I don’t know if you’re going back to school for the first time or what but I sincerely hope some of this helps you out. I’ve used all sorts of different tricks trying to study more effectively over the years. I’m not an easy-A student but I’m of the opinion that ANY study can get A’s (and B’s) if they study well.
After being in school (off and on) I’ve worked out some of the kinks. I’ve also become very good at adapting. I’m ADD and we have three young kids. Most of my study time includes at least one child-interruption and 20 other distractions. I do my best to get time away to hole up either in my room or the library to focus but I’m not really the best at that.
A few quick tips to get you started:
1. If you’re here right now spending all of your last hour before a test looking up study methods then stop. Bookmark it and go read through your notes and try to relax. I know. I know. You’re going to finish reading this instead and rush to take your test last minute. Better luck next time.
2. $7 notebooks and $15 ballpoint pens will NOT make you more interested, more effective, or more productive while studying. Go get a stack of 25c notebooks, a box of pens or pencils, and call it a day. (I’ll give you a list of what all you REALLY need in a minute.)
3. Assess your environment. What can you do to instantly eliminate distractions? Can you disconnect wi-fi, put on headphones, clean your space, open or close windows, turn off your phone, or move to a different place all together?
4. If you genuinely feel stressed by your workload early in the semester STOP. Go talk to your adviser. What can you drop and when? It’s gonna suck to have Fs, Ds, or Cs in 5 classes when you can have A’s and Bs just by dropping one of those. Don’t discount summer classes or forget about things like CLEP.
Got it? This comes from the ever-so-sweet bottom of my heart where only love and hope exist. I’ve BTDT in all of these scenarios. Don’t be like me. Just be obedient and do what I say. (I’m kidding. Sorta kinda. Do what is best for you, dear.)
Now, I’m sure most have heard about or tried the good ole, tried and true “study methods” at one point or another. If you all ready use these then you’re probably looking for more. This is where I want to start.
This is the best way I know to remember this. This alone is not a method though. It’s is just one part of an effective method. You have to think beyond writing notes, copying them, or repeating them to yourself in the elevator on your way up to the test center.
Caveat: some may hate doing things the way I do them. Fine. Go forth and write your own blog about your own study method. Please come back and share for heaven’s sake. Let’s not be keepin’ the things to ourselves which may help our fellow [desperately trying to get through another year of algebra] friends.
Anyway, keeping the Read. Write. Repeat. bit skipping around in our heads let’s move on.
These are the things you NEED to study effectively:
1. Accountability – Honestly, you probably wouldn’t be here looking at this post if you had this in place. One sub-rule – If you are in college then mama and daddy are NOT your accountability anymore. Don’t wait for them to ask to see your grades. You won’t be reporting to them when you are working in an office. Now is the time to get used to having colleagues. Find some friends, classmates, or someone (or something) else to check in with. Taking on the task of being accountable to yourself alone is a big deal so think it over carefully.
2. Time-management. Yeah, yeah. Shut up. You aren’t that busy or tired. Everybody is busy. Someone is busier and more tired than you. Time management is a conglomeration of several things: calendars, reminders, and knowing when to say yes or no. I could write an entire book just on this. Get some coffee, set up a calendar, and tell yourself it doesn’t matter what anyone else does.
3. Stuff. Yeah, you need a few things. Something to write with and something to write on primarily. I also use highlighters, notecards, and a few different apps. Those are only fluff to beef up the other things. Just remember that $5 notebooks and $12 pens don’t make you a better student.
There are a few MAJOR parts to my study method that make it work well for me: color-coding and what I call “snippets” are the first two.
I’m not sure which to dive into first so I’ll go with the color-coding. Color coding keep things cohesive and is a stepping stone to organization.
(Add highlighters to your needs list.) Or those colored stickers or colored pencils – whatever. If you’re going to do this you’ll be assigning colors to very specific categories to help you keep things organized. You can get completely psycho with this or keep it simple. Don’t use every ounce of energy highlighting. There are three things I like to keep tabs on in separate categories. Feel free to use whatever colors and add categories to your own system.
Makes sense, right? I used to just mark through my material looking for important topics or definitions and generally highlighting anything of value. Guess what? A lot of textbooks are written with the intent of ALL the information to be valuable so that doesn’t really work.
Now, don’t stop with this. If you do then you’ll end up darting through chapters looking for the information you need and squinting at scratch-notes hoping to find a clue to that essay question on the upcoming midterm.
By the way, some professors are generous with the aids they give you or even allowing open-book. Use them. Just don’t depend on those alone to pass.
All right, on to the next thing: snippets of time. This is my first tactic for getting around my ADD issue and coping with being a SAHM to three kids 4 and under while trying to pass classes (and preferable make As). Rather than studying in large blocks of time like I used to in highschool and pre-kids, I can manage occupy ALL three of the kids for 5-15 minutes and dive into one thing. During these “snippets” of time I can either get some of my actual work done like posting in Blackboard forums (did I mention I’m an online student?) or finding some solid references for an essay. If I have a test coming up I use the time to just outright study.
Mind you: I do this 4-5 times a day EVERY day during the semester. No skipping. This may or may not work for everyone but I constantly drill information into my head so it stay put. Plus, I do my best to take a few hours when I can to get away and do whatever I need to do. Some students are able to just study, study, study but many have families, jobs, or other obligations too. The snippet tactic is really, really great for those highlighted items above, especially the “WTF” stuff. If you don’t really get a certain equation or what have you then this is a great way to keep yourself going back to it. Find a video on youtube, read an article or journal, or participate in a forum.
It may help you to make a running list of the things you need to prioritize, write them in bubble letters on an eraser board, or put reminders in your phone.
Some people have this magical ability to not get distracted or bothered by things. I’m not one of them. I get distracted by people’s life stories while I’m in the middle of an exam in the mostly silent test center on campus. Yeah, the life stories I made up for them in my own head. During the year I was at a private university I found this particularly difficult because I was living in an all-girls dorm. Unfortunately, the best time to study was the middle of the night when everyone else was gone elsewhere or asleep. Losing sleep is the worst thing you can do. People joke about how little sleep you get in college. The thing is that most college students have the option to prioritize their time or totally orient around themselves. SLEEP.
Off course a bit but that was a good point I guess . . . I was about to get into eliminating distractions. I’ve tried ear plugs. That may work for some but I’ve found myself fiddling with them or doing weird movements with my mouth for the benefit of the weird noises inside my head. (If I didn’t sound crazy before I’m positive I do by now.) I can listen to music though. Go figure. Classical or lyric-free instrumental is the best for me. The Lord of the Rings soundtracks are some of my favorite. However, you have to pair these with some decent headphones that will stay on your head and if possible block outside noises. If music isn’t a good option then go get some ear muffs from a sports/outdoor supply store like Bass Pro or Academy Sports. Not the fluffy winter kind. The kind you wear when you don’t want hearing loss from shooting big guns.
Note: if, like me, you are home with a bunch of kiddos obviously don’t put headphones on while you’re the only sane person in the vicinity.
Now, finally, the hardest thing you’ll have to do: Don’t Procrastinate. You’re going to have to do it anyway. That are you are knowingly accepting that F or Incomplete. Don’t do that. Figure out what motivates you. Find accountability. Do it.
I’ll have more on this later, including some of my favorite apps. Check back soon for the second Study post!