Do you ever feel like your study habits simply aren’t cutting it? Do you wonder what you could be doing to perform better in class and on exams? Fortunately, there are many active, effective study strategies!
Cornerstone secondary teacher and mom of six, Megan Edwards, offers several tips on effective studying. Mrs. Edwards started teaching in 1993 at South Cobb High School. She then took 20 years "off" to raise and homeschool her own children. She taught and wrote the curriculum for the Children's Ministry at her church for four years during that time, as well. She started tutoring in 2011 and has tutored all subjects K-12, including neurodivergent learners. She has also tutored many college students in English and History and helped with tons of papers and college admissions.
Some of the most effective strategies for studying start before you ever start reviewing your material. Think of the steps to studying as being in three parts: Organize. Prepare. Begin.
Start Now: Ask your teachers where they get their exam questions. Do they come from old tests and quizzes? Do they come from the notes from the semester? Is there any topic from the semester that won't be covered? Whatever the answers, begin to weed through your semester papers and clip together anything you might need to study. Put each set of class work in its own folder. Don't let your study time get lost in organizational time. Those are separate tasks.
Format: What is the format of the final you will be taking? How many questions? What style of questions? Knowing these things allows you to cater your studying to the specific type of test. Multiple choice questions require strategies that reinforce recognition. Short answers require strategies that reinforce recall. If your teacher asks questions on how to apply your course knowledge to practical processes, then you need another set of strategies. You can study for hours and still not do well if you don't study correctly.
Complete the study guide: If there is a study guide, complete it as soon as possible. Filling in answers on a study guide is not the same thing as studying. You need to have the complete, correct answers ready to go when the time comes to study. In fact, it is a good idea to add details that surround the information required for the question itself. Never Google this information. Use the materials provided in class. The notes, videos, and reviews given by the teacher will always be more specific to the questions on the exam. Plus, finishing the study guide in advance allows you to ask your teachers for clarification on anything you aren't sure about.
Create Your Own Study Guide: Even if a study guide is provided and you have completed it, consider making one of your own. Quizlet is a great resource for creating your own study guides, tests, and quizzes. Your brain does not learn simply by reading and answering questions. The brain needs to move things around and make information its own. Take your notes, worksheets, etc. from class and create a study guide for yourself. Use visuals (stick figures are fine), mnemonic devices, mind maps, and other things to represent the information from your semester work.
As you come to the questions on the teacher's study guide, star or highlight that information. Learning occurs when you make the information your own.
Create a study schedule: Sit down with a calendar and plot out your times for studying. Ideally, studying should begin 5-7 days before the exam. Figure out how you can study for at least 45 minutes each day. Be sure to leave yourself time for your sports, family events, and other responsibilities. Physically writing down the schedule is important. It gives you visual reminders of what you need to do. Create a reasonable schedule and stick to it. Turn off your phone, let people know when you will be too busy to talk and get to work.
Choose your space wisely: Create a clear and dedicated space where all of the organized material, study guides, and calendars that you have put together are ready and waiting for you. Ditch distractions. Do NOT study in your bed. Ever. Make sure your space has lots of light (natural is better). Periodically change spaces. Moving to a secondary location from time to time can increase motivation and stave off a loss of focus.
Take care of yourself: Get good sleep. 8-10 hours is recommended for teens. Your brain does a good amount of processing while you sleep. Plus, a well-rested brain is more likely to absorb the material. We live in a culture that seems to value busyness, but adequate rest is incredibly important to your learning process. Be sure to hydrate and take breaks for healthy snacks. The brain likes carbs and proteins on test days. Avoid sugar. Don't skip breakfast. Healthy body, healthy mind.
Give yourself breaks: Cramming for hours is a waste of time. Your brain simply becomes less efficient. Study in bursts of 30-40 minutes. Then, get up and move a little bit. Take a short walk. Get some water. Then, get back to work.
The actual studying: Since your study guide is completed and you have made a secondary study guide of your own, it's time to commit those facts to long-term memory. Here are some strategies to try.
Teach the material to someone in your family or to someone else who is studying for the same exam. We actually learn more when we are teaching. This works well for concepts and overarching ideas.
Have someone ask you all the questions on the review sheets- the teacher's review sheet, your own, or both. Have them put a checkmark next to the ones that you were able to answer immediately and correctly, an X next to the ones you got wrong, and place a dash - next to any that you got to the right answer, but it took a guess or two. The questions you got right immediately are not as important to review initially. Instead, focus on the questions that you did not get right or that you took a few guesses to get correct.
Learn facts in sets of 3-5. If you are studying vocabulary words, review three at a time. After you have the first three down, go on and learn the next three. Once you have learned the second set of three, go back and review all six of the newly learned words. Then, proceed to the next set of three. Once you have learned the third set of words, go back and review all 9 of the words you have covered. Spiralling is important to allow your brain to add information to existing knowledge rather than replacing it. You can use this for questions and facts of any kind, including math vocabulary.
Sometimes the answers and questions are lengthy. Matching quotes to their origin is an example of this. Focus on important words or phrases from both the question and the answer and link them somehow. Maybe you won't remember every detail of the answer, but keywords can help jog your memory on the subject.
EXAMPLE: "No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.” Nathaniel Hawthorne The Scarlet Letter. You might remember that the quote is talking about someone who is fake. Fake friends can be hurtful...like a thorn. In fact, you might bleed (blood is red or scarlet) from contact with them. This might be enough for you to put that quote with the correct writer and piece of literature.
Any question that has a list of answers should be arranged vertically. Try to remember the different parts of the answer based on the first letter of the first word of the answer. (Remember PEMDAS is short for the operations you need to use to solve math problems.)
It is possible to cram information into your short-term memory and earn a passable grade on an exam. However, it's a gamble. High school is the practice ground for life, whether it be college or some other pathway, and developing intellectual maturity is the best foundation for continued success. Go in with the attitude that you are going to LEARN not memorize.
Don't shortcut your future. Study hard but most importantly, study right.