How to Ace an Art History Exam (Advice from an Art History Tutor)

During my time at Agnes Scott. I had the wonderful opportunity to tutor students in Art History. I decided that before I graduated, I should share with others in detail how I personally study for art history exams. Everyone has their own way that works best for them, but I find that this particular studying process mirrors the format of art history exams. I hope that the method I outlined here is as effective for you as it was for me. 

1) Gather notes together

2) Find keywords/concepts in my notes for the reduced list of works; highlight them or list them in a study guide document. If you find that your notes are inadequate on a certain work, look at someone else’s notes or re-read about that work in the book.

3) Download all of the powerpoints onto your computer. Don’t worry you can erase them after the exam if you are worried about space. Reduce all the powerpoints to a master powerpoint of the (about 50) reduced works.

4) Now, make 2 more copies on your desktop. Label Copy #1: Full List. Name Copy #2: Concepts. Name Copy #3: Dates. Do not edit the Full List Powerpoint. It is there as a backup. For the Full List and Concepts Powerpoints, keep all images that you think are helpful. For example, for an building, keep the exterior, interior, and plan slides. For the Dates Powerpoint, delete every image that is not the one you will be seeing on the test. Dr. Sadler is explicit in that she tells you “interior” or “exterior” and key words on the final image list.

5) You can use these powerpoints for two purposes. First, study the Concepts powerpoint with your keyword notes. If you miss some of your keywords or concepts, just move on to the next one. You will be going through this powerpoint multiple times. If you do get all of your keywords and concepts as you flip through the slides, delete it. Good job, you! Here’s the idea, as you understand more and more works, you will delete them, thus creating a smaller and smaller powerpoint. And what you have at the end of the study session will be a powerpoint of your “problem works.” These are works that you need to pay some extra attention to.

VERY IMPORTANT- DO NOT SAVE YOUR MOSTLY DELETED POWERPOINTS. Just exit out. DO NOT SAVE CHANGES. This would defeat the purpose of being able to go through the powerpoints multiple times over multiple days. Don’t worry, you will know which ones are your problem works, especially after doing it several times. Just in case you forget, you have your Full List powerpoint to copy again.

After a period of several days, you will have memorized your facts and concepts from reducing the Concepts powerpoint over and over again. After a while, it will only take you 20 minutes to talk out loud/ think about the key concepts of 50 works. Think about doing this exercise at least twice a day starting at minimum 5 days before the exam.

6) Now, you will be doing something very similar with the dates powerpoint. This powerpoint has less images, but you will need more information. Have the reduced works list next to you. You will go through the powerpoint image by image, trying to say out loud/ think to yourself what the identification for the works are. Do the full identifications all at once while looking at the image. This is good for your brain and a major helper for the exam. Reduce the slides as you get the IDs correct so you know what your problem works are. For the IDs, after doing them a few times, I recommend switching the slides out of order so that you are not seeing the works in relation to each other by date. The exam will not be presented in chronological order, so don’t fool yourself.

7) Now that you know basic concepts and full identifications, it would be a good time to start thinking about comparisons and essays. What topics were emphasized most in class? For more ideas on essay prompts to practice, look at the “how to study for an art history exam” powerpoint. If you are worried about writing the essay in class, look at the “how to take an art history exam” powerpoint. You don’t have to necessarily write practice essays, just start thinking like that.

Here’s a timeline for you:

6 Days before the exam: Make these three powerpoints. Gather your notes. Find your keywords and concepts in your notes.

5 Days before the exam: Go through your Concepts and Dates powerpoints at least once. 

4 days: Go through them again. 

3 days: go through them again. Start thinking about comparisons and what would be good choices for essays (usually what you spent the most time on in class).

2 days: Relax, eat some ice cream. Just kidding! Study, but with ice cream. 

1 day: by this time, you could do this in your sleep. You have no worries for the exam tomorrow, because you are awesome at this. Go through them twice just to be sure. Get some solid sleep. Sleep is very important for your concentration skills.

The day of the exam: Eat a good breakfast. Rock that exam. With all your powerful knowledge, you know you can get something in the upper 90s range.

Concerns: You may say, this seems like a lot of work. At which point I would ask you:

1) Would you rather have a full on panic attack that prevented you from studying the night before the exam or be a girl scout about it and be prepared?

2)  Exams will probably not be fun, but they are a lot more fun when you know the material. This method is about getting the most bang for your buck. You will spend less frivolous studying time and get a better grade by studying in this manner. 

Good luck and study hard!


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