Do you know how to study?

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ith final exams fast approaching, everybody should be studying. (Keyword being should.) Do you know how to study effectively? What works for you might not be the same method that works for your peers. People study and learn in different ways, and you should cater your learning and studying for yourself, and no one else!

Quality studying means quality learning and vice versa. You can learn despite your professor, despite the material, and despite your own self-doubt, as long as you are willing to make the time and put in the effort.

Here are some general study tips that everybody should employ regardless of their study method.

Turn off all digital distractions

Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by texts, phone calls, emails and social media. Turn it off! A wise chemistry teacher once told me that people can only concentrate intensely on something for about 45 minutes. So put in the time, take a 15 minute break, then get back to studying.   

Prioritize and know you’ll become tired

Which classes are you confident in? Which exams do you have first? Answer these questions and decide which courses should be your number one priority. You should still be studying for the classes that you are confident in, but you might want to focus more attention on those classes you’re less sure about.

Likewise, you have more time to study for those classes that will be examined at the end of the exam period than those at the beginning, but you also have a higher chance of burning out before you get to those last exams, so manage your time wisely. You could even try studying for 45 minutes for one class and then 45 minutes for another — the change in subject might be the ‘break’ your brain needs. Just be careful to separate the material for the different classes.

Employ different study methods for different kinds of material

Material that you need to understand and apply cannot be studied in the same way as material that requires memorization. Using different study techniques will allow you to explore the material through different learning styles, which, for most of us means we will better understand and remember more of the material if we employ all three learning styles: visual, auditory and kinesthetic.

Choose your methods

Some of us believe that if you read through your notes enough times something will stick, and that may work for people who have photographic memories or are predominantly visual learners. However, most of us learn best using different study methods that exploit different learning styles. Make sure to use different methods to stimulate your brain’s different ways of learning, understanding, and memorizing.

Below are some study methods you might try. Remember to choose methods based on your learning. Not all methods work equally for everyone. If something isn’t working for you, choose something else.

Be quizzed

Have a friend or family member quiz you on course material. Go over your notes first, then have someone question you about definitions, dates, concepts and understanding. The person questioning you doesn’t need the same background you have on the subject. In fact, if they don’t know anything about the subject, even better — you will have to explain more, making you think, connect old material to new material and help you recognize what you don’t know.

Make flash cards

These are great for memorization (definitions, events, questions, concepts), but you must make the cards yourself! This will give you extra repetition and add a kinesthetic dimension to your learning. Stimulate auditory learning by asking and answering yourself aloud, you’ll find you are less likely to assume you know the answer if you hear yourself than if you just think it. Shuffle your cards and don’t be trapped into memorizing an order, as it might throw you during an exam.

Study in a group

Group learning is underrated. In a group you can act as both student and teacher. Explaining things to others allows you to determine how much you actually know and understand, and hearing explanations in a different light might help you understand things you’re stuck on. You’ll also be able to judge how well you can explain what you know. On the exam, you only get marks if you convey what you know in an understandable way.

If study groups don’t work out, teach a friend or family member. Teaching is a great learning tool.

Write an essay

Write a short essay about what you know, explain difficult concepts, and give it context. This will clarify what you actually know and understand. Plus, it’ll give you an idea of how well you convey what you know on paper. If you are finding something difficult, do research. Research helps clarify and expand your knowledge.

Do practice exams and make up questions

Use practice exam(s) to see where you’re at, but don’t rely on them as a portrait of the final. Your final will be different than the practice. Challenge yourself! Make up exam questions and answers designed to test understanding and application. Trade questions with a study buddy (they may have thought of something you haven’t).

These are just a few methods you might want to try if your current study methods aren’t working. If the methods described here don’t appeal to you, ask around; adapt other methods to work for you. Make studying about you. It’s your grades, your time, your money – make the most out of it!

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