Have you ever received back an exam with a grade you weren’t expecting?

Do you have a hard time understanding what went wrong?

You spent a whole week reading your chapters, writing your notes and studying for this exam and you thought you were prepared, but you couldn’t answer any of the questions on the test.

That’s exactly how 25-year-old pre-nursing student, Amy who you’ll meet in today’s video feels like.

It can frustrating and disheartening when you’re able to answer all the questions with your study group the night before, and you feel like you know your shit but your grade doesn’t reflect it.

How do you solve the “I thought I knew it” exam problem so that you never find yourself surprised by your exam grade?



Usually when I hear students say, “I felt like I knew the information but I didn’t get the grade I wanted.” two things are happening.

#1: They struggle with synthesizing the information they are expected to read, make sense of and know for the exam.

#2: They don’t have a study protocol in place that tells them when they are actually prepared for the exam.

Feeling like you know the information is not the same thing as KNOWING you know the information.  There is also a difference between knowing the information and knowing the RIGHT information.

You can study for weeks on end but if you’re studying the wrong things, you’re not going to do well on the exam.

The first step to A’s is knowing what information to pay attention to. Which for most students, that’s the most difficult part of reading and note taking in preparation for exams.

Many students don’t know how to take the information from their textbooks or lectures simplify it and connect it to the main purpose of the class.

They don’t know how to anticipate the kind of questions they’ll encounter on the exam.



  • Step 1: Know the purpose of the class and read to stay on theme with the purpose of the class. Why was this class constructed? What was it designed to teach you? How does it plan on teaching you this?  If you can answer these types of question, you’ll naturally become aware of the key concepts that will show up again and again in your lectures, assigned readings and exams.  

Some examples of where you can find the purpose of the class:

  • Looking up the definition of the field your course in on
  • Course description found on your syllabus or the course catalog
  • Objectives or key concepts found on your syllabus, textbook chapters or professor’s powerpoints

When you read with a focus, when you read to try to answer the objectives or match up the topic you’re currently on to the definition of the class, your reading will turn into a scavenger hunt that always ends in you finding the key points you’ll see show up on the exam.  

When you read with an end result in mind, you’ll start to think like your professor. You’ll start to see how they might ask you to compare and contrast two different philosophers ideas on an essay prompt.

You’ll begin to notice how they always ask you to apply what was happening in a social economic climate that led to the riot and overthrowing of a dictator.

You’ll begin to see the connections and importance of what you’re studying.

  • Step 2: Write your notes in the way you speak. Most students are fearful of missing out on key information that might show up on the test. This often causes them to write word for word everything they hear in lecture or read in their textbook. The problem with this is that most professors and textbooks speak in lingo that experts in their field can understand but not newbies. 

In order for you to process this information in a way that will be helpful for you on the exam, you need to process it in a way that makes sense to the way you speak.

When you write your notes put your summary of what was said or what you read in your own words. This will not only make it easier for you to understand your notes when you review them but the process of articulate the thought that was expressed by the author or your professor will help the information stick in your brain.

The next step is to make sure that information actually stuck.


To move from a state of feeling like you know the information to knowing you know the information, you have to remember…

The purpose of studying is to figure out what you still don’t know so you can fill in the knowledge gaps.

The reason why so many students are surprised by the questions they see on the exam or the grade they received, is because they had no idea they had a knowledge gap.

The knowledge gap was revealed to them on the exam, a point when it was too late to address it, change it or fix it.  

Your study routine needs to point out these knowledge gaps to you so that while you’re studying you can go back and fill in these trouble spots that will cause you to miss questions on the exam.


My Three Step Study Protocol naturally builds into your study routine a method for you to test whether or not you actually know what you’re supposed to know.

  • Step #1: Acquire the information that you’re going to be tested on. This is done through lecture, readings, tutoring, homework or online resources.
  • Step #2: Test to make sure that you actually learned, understood and can apply the information that you just acquired and are supposed to know. This is THE MOST IMPORTANT part of your studying process.  

This is how you move from feeling like you know the information to knowing that you know the information because now you’re forcing yourself to prove if you can intellectually talk about this concept. Can you answer multiple choice questions about it? Can you write a short essay without having visual prompts or a book to reference?

Until you try to apply the information in the same way you’re going to be asked to apply it on the test, you cannot say that you actually know the information.

The reason why most students only “feel” like the know the information is because they completely skip step 2 of the studying protocol.

The best ways to test yourself is by answering the end of chapter questions, by asking your professor for a study guide/practice exam, studying with a partner and having them ask you questions, trying to verbalize the information out loud without looking at your notes. Trying to write as much as you can about the subject from your notes or completing problem sets from old homework or a workbook.

When you run into an issue where you can’t recall or you’re giving the wrong response, you don’t know it well enough. You’ve successfully identified a knowledge gap and at that point, you need to move to step 3 of the study protocol.

  • Step #3: Fill in the knowledge gaps. Which means to go and relearn the information. Go and get some help trying to understand it. When you go through this 3 step study protocol, you’re figuring out what you know and you’re making sure that before the exam, you go and you learn everything that you’ve identified that you didn’t know. SO that everything that could get you into trouble on the exam is eliminated and you can without a doubt say that you’re prepared for the exam.

If you follow this 3 Step Study Protocol, you’ll always know whether you’re ready to ace the exam.