Elizabeth Gehrig By Elizabeth Gehrig • May 20, 2016

The Secret to Using a Study Guide to Ace Your Next Exam

There’s no doubt about it:  exams are a challenge. It can be tough to prepare for them, especially when your mentor didn’t create the exam and can’t provide much guidance. Online courses cover a lot of material, so it can be hard to know where to begin when you’re studying.

So if you are working hard and trying your best, how can you eliminate the element of surprise on a test? And get the best grade possible?

The trick is to focus on the right material and spend more time reviewing what you don’t know - not studying for the sake of studying. And that’s where study guides come in.

The breadth of detailed information they provide will help you determine your test readiness. But when you know how to take advantage of them, you can ace your next test without spending weeks of endless studying. Here’s how you can put any study guide to work for you.

What Can I Expect?

Similar to how a test is created, the assessment team reviews all possible exam questions and consults a subject matter expert to develop a list of key concepts encountered on all versions of the exam. The resulting guide includes a brief description of the exam structure and level of complexity; this means that your guide will note if you need to explain concepts or compare and contrast ideas - generally how you need to apply your knowledge on the test. It also explains whether your test has multiple-choice questions, essays or both. In some cases, the study guide indicates which concepts are covered by multiple-choice questions and which ones appear as essay questions.

How Can I Get the Most Out of Using a Study Guide?

Once you have the study guide in front of you, do more than just read it. Take the time to look at the material to understand what you will be asked to do.

Start by reading the description to formulate a big-picture idea of what your test will look like. Then, review the list of concepts. Practice saying or writing down what each one is and the most important details about it. If you choose to print out the guide or copy it into a word document, try putting the material in your own words so you feel comfortable answering questions or writing an essay about it. If you can do that, you should be well prepared for the exam.

Most importantly, if you see something on the guide that you aren’t familiar with, post your question in the ‘Ask the Mentor’ forum within your course site. Chances are, you may not be the only one with a similar question. By posing your question in the ‘Ask the Mentor’ forum, your peers can either benefit from or provide additional insight into that specific concept.

Now, since some exams have an exhaustive set of questions, some study guides are quite long. Since each student in the same course will see a different set of questions from the original exam pool, you may not see questions about every single topic indicated on the study guide. It is still important, however, to make sure you are familiar with all the topics because you don’t know which ones will appear on your exam. 

Where Can I Find a Study Guide for My Course?

The CLT's assessment team has been busy creating guides for 20 of the University’s most popular courses, many of which fulfill your general education requirements, like Introduction to Psychology (PSY-101), Introduction to Mass Communications I (COM-120) and Principles of Financial Accounting (ACC-101).

To find out if the course you are taking has a study guide, go to your syllabus and look for a link in the ‘Examinations’ section of your course space. Within the coming year, the assessment team will be developing more study guides for courses that have online exams.

Elizabeth Gehrig

Written by Elizabeth Gehrig

Elizabeth Gehrig is a senior assessment development specialist in the Center for Learning and Technology. Passionate about high-stakes testing, her career spans more than 10 years in language testing, credit-by-exam and outcomes assessment. Email her at clt@tesu.edu.

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