It took me a few years to figure out how to get high grades on university exams, but by the end of my degree I could consistently get 90% or above, using this method. Other students I shared this with, in my undergrad and in my role as a university teacher, have also found it effective.
This method is difficult. But that is why it works.
The general idea is to emulate the test situation. In general, this is a good method for any kind of assessment. But the methods for putting that into action is straightforward with university exams.
I called the method, "The Questions Method" I also want to emphasize: I don't own this method, it isn't "my" method—I'm sure most people who do well on exams have some variation of it. Basically this is what you do:
When you go to lecture, and the professor is lecturing about their powerpoint slides, and the slides are all game for exams, you sit there in class and as they go through it, you write questions for all the material on the slides.
Then when you do the readings, you also make questions for the material.
Then when it comes time to review, you have this comprehensive list of questions.
Your "studying" is then answering the questions. It is best if you can print out the questions.
So the method is to look at whatever question you're on, and see if you can answer it without looking at your notes. If you can't, then you write a little "x" beside the question, in front of it. Then you go and review the material. If you can answer it, you write a checkmark.
That way, you know how to prioritize your time when you come back for a second round: clearly you don't need to review the questions for which you already have the information in your mind.
So if you come to a question and write an "x", then you ask yourself the question again immediately, and you see if you can answer it, without looking at the notes. If you can't then you check the course material again, and repeat (asking yourself the question, seeing if you can answer it, if you can't, looking at the course material) until you can answer it without looking at the notes.
Then you move on to the next question. The questions are not all of the same level of granularity. Say your professor wants you to learn about the causes of climate change. So you could have a question that covers all of them: What are all the causes of climate change?
But then you would also have specific questions about each one that can help you learn them during your first pass of the questions without having to answer such an intense question.
So smaller scale questions like, "What are the human-based causes of climate change?" and something like, "What are the positive feedback loop causes of climate change?" could be two subquestions.
At some point you don't need the subquestions anymore because you can just answer the general question without looking at the notes.
Also, I found that making some additional notes was often helpful, especially "concept maps". So when answering the question about, "what are the causes of climate change?" for the first time, I might take out a piece of paper and map them all out, getting them off of the different powerpoint slides (in summary form of course, not copying out everything). Then this would help me remember because I could sort of see the map (I don't have a photographic memory, but I could kind of remember where on the page different parts of the answer were).
Usually if I could go through all the questions twice, then I had a very good chance at getting >90% on exams. But the hardest questions often had 3-6 "x" marks beside them, and I'd review those up to the time of the exam. Those were often lists, for which I developed acronyms.
Sometimes I would be in class, before a midterm was about to start, and I'd be checking my notes one last time for questions that had like 5 x marks beside them. Sometimes my colleagues would be like: you can only study so much. But I would know that those questions were ones I really needed a bit more time for, because I had tried to answer them like 5 times and didn't make it. So it was actually the most relevant studying I could possibly do at that time, and wasn't, as these other students guessed, a waste of time.
This is hard work. So, I did 50 minute periods (with a timer) and then would literally lay down on my bed with my eyes closed for 10 minutes (also timed with a timer) (eyes CLOSED was required! no phone etc.) and then resume.
Now, this gets the information in your short term memory. But most of it vanishes within a few weeks. But what can you do, you need the grades! But this is why I'm not a huge fan of exams (who is, really)—doesn't really lead to deep learning.
But of course without enough labour to grade essays it is hard to make every final exam a set of essays. In any case, that's the "Questions Method" that I developed.
The last exam I wrote in my undergrad (which had short answers, essays, and multiple choice), I got 100%, and the professor said he had never given that out before but was amazed at how much I had remembered.
It wasn't at all me being some kind of genius — it was the outcome of 4 years of perfecting this method. In general, that is how I see successful academic output of any kind—you primarily need to perfect the methods behind good work.
If you try this out, I'd be happy to learn how it goes for you! If it doesn't work for you for some reason, and another method works better, I'd be glad to know.
This was also posted on Twitter: https://twitter.com/tylerbateman/status/1483952967917129729