read is a book not owned, you may as well just keep a few seminal ones, and sell/donate the rest to simplify your study life.

On reading books: See this discussion thread.

Good luck and come back to let us know how you did.

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For physics, I have spent more than a week studying electric charges, yes, only electric charges. I spent much time reading materials online and I tried to understand each word on the textbook.

No, please don't do that NOW. How to stop being a perfectionist?

There is no need to get a PhD on electric charges just two weeks before the exams. This is the time to be the jack of all and master of none.

Remember that the exam might contain 100 different questions. 5 of them might be related to electric charges, but writing those 5 questions perfectly (and skipping others) won't let you get through the exams (unless those 5 questions are heavily weighted as compared to others).

At the moment find the notes written during the lectures. Find out which topics did the lecturer stress on during his lectures. What kind of questions were asked in the class tests before the final exams.

IMO You need to understand the basics of every topic so that in exams you can at least write "something" rather than nothing about that topic.

Is it normal that I always feel tired at night?

No, it is NOT normal.
Get your iron level checked through a blood test.
Do you eat enough of Carbohydrates?
Do you drink enough water per day?

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I have used this technique when I was back at university.
You drink big cup of coffee eat a chocolate bar then you study for 2-3 hours.
Then you go to bed and sleep for about an hour, then rinse and repeat for 16 hours.
Amount of information one can chuck into his head this way is staggering. Memory will last for couple of days that should be enough to pass the exam.
DO NOT study night before exam even if there are parts of subject you haven't even seen, you are better off not answering few questions at the cost of passing exam, you are not gonna get A, but I have a feeling that passing the exam is the goal here.

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Welcome to Personal Productivity! Please note that the convention on the Internet is that writing in capital letters is equivalent to shouting. – THelper Sep 1 '14 at 7:21

Exam is always a way of testing us how well we have learnt. So it can be hard. But unto me the best way to stand against exam is to use your brain. Memorising can be done in many ways. Firstly we can get the studies by heart as we do in a computer programme. This is the most common way of facing an exam in any kind of student. But there are few very easy ways that we can use. One is use your experience. Do practise some questions in the day before exam. It will help you to remember subject materials as well gives you a better experience in producing answers. Lot of students do this as only a practise to tests. But use it as your studying material. It will help you to generate top performance in examinations. Secondly you can try to understand the content by visualising them in practical mode. It is always a excellent teacher. This is not a way of memorising but it is way to answer an exam with lack data or learning content. Answer your questions in yes/no theory. Just as an example take an MCQ with five answers with it. If you want to answer that you do not want to know the whole content. But if you can reduce given answers by taking them personally and using your knowledge. If an answer is not according to the subject content of the given question it can't be an answer. So simply you can reduce it. This technique can generate great results.

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