When you’re down to the wire in the final moments before an exam, every second is valuable. After many hours or days of studying, students must decide how to quickly refresh their memory before the exam. Should they review keywords in the textbook? Fire questions at the instructor? To begin, we asked college students, “If you had ten minutes to review before an exam, how would you spend your time?” Share these hints for reviewing before an exam with your students.

Our student audience determined that students’ #1 pre-exam study method is to review notes.

College sudent review time

The majority of students, 46%, choose to skim over their notes before an exam. After this, 26% choose to study flashcards and 15% review with a partner. Lastly, 6% ask the instructor questions, 4% reread the textbook, and 1% practice writing possible essays. How do your strategies fit into this graph?

Advice from instructors

Even more than the insights of their peers, many students may be more curious to know what study methods instructors recommend they engage in. We asked hundreds of instructors: “If a student had just ten minutes to study before an exam, how would you recommend they spend their time?”

Instructors on student review time

The majority of instructors, 42%, recommend reviewing with a partner before an exam.

After this, 32% recommend skimming notes and 12% recommend studying flash cards. Lastly, 6% suggest asking the instructor questions, 6% suggest practice-writing possible essays, and 2% rereading the textbook.

Productive partner review

There are many reasons that an instructor may recommend reviewing with a partner above other methods. For example, according to author J. Dan Rothwell in his book, In Mixed Company: Communicating in Small Groups, 9th Edition:

“Groups often outperform individuals working alone, and sometimes they produce spectacularly superior results. This group genius is called synergy. Synergy occurs when group performance from joint action of members exceeds expectations based on perceived abilities and skills of individual members (Salazar, 1995). Thus, the whole is not necessarily equal to the sum of its parts. It may be greater than the sum of its individual parts.” (43)

When working together for a short period of time, the key is to be as productive and efficient with your partner as possible. It’s quite commonly known that a great way to improve comprehension is to teach the information to another person. For this reason, if you have questions or gaps in your notes, ask your partner if they know the answer. See if they can recall correctly without checking their own notes. You can do the same for their questions.

Further, if one of you has prepared flashcards, avoid wasting precious time by alternating answering. Instead, both of you can try to answer the same question or prompt. This will allow you to learn from each other’s interpretation of the materials.

For more tips on how to work well with a partner or in groups, visit our blog post, “Tips for Students: Seven Reasons to Value Group Work.”

Reference: Rothwell, J. Dan. 2016. In Mixed Company: Communicating in Small Groups, 9th Ed. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

What suggestions do you have for college students reviewing just before an exam? Share your ideas below.