4. Outline and rewrite your notes
Most people find that keeping to a standard outline format helps them boil information down to its most basic components. People find that connecting similar concepts together makes it easier to remember when the exam comes around. The important thing to remember in writing outlines is that an outline only words as a learning tool when it is in your own words and structure. Every person is unique in how they put similar information together (called “chunking” by cognitive psychologists). So while you’re welcomed to copy other people’s notes or outlines, make sure you translate those notes and outlines into your own words and concepts. Failing to do this is what often causes many students to stumble in remembering important items.
It may also be helpful to use as many senses as possible when studying, because information is retained more readily in people when other senses are involved. That’s why writing notes works in the first place – it puts information into words and terms you understand. Mouthing the words out loud while you copy the notes before an important exam can be one method for involving yet another sense.
5. Use memory games (mnemonic devices)
Memory games, or mnemonic devices, are methods for remembering pieces of information using a simple association of common words. Most often people string together words to form a nonsense sentence that is easy to remember. The first letter of each word can then be used to stand for something else – the piece of information you’re trying to remember. The most common mnemonic device example is “Every Good Boy Deserves Fun.” Putting the first letters of every word together – EGBDF – gives a music student the five notes for treble clef.
The key to such memory devices is the new phrase or sentence you come up with has to be more memorable and easier to remember than the terms or information you’re trying to learn. These don’t work for everyone, so if they don’t work for you, don’t use them.
Mnemonic devices are helpful because you use more of your brain to remember visual and active images than you do to remember just a list of items. Using more of your brain means better memory.
6. Practice by yourself or with friends
The old age adage, practice makes perfect, is true. You can practice by yourself by testing yourself with either practice exams, past quizzes, or flash cards (depending what kind of course it is and what’s available). If a practice exam isn’t available, you can make one up for yourself and your classmates (or find someone who will). If a practice or old exam from a course is available, use it as a guide – do not study to the practice or old exam! (Too many students treat such exams as the real exams, only to be disappointed when the real exam has none of the same questions). Such exams help you understand the breadth of content and types of questions to expect, not the actual material to study for.
Some people enjoy reviewing their materials with a group of friends or classmates. Such groups work best when they’re kept small (4 or 5 others), with people of similar academic aptitude, and with people taking the same class. Different formats work for different groups. Some groups like to work through chapters together, quizzing one another as they go through it. Others like to compare class notes, and review materials that way, ensuring they haven’t missed any critical points. Such study groups can be helpful for many students, but not all.
7. Make a schedule you can stick to
Too many people treat studying as the thing to do when you get around to it or have some spare time. But if you schedule study time just as your class time is scheduled, you’ll find it becomes much less of a hassle in the long run. Instead of last-minute cramming sessions, you’ll be better prepared because you haven’t put off all the studying into one 12-hour marathon. Spending 30 or 60 minutes every day you have a class studying for that class before or after is a lot easier and will allow you to actually learn more of the material.
You should study regularly throughout the semester for as many classes as you can. Some people study every day, others put it off to once or twice a week. The frequency isn’t as important as actually studying on a regular basis. Even if you just crack open a book once a week for a class, it’s better than waiting until the first exam in a massive cram session.
Scheduling is even more important if you’re going to be a part of a study group. If only half of your members are committed to a study group for every meeting, then you need to find other study group members who are as committed as you are.
8. Take breaks (and rewards!)
Because so many people view studying as a chore or task, it’s human nature to avoid it. If, however, you find rewards to help reinforce what you’re doing, you may be pleasantly surprised by the change you may find in your attitude over time.
Rewards start by chunking study time into manageable components. Studying for 4 hours at a time with no breaks is not realistic or fun for most people. Studying for 1 hour, and then taking a 5 minute break and grabbing a snack is usually more sustainable and enjoyable. Divide study time into segments that make sense and work for you. If you have to digest a whole textbook chapter, find sections in the chapter and commit to reading and taking notes on one section at a time. Maybe you only do one section in a sitting, maybe you do two. Find the limits that seem to work for you.
If you succeed in your goals (such as doing two sections of a chapter in one sitting), give yourself a real reward. Perhaps it’s saying, “I’ll treat myself to some good dessert tonight at dinner,” or “I can buy a new tune online,” or “I can spend an extra 30 minutes gaming for every 2 sections of a book chapter I read.” The point is to find a reward that is small but real, and to stick to it. Some may view this as absurd, since you’re setting limits you can easily ignore. But by setting these limits on your behavior, you’re actually teaching yourself discipline, which will be a handy skill to have throughout life.
Grohol, J. (2006). 10 Highly Effective Study Habits. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 8, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/top-10-most-effective-study-habits/000599
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.