Is it wrong to edit your art

9 mistakes in learning that will break your neck on the exam

by Tim Reichel

I know what you did last night

You learned.

Because soon the time will come and your next exam is pending.

So that everything goes well and that you get your exam over and done with, there is one thing above all on your daily schedule: Learn.

You get up early and sit at your desk. Have a quick coffee or tea and off you go. You work your way through your documents and repeat all of the material from the last semester in record time.

All day. Late into the night. Until all exams are written and hopefully passed.

It's the same every semester. At university, we stuff tons of information and specialist content into our heads in order to pull all the stuff out at the next exam and get a good grade.

This little game is not always useful and sometimes frustrating. But we play along. After all, it's about our graduation.

But you can make a lot of mistakes on the way to the perfect exam result.


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You should avoid these 9 mistakes while studying:

In this article I have collected a few tips for you so that you can start your exam preparation properly and avoid getting into trouble on your next exam.

Here are 9 learning mistakes that you better not make - they could be your last!


Mistake # 1: You're just learning by heart

For many students, “learning” in exam preparation means nothing more than “learning by heart”. The material is summarized and then repeated word for word until everything is perfectly saved.

This approach is particularly widespread when time is tight or the content is not fully understood. I used to do it myself often and dragged the boring material into it again and again until everything was right. True to the motto: "Fuck it, I'll just learn it by heart now."

Unfortunately, dull memorization does not bring you lasting success and is rather a kind of interim solution as a guarantee of success for a good exam result.

If you do not understand your course content and your learning is limited to simple reproduction, you will have difficulties in the exam at the latest when it comes to transfer tasks or new problems.

Of course, memorizing is always a part of it: You just have to memorize some technical terms, vocabulary, formulas or names. But that's not what I mean by that either. What I mean is don't limit yourself just on memorization. You have to understand what you are learning.


Mistake # 2: You don't see the big picture

Your exam preparation is complex.

Lecture slides, scripts, textbooks, exercise documents and maybe one or the other paper. All of this is on your learning plan and has to be part of the exam.

So you have to think of 1,000 things and put these little bits into context. But many students fail because of this!

The problem is not always the amount of content, but rather the correct classification and focus. When preparing for the exam, it is important that you always keep an overview and have the big picture firmly in view.

So don't get lost in details and details while learning, but keep reminding yourself of what your module is actually about. Ask yourself:

  • Which problem should be solved?
  • What was the original question?
  • What am i working towards
  • What is the generic term on this subject?
  • What's next?

Don't get confused and keep track of your learning material.

Pay attention to structure.


Mistake # 3: You're just learning your summary

Your summary is a central element of your exam preparation.

Before you can really start learning, write a summary and highlight the most important content from your lecture. After all, you can't learn everything.

In principle, there is nothing wrong with this tactic. The procedure is efficient and, if you do it right, limits the material so cleverly that you greatly increase your chances of success for the exam.

But only if you do it right!

Writing a good summary is a fine art. If you compress the material from a whole semester into a few pages, important information is often lost. And that can end badly in the exam.

Therefore, do not limit yourself to your summary when preparing for the exam. Look at the complete learning material several times and use your summary more as an aid and orientation.


Mistake # 4: You're working too deeply

But it also works the other way around: If you concentrate on every detail while learning and get involved in every little thing, it doesn't really help you for your exam.

Don't work too superficially, but not too detailed either!

It is not necessary that you read every original source or be able to derive all formulas. You have to focus on the essentials and set wise priorities.

Speaking of focal points: Here comes mistake number 5:


Mistake # 5: You are setting the wrong focus

On average, students in Germany write 4-7 exams per semester. There are also internships, homework and other university stuff.

In order for you to be able to do all of this, you have to set priorities and determine the right focus!

So you have to find out which content is important in your modules and which areas you can rather neglect.

It is best to take a look at old exams and talk to your fellow students or directly to your lecturer. (Maybe you can dust off one or the other tip and find out which content is relevant for the exam and which is not.) Over time, you will also get a feel for what is important in the lecture, what is important to your examiners.

By the way: The setting of priorities has nothing to do with laziness, but is a sign of intelligence and organizational talent.


Mistake # 6: You are only studying for yourself

Many students withdraw during the exam phase and learn only for themselves. While learning, they concentrate so much on the content and their own performance curve that they get lost in the lecture material.

But that should never happen to you!

Never be completely to yourself, but team up with your fellow students. Find a study group or start one yourself. As a team, you get along much better with the material and can help each other with problems.

You don't have to work the whole day with your study group, but a regular exchange can massively increase your success in your studies and make a lot of things easier for you.


Mistake # 7: You're not taking an acid test

You have repeated all of the lecture material and followed every exercise. Every chapter from the script is right and you have even read some additional background information.

All well and good.

You only forgot one thing: the exam will be different. It gets harder. And that's why you have to prepare a little differently for your upcoming exam.

At the end of your exam preparation, you should undergo an acid test and put the knowledge you have learned to the test.

Try to solve an old exam, work on a few new exercises (from the last year?) Or let friends ask you questions. Without assistance and without looking at your documents.

Your endurance test must take place under exam-like conditions. Because only then will you see how good your preparation really is.


Mistake # 8: You start your preparation way too short

Probably the most common mistake that students make: They do the exam preparation way too short.

I've often got it wrong too. Almost always.

Either started too late or underestimated the scope of the material so blatantly that in the end there was hardly any time to repeat everything sensibly.

Therefore, get a good overview of the scope of learning and the workload in good time during the semester. Then you won't run into time difficulties and you can head for your goals comfortably and without time pressure.


Mistake # 9: You study without a plan

No matter how stressful your semester may be: Don't just start learning, always come up with a plan first.

Do not rush to your documents full of hectic and zest for action and start working through all the stuff headlessly. You are wasting energy and learning without a sense of direction.

Instead, take half an hour to think about how you can approach your preparation in a meaningful way.

In this article I will show you how you can plan and structure your exam preparation.


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Your exam phase is stressful and will demand a lot from you.

But if you want to take all the exams and pass them as best you can, you need to prepare intelligently.

That's why I've shown you 9 mistakes in this article that you absolutely have to avoid while studying:

  • You are just learning by heart
  • You don't see the big picture
  • You only learn your summary
  • You're working in too much detail
  • You are setting the wrong priorities
  • You only learn for yourself
  • You're not taking an acid test
  • You start your preparation way too short
  • You learn without a plan

If you know these pitfalls and approach your next exam preparation with your head, you will never again slow yourself down and get the best out of your exams.

Good luck with your exams!


Image: © Ryan McGuire /