Over the last week, I have felt overwhelmed with the amount of studying I have been doing for various tests, quizzes, and essays. Although it can be incredibly stressful, the center of our education system for a long time has been testing because it is a straightforward way to evaluate how much a student knows. The ironic fact though, is that being in the high-stakes testing environment for so long, I have come to terms with the fact that taking a test is not really about how much one knows, it’s about how much one knows about the structure of a test. It is my belief that the majority of examinations out there are completely manageable for the average student. The answer lies in knowing your test. That is why it often takes the first couple of tries before a student goes from a B to an A — it takes time and practice before that student can find their own pace and method for studying.
Some individuals are naturally gifted with an exceptional aptitude for test-taking. Those with photographic memories or those simply ‘smart’ enough to get it the first time around can take exams effortlessly without studying. Not all of us are so fortunate. Studying takes dedication and effort. It is not like a simple worksheet or set of notes; no clear instructions are bestowed upon students, which is what makes it such a difficult task. But, once one gains a few essential studying methods to keep in their back pocket, studying becomes much less daunting and much more routine. Each person has their own methods and it is especially important to know what type of learner you are in order to maximize your efforts. There are visual learners and auditory learners and kinesthetic learners — or you can even be a combination of all three. Experimenting with a diverse set of techniques will help you determine what works for you and what doesn’t.
From both friends and peers, I have received a few requests to relay my personal study techniques– how I take large chunks of information and break it down to make it easier for my brain to process. Again, these are the systems that are best for me and I encourage you to take what resonates with you and leave the rest. Either way… here are my top tips for effective studying:
- Study As You Go
A common technique for a considerable amount of students is to put in minimal effort during the learning process, and then try to re-learn all the information in the day(s) before the test. Sure, at times this can yield fruitful results, but it saves a lot of time and tension if you instead focus on utilizing revision as you learn the material. This can be applied to any subject, but I especially use it for subjects like history which are more conceptual than theoretical. As I read my textbook, I take and annotate notes in a way that I find effective. During our class discussions of the information, I make a study guide answering the key questions provided by the textbook. And, I always re-read the chapters the night before class to refresh my memory on what we are covering. When it is finally time to write an essay, instead of working to stuff loads of dates and names and treaties into my head, I can simply review all the study tools I have created for myself along the way and just focus on the prescribed content the essay is likely to be on.
2. Teach Someone Else
This is a technique that most students have heard multiple times throughout their education career. If you can teach someone the information… it truly means you know it. Nonetheless, the problem with this approach is how and who exactly to teach. The entire concept of teaching a stuffed animal or pet is one that I, personally, cannot take seriously. Instead, I think of it as teaching myself. The easiest and fastest way for me to do this is to take out my phone and use the voice memo app. It’s a great way to test myself — simply teaching all of the important concepts to the microphone. Not only does this allow me to assess how much I know, but it’s also great to listen to later as a final review (especially in the car on the way to school before my biology test).
3. The 4×4 Method
The ‘4×4 Method’ may not actually be a real thing, but it is a method I have been using for a while now, and one that I find quite valuable in helping me to review information in an assortment of ways. I call it the 4×4 method because it relates to a concept I previously mentioned in this post, the four types of learners: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and reading/writing. In essence, since everyone identifies with one of these groups, I draw the conclusion that the best way to study is to review in a way that hits each of the targets. By doing this, you are learning in the best style for you while also reviewing three more times. An example of this may be for a Spanish test. Firstly, I can have fun drawing a visually appealing study guide to help me remember the acronym for the irregular past/present perfect tense. To hit auditory, I can listen to phrases using this tense and then record myself repeating them. For kinesthetic, I can try having a conversation using the past/present perfect with my Spanish-speaking friend at dance. And finally, I can read and re-write parts of my notes as a final review. Now, I have studied four times in four different ways. Whether it be for Spanish or English, the more ways you study the more likely you are to remember it.
4. Knowing Yourself
The last tip I would like to give you is to simply listen to your intuition: know yourself. Needless to say, understanding your favorite study methods is crucial, but you must also keep in mind your own study habits. What study routines have you adapted and are they working for you? Chances are that it is not the techniques you are using which are hindering your success, but how you are carrying them out. I know that for me, I work best studying when there is still daylight outside, either in the morning or afternoon. It is much more effective for me to wake up thirty minutes earlier to review than to stay up thirty minutes later. I also know what I need in order to get work done: a comfortable environment, plenty of snacks and water, few distractions, and a restful night of sleep. The practices I follow are what some may call ‘run of the mill’, but they are not the same for everyone. Maybe you work better at night, or maybe you like drinking an energy drink before studying. Figure out what keeps you alert and ready to retain information — it really will make all the difference.
Happy Studying 😉
“Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do” -John Wooden