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Ace Your Exams With These Simple Study Hacks

Written by Lauren Marinigh

Here’s how you can study smarter, not harder, this midterm season.

‘Tis the season for endless cups of coffee, all nighters, and trying to figure out how to cram endless information you can into your brain. On top of balancing your social life, of course.

So, how do you study better and more effectively? Here are 5 proven tips to will help you survive yet another midterm season.

1. Do the hardest part first, or last

You’re more likely to remember the information that comes at the beginning, or end, of your study period. This is known in psychology as the Primacy and Recency effects.

Think of it this way. You probably remember the first things you did in your day and the last. But all the little bits and pieces from the middle get mushed together.

When studying for a midterm, try dividing the information you need to swallow. Dive into the important content first—the stuff you don’t have memorized or understood to a tee yet. Use the middle section of your study period to review that information or take a break. At the end, transition back into the meat of course content you’re not all that familiar with.

2. Make it all about you

The self-reference effect says if you can relate to something personally, it’ll become easier to remember. But how do you use this while studying dry information? You get creative.

Say there’s a dull case study on an oil business you have to remember for your business class midterm. You can relate to the CEO who is struggling to keep afloat during a dry spell in his business. You know, since you’re maybe low-key wondering how you’ll pay rent next month.

The references can be far-fetched. But you’d be amazed at how they’ll help you remember key bits of information that would usually go in one ear, out the other.

3. Lay off the books (for a while)

You’re probably thinking, wait, what? I shouldn’t look at my books to study?

I’m not saying to avoid your books completely. But it does help to learn in ways other than just reading your lectures and textbooks. Switch up how you’re soaking in information. This will help you absorb and look at it from a different perspective.

A majority of your brain is devoted to processing visual information. It responds to visuals faster and better than text. Try flashcards, or jazzing up your notes with colours and diagrams (drawing can actually help enhance your memory). Watch a video on YouTube around the topic you are studying, or a documentary, or even re-write your notes. 

4. Replicate your routine

It’s hard to believe something as simple as sitting in the same seat in your classroom can help you remember the information you’ve learned. According to context-dependent memory mechanisms, it’s much easier to retrieve memories when you are in the same context the memories were created.

If you sit in the same seat, or area in your classroom, as you did when you learned the content you’re writing your midterm on, you should be able to remember the information better. However, this doesn’t mean you can get away with not studying at all.

And what happens if your exam takes place in a different classroom, but you still want to reap the benefits of context-dependent memory? Write with the same pen or supplies you use throughout the year, make sure you follow your same morning/afternoon routines, etc.

5. Eat polyunsaturated fatty acids

Although it can be easy to eat unhealthy when you’re stressed and busy, polyunsaturated fatty acids like Omega-3s make your brain healthy by helping control the its learning and memory centres. They’ve also been known to help lower the risk of brain disorders like dementia, which is a pretty sweet long-term benefit.

If this advice sounds familiar, it’s because we just stressed it here, with a dedicated blog post on exam-time nutrition. Meal prep some healthy foods like fish, walnuts, peanuts, chia, and pumpkin seeds to help your brain stay happy while you’re cramming in all the information you can. There’s actually quite a few creative, affordable meals you can make with these ingredients, before your wallet starts freaking out.


It can be hard to remember everything you learned over the course of multiple weeks for several classes at a time. However, by sticking to some of these hacks, you’ll improve your performance and set yourself up for success on that midterm (okay, who are we kidding, there’s like five of them).


*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.