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5 Signs It’s Time to Stop Studying for Your Exam

  • Sean 

It’s important to know when It’s time to stop studying for your exam. Here are five key signs that you have studied enough and should focus on other things.

It’s important to focus well and do a good job when studying for an exam or midterm. However, we as students also need to prioritize other courses and materials. This can be very challenging (especially if you left it to the last minute as most students do).

If you did leave your studying to the last minute or you think you aren’t ready after reading this article, then you may have some work left. In that case, check out my guide on how to cram effectively for an exam in 24 hours if you want to meet these criteria.

With that taken care of, let’s get into what tells us we are ready for an exam.

Blooms Taxonomy Tells Us When We Are Ready for an Exam

Luckily, there are solid ways to evaluate when you are ready. I based the following items on a system of knowledge mastery called Blooms Taxonomy. I’m basically saying that if you have a good mastery of the material according to Bloom’s Taxonomy, you are good. You can see what the taxonomy looks like below.

Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Side note: Ignore the create level of the pyramid because it doesn’t really apply here. Creating new information would not very effectively help you prepare for existing information you are going to be tested on.

But why do I choose Bloom’s Taxonomy as my criteria? The answer to this is simple. You are very likely going to be tested on these higher levels of knowledge mastery. For example, a long answer question might ask you to justify or stand for a position or relate concepts together.

You need to study so that you are ready to be tested at a high level. In college or university, these higher-level questions become more common as you progress.

With that out of the way, let’s get into the specific signs that you are ready for your exam.

5 Signs It’s Time to Stop Studying for Your Exam

1. You can explain relationships between concepts

This is probably one of the biggest signs that you have achieved a high-level understanding according to Bloom’s Taxonomy. Distinguishing and explaining how ideas facilitate and lead to one another takes a much higher level of critical thinking than restating definitions or recalling single ideas.

If you don’t focus on how the concepts and central ideas fit together you are basically shooting in the dark.

Here are a couple of example questions that you can use to test if you know the relationships between concepts:

  1. How does X relate to Y?
  2. How does X/Y fit in the big picture?
  3. What does X/Y cause?

When it comes to preparing for your exams, try to focus on the relationships between concepts. It’s not enough to just focus on isolated pieces of information (this is the lowest level on the pyramid).

If you can answer these types of questions about the material effectively without memory aids like notes etc, you are in a good place.

2. You can apply the material to new situations

This one is important because this is what you do in tests a lot of the time, especially with curveball questions. If your knowledge of the topic is flexible, this is easy.

For instance, if you are taking a computer science exam, you might have been taught how to create a linked list. But in the exam, you could be asked to create a linked list that performs a more complex function than what you learned in class.

This is where learning at a high level comes into play. We are going beyond just recalling specific pieces of information.

All you need to really do to get here is apply the information in new scenarios when you study it. For example, If you want to revise your ability to create a linked list, don’t just create a boring example that you can find everywhere on the web. Create a linked list that does something unique or interesting.

If you can fluently apply the information to new scenarios like this, you are in a good position for your upcoming test.

3. You can use the material to justify a position

This is probably the most difficult of the high-level learning techniques. Although being asked to justify a position on an exam is not common, being able to do this is a sure sign that you are ready.

This is actually hard enough to do that you can probably still do very well on an exam if you are not at this level.

You have to use many of the other high-level techniques (applying information and analyzing relationships) and even the lower-level ones to do this. It takes a complete understanding.

But that is why this is an effective check if you are ready. You need a complete understanding to do it effectively.

But how do you know whether you can argue for a position or not?

How to argue for a position using the material

Simply pick a position and try to argue for it out loud using the material (without any recall aids like notes of course).

You can do this in a deductive way by coming up with a conclusion and then using concepts from the course to support your premises. Below I have given a very simple argument structure.

Example argument:

Premise 1

Premise 2

Premise 3


If you can do this out loud on the fly (and create convincing arguments) you are definitely ready. This is already beyond what almost all students do, but you can take this even further.

The next step is optional and most students won’t do this, but it’s extremely beneficial.

Take your arguments, write them down and bring them to your professor’s office hours and discuss the material with them.

This may be intimidating, but they are only going to be impressed and happy that a student put this much effort into their course. If they are a good professor, you talking to them about an argument with the material basically can only make them happy.

4. You know the details and nuances

The last check for if you are ready is actually a lower-level knowledge check. That is, do you remember the smaller details and nuances of the material that you could be tested on?

The importance of this will depend on your professor to some extent. Some professors just love to test very tiny and extraneous information. I can’t stand these professors because they could be doing much more interesting things.

But despite frustrating teaching methodologies, at the end of the day, we still need to know the details of the material.

This is later on the list for a reason. The reason is that you should not start by learning the details first. You will pick up many of these naturally as you apply high-level revision and learning techniques.

After all, how can you relate ideas X and Y if you don’t know what X and Y are right? You naturally need to know their constituent parts.

By learning details later and focusing on high-level techniques first, you will spend much less time on them but still have excellent knowledge of them.

How do you know if you have this lower-level understanding? You need to use self-testing techniques like practice questions and flashcards.

The next step is all about this, so keep reading if you are interested.

5. You can’t find any knowledge gaps

Lastly, you need to do a final check for gaps in your knowledge. This can be done by using self-testing techniques. These techniques should cover both higher-level and lower-level knowledge of Bloom’s Taxonomy to ensure that you have a complete and holistic understanding of the material.

Here is a list of some self-testing techniques to use. If you get through all of these and don’t find anything you couldn’t recall, you are in a good place.

  • Do a braindump: Open a document and just write everything you know about a subject. Afterward, look at your materials and see if you missed anything. You can also draw a mindmap of a topic from memory to test for high-level knowledge gaps.
  • Use practice questions: Go through your textbook/course material and answer practice questions. You can also find questions online or make them yourself.
  • Use flashcards: Use a program like Anki or Quizlet and go through some material. This is good at testing for the details.

The Takeaway

It’s important to know when to stop studying for an exam and focus on other things. Using Bloom’s Taxonomy as a guide, we can see there are roughly five signs that can indicate you are ready for an exam.

By focusing on the many levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, you can ensure that you are well-prepared for your exam because you will have a complete understanding of many levels of knowledge mastery.