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Getting Students Organized for Exam Review

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Here in my school district, mid-year exams are on the horizon, but still far enough in the distance so that there’s plenty of time for students to prepare thoroughly and well.

This is a golden opportunity for kids to learn how to make an action plan so that daily review happens.

I always start by asking students to come up with a list of what they’ll need to do in order to be well-prepared for their exams, and most kids are pretty good at this part. Here’s a real-life, anonymous sample:

For chemistry I’m going to make flash cards based on the test study guides and my notes/worksheets. For history I will review my hand-outs and practicing writing some essays. For English I’ll have to refresh my knowledge on the books we read and their themes. In math I’m going to look over any old tests and quizzes as well as do the activities my teacher has on his website. For Spanish I’ll look at old quizzes and review the vocabulary and conjugations.

I hope you will agree that this student clearly knows what he’s got to do, and is off to a great start.

But now here comes the hard part: Notice how vague and unspecified this list is? It’s full of phrases like “review,” and “look over,” (what, exactly, does he have in mind to do? What, for example, does he mean by “look over”?) and it doesn’t specify WHEN he will do these things, HOW MANY flashcards he will create per day, and so on.

This list now needs to be converted into a daily action plan, including specific, quantified activities that will be completed each day.

Here’s my own hypothetical example of an action plan for this student:

  • Monday: Create 20 chemistry flashcards, locate history hand-outs and spend 15 minutes reading them and highlighting important information, locate English notes and spend 10 minutes highlighting important information, redo one math test and highlight questions to ask the teacher…
  • Tuesday: Create 20 more chemistry flashcards, write one history essay, re-read English handouts and highlight important info, redo another math test…

Notice that I am making specific assignments for each day, which are quantified by either number (20 flashcards, one math test), or time (15 minutes).

The plan should be put in writing either on a calendar or a checklist so that finished tasks can be checked off as they are done.

I also believe it’s best to do this on paper (not online), and then posted in a publicly visible place such as the family bulletin board or refrigerator. Action plans stored online or squirreled away in a notebook tend to get “forgotten.”

I also find that many students need an adult to sit down and help them with create a study plan. Why can’t kids do this on their own?

  • Inexperience. Students simply don’t know what an action plan ought to look like or how to set one up.
  • Executive function limitations. Adolescents’ brains aren’t fully developed yet, so planning and organizing may be harder for them than for adults.
  • Anxiety. Stress and fear cause adrenaline to flood the brain and shut down higher-level thinking capabilities. When kids (or any persons) are anxious, rational, long-term perspective goes out the window.

It’s definitely the goal for students to become independent and self-responsible, but some guidance and support from adults can help kids move down that path towards success and autonomy.

Getting Students Organized for Exam Review

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS is an educator, counselor, writer and speaker. She's been a tutor, test prep coach and home school teacher for over thirty years. Click HERE to visit Leigh's website and to subscribe to her newsletter, "Learning Something New."

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APA Reference
Cousins, L. (2014). Getting Students Organized for Exam Review. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 3, 2020, from


Last updated: 15 Jan 2014
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