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For first-year college students, the world of exams usually feels like the land of confusion. Sometimes, it feels as though no amount of study guide reviews or late-night library lock-ins can prepare you for the panic of opening the exam booklet and forgetting everything you thought you once knew. Rumors about professors, grading, and exams are rampant on campus sidewalks and dorm hallways. Comments such as “Oh, I heard the first exam for that class is always the hardest,” and “The study guide won’t help you at ALL for that class,” are intimidating – but not always reliable.

So, fellow college freshmen – and any and all students looking to overcome their test anxiety: Have no fear! Here are some college exam tricks of the trade that you are probably familiar with from the days of preparing for college entry standardized tests. I know, I know…nobody loves to think about the ACT/SAT more than necessary – but I have found that some test-taking and study methods commonly used with big standardized tests have come in handy when preparing for college midterms and exams. While each student has a different learning style, consider adopting (or readopting) some of these study skills when preparing for your first college exams.

Study tip: Flashcards, flashcards, flashcards

#TBT (Throwback Thursday) to your beloved SAT vocabulary flashcards: the definition of a love-hate relationship. It may sound overused and predictable, but flashcards are nothing to overlook, especially in college. For courses that rely heavily on the knowledge of key terms, vocabulary words, short yet tedious phrases and definitions, and prefixes and suffixes, flashcards will get the job done. Personally, the process of simply writing the terms and definitions is a great way to review for an exam. Sites and applications such as Quizlet and StudyBlue are also great resources if you prefer digital flashcards or are interested in finding flashcard sets from other students. Nonetheless, while the process of reviewing a large amount of information and condensing the important ideas and terms into a set of flashcards is time-consuming, it is an effective starting point in reviewing for big midterms and exams.

Test-taking tip: Process of elimination

The multiple-choice format of standardized tests such as the ACT/SAT is a relevant precursor to many exams that use Scantron testing forms. Prior to my first college exam, the word “Scantron” freaked me out – but in reality, it is just a booklet or sheet of paper with bubbles that students fill out like they would any other standardized test. When it comes to multiple-choice questions, the process of elimination method is a good skill to revive from your ACT/SAT days. You may be feeling pressed for time, or you may get to a question that you cannot solve; by eliminating one or two answer choices, you will have a better chance of getting the right answer. For math exams, try plugging in the numbers to the equation (if possible). I recently my first midterm for my grammar course, which consisted of only multiple-choice questions. The process of eliminating choices I knew were incorrect right off the bat helped me immensely and even saved me from second-guessing some of my answer choices.

Study tip: Practice tests are your friend

In high school, taking ACT/SAT practice tests was a “major key to success” in preparing for the real deal. Depending on the course, professors may provide old exams and practice questions to complete – make sure to take advantage of this opportunity. Even if you feel discouraged after your first practice test, you can review your questions with the teaching assistant or professor and find out how to improve your score for the actual test. Most of the time, practice exams will not provide an absolutely identical preview for the actual exam, but the act of making mistakes helps you to realize what not to do or how not to solve a specific problem. This method of practicing and getting a feel for the format and timing of the test has single-handedly been the most helpful way of preparing for my first exams in college.

The takeaway

College exams can be downright scary, especially during your first semester in a new place surrounded by new people and new classes. It is perfectly OK if you do not get the best score in the world on your first exams. Just like the ACT/SAT, it takes practice, studying, and persistence. It is important to remember that most of the time, your fellow classmates are also at the corner of “stressed” and “confused” – but by using your resources and reviving some of your tried and true study skills, you can take control of your test-taking experience.

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the author

Darcy Schild is a rising sophomore Journalism major at the University of Florida. An Ohio native, Darcy is excited to share her experiences and advice as an out-of-state collegiate. When she's not blogging (at, you can find her critiquing fonts or admiring other people's dogs. Contact her at or on Twitter @darcyschild.

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