One thing that I learned way too late in my academic career is the art of studying. Studying is not a naturally born skill but instead, it's a learned art. Over the years, I've compiled a list of effective study strategies that helped me and that I hope will help students maximize their study time and lead to higher achievement on tests and assignments. Trust me, the sooner you can learn effective study habits, the better it will be for you in the long run.
1. Find your space
This is one of the most important skills to learn and one where you'll see the most people fooling themselves. Your study space should be somewhere quiet where you have all the supplies you need and you can focus on the work that needs to be done. I always recommend that a bed isn't the best spot to study because you're tempted to lay down and that can end up in accidentally falling asleep and losing your precious study time. For you to pick a successful study space, you need to be really honest with yourself about where you can work best. Sometimes where you work best isn't the place where you're most comfortable. Remember that being comfortable when you study is important, but it isn't as important as getting the work done. Pick the place where you can get the most work done.
2. schedule your time
When you first sit down to study, the amount of work can really seem overwhelming. Maybe you have tests to study for and reading to do plus an assignment. I get it. It can seem like it's too much. The key to dealing with this is all about how you organize your time. Whenever I sit down to study, I always have two things on my mind. 1. What is my goal for this study time? 2. How long will I need to work in order to achieve that goal? When you set a goal for yourself and a time that you want to work for, you're breaking that giant mountain of things into small hills that you can conquer one at a time. It also helps keep you from feeling overwhelmed.
3. Flashcards galore!
This has been my secret weapon over the years. When I was introduced to the art of flashcards, all of my study habits changed and my marks shot up. I could go on and on about the benefits of flashcards but I'll try to limit myself to just a few benefits. 1. They're so easy to make. I'm a fan of making things look pretty so I use different coloured markers and little drawings but that's up to you. 2. They're portable. I would make stacks of cards and I'd bring them with me anywhere I went. If I got a spare minute on a city bus or waiting for a movie to start in a theatre, I'd whip out my flashcards and fit in a few minutes of studying. 3. It's like a mini-brain game. I struggle to just sit and read over notes so flashcards worked great for me because I would make little games out of how high of a score I could get and if I could beat my previous score.
P.S. There are a lot of online resources that are available now so that you can make online flashcards. I personally have used Quizlet but I've heard great things about Brainscape too.
4. speak it out
Back in the 1970s, an educational idea began to take shape. The idea was that students could be grouped into different learning styles. While scientists and researchers don't always agree on how many styles there are and the validity of each of the styles, I think there's a big pearl of wisdom in there. I, personally, have always remembered best when I hear them said out loud. I can hear a song once and remember it for years or I can quote entire movies line for line. My learning style has always been auditory. That's why I enjoy listening to podcasts and audiobooks. One strategy that really helped me with studying was to speak my notes out loud so that I could hear myself say them. This allowed them to get deeper into my memory and understand them better. I've spent many hours sitting at my desk talking to myself, working on getting an idea or a concept into my brain. I'm sure there's more than one person out there who has seen me studying who thinks I've lost my mind but hey, if it works. Do it.
5. Learn to take notes
While I list this one at number five, I could probably put this at number one because, without this, all the study tips in the world can't help you out. Learning how to take good notes makes all the difference. I've seen many people work and work at trying to write down what someone else is saying word for word and they end up with pages of notes but none of them are any good because they miss the whole point. When learning a new idea or concept, the goal should never be to memorize what people said word for word. Instead, the goal should be to understand the concept or idea being taught. Good note takers are listening to what's being said, pulling out the important information from what's being said, and writing it down in a way that makes sense to them. At the end of the day, if you look back at your notes and don't understand anything that you wrote, the notes are pretty much useless. The ways people can write notes are endless but it's important you experiment with different styles to find what note taking style works best for you.
6. Ask for help
Here's a little teacher trick that not all students know. Ready? Teachers celebrate when you're successful. When I'm marking an assignment or a test for a student who might have struggled with a certain topic or subject matter and I see that they worked hard and were able to understand it, I celebrate as if I was the one who did great on the test. Teachers are in this job to help you achieve. We want nothing more than to help our students do the absolute best they possibly can. With that being said, sometimes you need to take the first step to come and work on getting better. While I can and will do everything in my power to help you be successful, you have the biggest responsibility in your own learning. If you aren't understanding something or if you'd like something clarified or even if you want to come and get some extra practice, come and see me. I promise you that I'll do whatever it takes to make you successful as long as you come and let me know you need it.
7. low-tech is okay
Here's a hard one for me to write. I absolutely love tech. I love gadgets and gizmos and playing with all the newest toys. But, there came a point when I realized that, no matter how much I tried to fool myself (more on that in a minute), tech wasn't exactly my friend when it came to studying. When I was using tech to study, I found myself constantly getting off task and distracted. I would jump from my notes on my computer to a time-wasting website and I'd run out of study time before I knew what was happening. While I still do think there are benefits to tech when studying, I really try my best to go low-tech when I study because I know that the chances that I get distracted and waste all my time are much less.
8. be honest with yourself
This is probably the most important of the tips I can offer about studying. I can't count the number of times that I sat down to study for an hour and ended up goofing off for 55 minutes and really working for 5. Then I would convince myself that I worked hard and I'd go relax. See the problem there? I was going to relax from the relaxing I had already done. It shouldn't have come as a surprise to me when I got my test results back and I did poorly. However, I'd tell myself "How could I possibly have done poorly on this? I studied for an hour!". There came a moment when I had to look at myself in the mirror and really be honest with myself. You can tell people all the stories you want about how you worked so hard on something or you spent a ton of time on something. Deep down, you know the truth. You know that maybe you didn't use your time wisely or you ended up getting distracted and not really focusing. One of the most important things about studying is to be honest with yourself and change your behaviour when needed. If you honestly think that you don't work best in a certain space, you need to be willing to make the change. If you think that when you study with a certain friend you know you'll goof off the entire time and not get any work done, you need to be honest with yourself and make the change. You can lie and pretend to a lot of people about how hard you think you worked, but deep down, you always know the truth about your own effort.