Your next big exam looms, and you’re poring over your notes for the thousandth time. Your professor didn’t give you a study guide, so you aren’t certain about which concepts to focus on. Because of this, you’re going through every reading and lecture, making it difficult to remember much of anything.
During my years at UT, my professors have had mixed feelings about providing study guides. But when I receive one, even if it’s just a list of concepts or themes, I find myself devoting more time to studying. I’m motivated to ensure that I have a solid grasp on concepts, because I know what to expect. This typically leads to a better exam grade and increased knowledge retention over time.
By giving study guides before exams, professors ease anxiety while encouraging students to remember concepts beyond test day.
“I’ve been teaching here for 38 years, and the first thing I noticed was the anxiety around every test or quiz,” said astronomy professor Don Winget. “The number one concern is, ‘What does this professor think is important?’”
With class material piling up by the day, breaking down and making sense of all the information can feel impossible. Considering that most UT students are juggling heavy workloads, a simple handout with some ideas to focus on can save them hours of ineffective studying.
“I definitely feel more prepared when I get a study guide,” said Emmy Coffey, a Spanish and biology senior. “Feeling like I studied the right thing gives me confidence that I’m ready for the exam.”
Knowing which ideas an exam will feature leads students to dive deeper into important concepts, making them more likely to hold onto knowledge for a longer period of time.
“I learned empirically, while I was in graduate school, that if you know the kinds of questions you’re going to be asked, you rehearse them to the point that you actually understand the concept,” Winget said.
Some professors may decide against providing study guides for fear of students failing to learn how to study independently. Although this is a hugely valuable skill that all undergraduates should practice, it doesn’t invalidate the need for study guides. By providing even a simple list of themes likely to appear on an exam, professors improve students’ chances for successful studying without rewarding laziness.
Particularly for exams early in the semester, students aren’t familiar with their new professors’ style of questioning.
“Usually by the second test, I know how my professor formats a tests and what material they like to test on,” Coffey said. “For the classes that provide a study guide, my first exam grade is usually much higher than in the classes without them.”
While professors must devote extra time to making study guides, they result in students walking away from their class with stronger comprehension of the subject matter. Combined with their ability to decrease test anxiety, this small gesture of support for students is worth the effort.
Waltz is a radio-television-film senior from Dripping Springs.