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3 Steps for Effective Studying

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Your college experience whether undergrad or grad will involve dozens of tests, quizzes, and exams over the years and knowing how to study for them is critical. I am finishing off my own college degree and as I look back I have honed my study habits and watched other students do the same. From my own experience and the experience of those I have spoken with here are the steps to successfully study:

1. Discern Test Content

Before you begin creating a study guide you need to know what to include. This is the first and most difficult part of studying for a test. Perhaps your professor was nice enough to supply you with an outline of the study guide but most of the time they will not. Take whatever resources you have and start building your study guide, but make sure that you speak with your professor during class and individually to get a better feel for the content of the test. You can do the same with the TA (teaching assistant).

When it comes to the amount of material to include there is definitely a tradeoff. If you put on everything from the class you risk studying unnecessary information not to mention wasting time building such a long study guide. However, if you don’t include enough no matter how well you go through your completed study guide you will not have studied everything on the test. As a safe bet include more rather than less information in your study guide.

On a separate note you should be doing this at least a week before the test to give you enough time to study.

2. Create Your Study Guide

Generally, I choose to do this on a computer with Microsoft OneNote (Mac has a similar Notebook program). Review the outline of topics you have created and then browse your class notes for the information. From here it is simple drag and drop to have all of the information in one convenient location. If you chose to write your notes on paper you may be out of luck (I can’t stand professors who don’t permit laptops). On paper you can tear out pages, tag sections with sticky-tabs, or highlight the necessary information. Remember that you don’t need to memorize each page as not everything will be on the test. Continue browsing your notes until you are satisfied that you have enough information to answer every topic listed in the outline.

There is a good chance that you will have holes in your notes so I hope you have made friends in your classmates, especially those who care about their grade like you. Speak with these students and exchange notes or create a Google Document between a group of you so everyone can contribute. This makes creating a study guide much quicker (as long as everyone contributes).

3. Begin Studying

How you study really is up to your own personal preferences. I will print out my completed study guide and wander around campus looking down at the papers and muttering acronyms to myself like a nut-job but hey that’s me.

Some general rules to follow include:

*Organizing your work. There should be structure to the information you have listed on the study guide. Similar to how humans can memorize a large amount of number that come in sets of three but are terrible at memorizing an unbroken stream of numbers a hierarchy in your notes will increase your recall.

*Acronyms and Models are very helpful as they both create Aided Recall to your memorization. If I say name a vehicle you need to pause and think of one but if I say name a vehicle made by John Deere, ‘tractor’, should have popped in your head immediately. List out the information and create memorable acronyms (the closer the acronym is to a real word the better you will memorize it). Models help create a mental image to associate with the information creating aided recall like the acronym. The model could be as simple as coloring the topics in different color or more complex like an image of a human body with each part representing a topic.

* Limit the details you memorize. Unless you have an eidetic memory you won’t be able to memorize everything you have been given in class. Pick the essential specifics to topics and make them your priority.

* Make yourself comfortable when you study. For me that is walking around as I get antsy sitting down but for you that may mean under your covers at home or sitting on a hardwood chair in the library. Whatever it is you need to get comfortable and bunker down.

*Space out your study sessions. We are not robots and thus experience physical, mental, and emotional fatigue. After a couple of hours of study your retention levels dip significantly. For you they may dip after 45 minutes. Whatever your limit is make sure to take breaks between study sessions. This will also help you retain the material as you have increased repetition.

*Start early with your studying. This is not only to slowly ingrain the material in your mind for the test but to help you remember it after you leave class and enter the workforce. Remembering nothing from college mean s you walked away with a diploma and nothing more.

*Don’t cram the night before! You may end up memorizing more information but the next day mental performance will not be in fighting shape and fatigue will set in quickly so all that information you spend memorizing will be very difficult to recall. Get a good night’s sleep, wake up early, and review the material right before the test. If there is a difficult topic, keep it in your short-term memory by repeating it to yourself right before the test.

*Spill the information on your paper the moment you get the test. If you have topics that you had been repeating to yourself write them down immediately on the back of test along with anything you may forget and then come back to them later for reference.

Whether you are in a St. George college or a NYC University these study techniques should prove universal. They certainly have helped me over the past few years, best of luck!

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