There are several different ways you can study books for an exam. Below are some steps and some different approaches depending on your learning style.
1. Read the Book!
Although this may seem like a no-brainer, you'd be surprised. You will only get the whole story as the author intended if you actually read what the author wrote. Movies may have the general plot line, but will be no help to you if the exam references specific lines in the book, plot points or characters the movie may have omitted, or even YOUR interpretation/understanding of a character or plot point.
If you're a kinesthetic learner, trying reading while walking around your room or running on a treadmill. Or even try chewing gum while you read (but not in school if it's prohibited!). If you're an auditory learner, read the book aloud to yourself. If it helps certain passages stick better, make different voices for the narrator and different characters.
2. Take Notes!
While you read the book, take notes or highlight what strikes you as important. This may be a plot twist; a specific phrase that resonates strongly with you; potential foreshadowing; historical, scientific, or social references; vocabulary you don't know; specific characters that embody qualities that are important to the theme of the book; etc.
If you're a visual learner, while you're taking notes, separate your page into two columns. Write down your notes of the text in one column and your thoughts, opinions, and/or feelings about that in another. For instance, if the author makes a historical reference, make some bullet points about what you know about that time in history. How does the reference to that history make you see the characters or plot? Are they related, the same? Or does it seem out of place? Why do you think the author referenced that?
If you're an auditory learner, read your notes aloud to yourself. Talk to yourself (don't worry, you're not crazy!) or make a study group with others to discuss key plot points, why certain things happen, or why characters are the way they are.
3. Watch the Movie (if there is one).
Really? But didn't I just say to read the book? Yes, of course, read the book, but also watch the movie. Just don't ONLY watch the movie. Think of the movie like a study group—you're listening to and watching another person's interpretation of the story. The director or writers for the movie may have picked up on something you missed or decide to highlight a part of the plot or a character that was important to them. If you're an auditory or visual learner, seeing the characters and action and hearing the dialogue may make it stick better for you. While you watch, take notes; what’s different between the movie and the book? (This is a good way to test your memory of the book). Why is it different? How might you interpret characters or scenarios differently after seeing someone else’s interpretation? Does that influence your interpretation of the book?
4. Review Your Notes!
A good way to do this is to go through your notes and highlight the most important things—character analysis, important phrases or grammar, key plot points, etc. If you need to, make flashcards about characters and their traits or vocabulary you learned. Try briefly summarizing the plot either verbally or in writing. Talk over the book with someone who has read it and bounce your ideas and interpretations off them. If you’re confused about why or how something happened, discuss it with them or your professor/teacher.
5. Breathe. You got this. Good luck on your test!