When it comes to getting students ready for exam periods, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

Not all students know the best way to study, and the constant pressure of memorizing facts and figures can be overwhelming for them (and you). The good news is that there are plenty of ways you can guide students so that their exam preparation becomes easier and more effective.

In this article, we’ll review some study techniques that you can teach your class. But first, let’s compare what makes a helpful and unhelpful study practice:

Education resources


Effective study

Effective study achieves all the learning that a student needs help with within as short an amount of time as possible to avoid burnout. It can be characterized by using shorter periods with greater intensity of studying. Learners focusing on individual topics for short bursts can help them stay focused and achieve more. Effective study also includes using techniques that work well with their learning style.

Ineffective study

In contrast, students who spread their studies over several hours with access to devices may get bored and begin scrolling social media. This is an ineffective study technique. Just because more hours are incurred doesn’t mean they’re always effective.

There are several ways that ineffective learning techniques might hurt your students. These include:

  • Not having a clear idea of which subjects to prioritize and how to plan a schedule.
  • Focusing on one subject for too long before moving on to another.
  • Endlessly reviewing notes and expecting to memorize all information.
  • Multitasking and switching between subjects while often studying (called mass practice).

6 effective study techniques

These 6 effective study techniques may help your students prepare for exam season:

1. Study in shorter blocks

Rather than scheduling days filled with hours-long study sessions, dividing up study time into manageable chunks makes the task feel less overwhelming. The Pomodoro Technique may help. The student sets a timer for 25 minutes and studies in these blocks with five-minute breaks in between. In the meantime, they focus on one task only, and all devices and distractions are removed during this time. It’s based on the idea that frequent breaks can help focus and productivity.

Once the timer starts, encourage students to set aside all distractions (like phones, TV, and social media) and focus completely on a specific subject until the timer goes off. Before starting another Pomodoro round, they should take a break, such as drinking water or talking to someone for five minutes.

2. Concentrate on one task at a time

Focusing on one subject or activity at a time, spaced out over smaller chunks, can help cement a student’s learning rather than trying to cover an entire textbook or year’s course in one day. For example, encourage students to study for the AP Environmental Science Exam over several days by focusing on individual units for shorter periods. This is called spaced learning.

This may mean one subject area or chapter in their textbook for one hour in the morning and then another area two days later. This method allows them to focus on one thing at a time instead of trying to learn several things at once and can help them recall. It also frees up time to tackle another subject later that day so that the student feels like they’re accomplishing more rather than working through each subject linearly.

3. Self-quiz and test to identify learning needs

Teachers can work with students to identify their learning needs and knowledge gaps. A good way to do this is by encouraging self-quizzing around problem areas and setting time aside for pre-testing using old exam papers as practice papers.

Prepare short quizzes for students to work on with important information that’s likely to come up on the exam. They can test themselves and each other or ask family to help them. It’s important to identify the wrong questions and understand why they couldn’t remember the answer. This might help identify whether there are any areas of confusion or associated skills that need improvement.

4. Mix up problem areas with areas of mastery

Designing quizzes and tests that blend a range of skill sets rather than asking students to test themselves on overcoming the same problem over and over can aid motivation. For instance, you could set a range of grammar questions that ask students to answer questions on punctuation, verbs, nouns, and spelling. This means they don’t get stuck on just one aspect and can move through other questions while identifying their struggles.

5. Use flashcards

Encourage students to use flashcards to track the areas they struggle with. Add a question to each flash card and place them in relevant piles depending on how well they can answer them.

  • Those they know the answer to instantly should be placed in one pile for review in 3 days.
  • Those who require longer answers or have some challenges should be placed in a pile for review in 2 days.
  • Those that students do not give a correct answer to should be placed in a pile for review in 1 day.

6. Prioritize paraphrasing over memorizing

When students study ‘by rote’ or simply re-reading notes, it’s not always the most effective method. They may be able to repeat information, but they may not always understand the context or why it’s important. Asking students to reflect on something they have learned and then put it into their own words helps them internalize it and engage with the material. You may also ask them to try and explain it as if to their grandparent or a small child.

Additional tips

Other elements can also make periods of study more effective. These include:

Prioritize well-being

Encouraging a good attendance record and speaking out when they feel overwhelmed or stuck can help them become more engaged in their studies. Reminding them to exercise regularly, eat healthily and get adequate levels of sleep can also help, especially during times of stress.

Set a calming environment

Some students struggle to focus in a noisy environment, so help them get into the studying mindset by playing quiet, calming music without lyrics. Keep distractions to a minimum by putting a notice on the classroom door and asking for phones to be turned off, especially during test conditions. Also, consider recommending earplugs or headphones for those who struggle to concentrate.

Understand individual learning needs

Every student is unique, so it helps if they understand their learning style to imbibe information. This can help them succeed in studying for assessments that all students must take, such as exams or presentations. Some students learn better by reading, others by demonstrating knowledge, and some by speaking about it and asking questions.

Plan a schedule

If you have a group of students preparing for the same exam, keep track of the date and time so that each student will have adequate time to prepare. If your class has a lot of students, it might be useful for you to divide them into groups with different exams so that everyone gets individualized attention from you.

Meta: Learn the difference between effective and ineffective study with these 6 effective study techniques to teach your class and set them up for success.