My Study System

Last week, I mentioned that my study system in college involved not studying in advance for tests and quizzes to see how much of the class material I had actually internalized.  That’s not the whole story, though, and since I don’t want to mislead anyone (this is, after all, a site devoted to helping you study more effectively) I thought it might be a good idea to note a few of my study tips.

While it may be true that I tried to avoid cramming for every quiz or test that came along, it wouldn’t be the whole truth to say that I “didn’t study.”  Of course I studied.  Studying is part of college life.  I did, however, study differently than everyone else I knew.  Here are a few of my rules:

1) Read your textbooks, go to class, and take notes.  It may not be required but it is important nonetheless.  You need to keep up with reading, pay attention, and have meaningful notes to look back on when it comes time for the final.  Of course, it helps to have interesting classes that won’t put you to sleep when you show up or sit down to read the text book.  Thankfully, many colleges give you a lot of latitude when it comes to selecting classes, so do your research beforehand.

2) Review your notes regularly and randomly.  There’s a lot of down time in college between classes — so use it!  A few minutes here and there add up, and will do wonders for reinforcing the core concepts in your brain (in fact, that’s the basic idea behind TestSoup, except they’ve made the notes and quizzes for you).

3) Ignore the quizzes beforehand but spend as much time as you need on them after they’ve been graded.  This one may seem counterintuitive, but in most cases quizzes don’t even count for a very large percentage of your final grade so it’s no biggee to sacrifice a few points here.  I did this to test how well I was keeping track of the course material.  Once I got the quizzes back I would review them to make sure I now understood everything I missed.

4) Use your quizzes to study for tests.  In most cases, quizzes are a good indicator of what material is most important to the class.  So I would use them, along with my notes, to study for tests.  Since I had already marked up my quizzes with extra notes explaining what I had previously gotten wrong, these were very helpful study guides.  I would then do pretty much the same thing with my tests once I got them back to make sure nothing slipped through the cracks.

5) Make a detailed study guide for the final.  Professors will usually distribute a list of stuff you should know for the final.  These are massively helpful, but even without one you can usually use your syllabus to list all the important topics.  Once you know what to look into, use your notes, quizzes, tests, and textbook to write yourself a “mini-textbook” of several pages explaining all the core concepts in your own words.  This active studying will reinforce everything you’ve been learning about.

6) Start studying in advance.  Like I said before, I would look over my notes regularly so that I didn’t need to cram for quizzes.  For tests, I would review my notes and old quizzes briefly the afternoon or evening before.  For exams, I would make my study guide two or three days in advance and then review it the day before like I would prepare for a test.

So the truth comes out.  It’s not that I never studied — it’s that I would spread out my studying throughout the semester so that I never had a crunch time.  When other students would discuss how long they had studied for their final exams, I was inevitably on the lowest end of those who actually had taken the time to study, and yet I would generally hold my own when the grades came.

Why?  Because I had been paying attention, reviewing, and studying throughout the course of the semester instead of slacking off.  This prolonged repetition allowed my brain to truly process and comprehend the information it took in and turn it into a long-term memory rather than a short-term fact that would disappear soon after the course ended — and all without sacrificing my social life.

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