3 Tips for STEM Exam Success

Grades in STEM courses rely heavily on your performance on exams. The following tips are designed to bolster your testing success.

1. Keep good study habits all semester long—do not wait until the last minute.

High achievement in college requires daily effort. What you do day to day and week to week will determine your success, not what you do in the days leading up to an exam. You simply cannot “cram” for exams in STEM fields, because most skills build upon each other and cannot be fully understood without mastering earlier material.

  • Preview material. Work ahead or at least orient yourself with the information before class, so the in-class lectures and activities are not totally new. You’ll get more out of class time if you can see where things are going next and are able to ask informed questions.

  • Attend class. That’s why you’re in college in the first place! Class helps you pace yourself, understand the goals and objectives, and clarify challenging material.

  • Review material after every class. Don’t wait until weeks later. Reviewing a day or two after class—or even the same day—allows you to assess what you’ve learned and fill in the gaps before moving on to the next topic.

  • Study, assess your progress, and repeat. Only after you’ve built a foundation can you begin truly mastering the material; build your foundation through repetition.

  • Try applying what you know. To truly succeed in STEM fields in college, it’s not enough to memorize material and practice solving problems. You ought to be able to apply what you know to solve new problems. Strive for that level of internalization of the subject matter.

2. Study with others.

For motivated students, success in high school STEM classes could be reached on one’s own. This is rarely true for college courses in the STEM fields. Studying with others will help you set goals, pace yourself, and assess your progress and understanding.

  • Seek help. Visit your professor during office hours and take advantage of on-campus tutors and TA sessions. Many students think they need to be struggling to ask for help. They couldn’t be more mistaken! The best time to ask for help is as you’re learning to make sure you are keeping up.

  • Help others. In addition to being intrinsically rewarding, explaining content to others will actually help you master and apply it on a higher level. Put on your teaching hat! If you aren’t explaining your ideas clearly, your listeners will push you towards greater precision.

  • Find positive, disciplined people to study with. Your group’s members should be challenging you, reinforcing your habits, and keeping you optimistic and focused. Optimally, a study group will have three to five students.

  • Practice with and without your book. Of course you should use your textbook, both alone and within your group, but one advantage of working with others is being able to put the book down and talk things through.

  • Use groups as a system of checks-and-balances. You can not only assess your learning by measuring yourself against your group members, but often different students will emphasize different topics to study, which will help you keep a balanced approach.

3. Be well and be confident.

  • Manage your time. Again, you can’t cram for exams in STEM fields. Good study habits throughout the term will allow for plentiful review time, helping to reduce test anxiety.

  • Have a healthy diet and exercise. Treating your body well will relieve stress and improve brain function. Eat balanced meals and build in some time for exercise. You will study more efficiently—guaranteed!

  • Visualize success. Research has shown that individuals who not only set goals but spend time thinking about achieving them have greater success.

  • Get sleep. Again, cramming for a STEM exam won’t work. Do not try to pull an all-nighter; getting good sleep will deliver the best possible results based on what you already know.

  • Dress for success. Don’t take a test in sweatpants and a t-shirt. If you are wearing clothes that make you feel confident, odds are you will be.