This is “Studying to Learn (Not Just for Tests)”, section 6.2 from the book Success in College (v. 1.0). For details on it (including licensing), click here.
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Late-night cramming is not an effective studying strategy!
You have truly learned material when you can readily recall it and actually use it—on tests or in real-life situations. Effective studying is your most important tool to combat test anxiety, but more important, effective studying helps you truly master the material and be able to apply it as you need to, in school and beyond.
In Chapter 4 "Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering" and Chapter 5 "Reading to Learn", we set the foundation for effective learning. You learned how to listen and how to take notes. You learned some tricks for improving your memory. You learned how to read actively and how to capture information from written sources. Now we’ll follow up on some of those key ideas and take the learning cycle to its conclusion and a new beginning.
The reviewing and applying stage of the learning cycle involves studying and using the material you have been exposed to in your course. Recall that in Chapter 4 "Listening, Taking Notes, and Remembering" and Chapter 5 "Reading to Learn" we emphasized the importance of reviewing your notes soon after the class or assignment. This review is largely what studying is all about.
Effective studying is an ongoing process of reviewing course material. The first and most important thing you should know is that studying is not something you do a few days before an exam. To be effective, studying is something you do as part of an ongoing learning process, throughout the duration of the term.
Studying begins after each class or assignment when you review your notes. Each study session should involve three steps:
At the end of each unit, or at least every two weeks or so, use your notes and textbook to write an outline or summary of the material in your own words. (Remember the paragraphs you wrote to summarize each class or reading? They’ll be very helpful to you here.) After you have written the summary or outline, go back and reread your outline from the prior unit followed by the one you just wrote. Does the new one build on the earlier one? Do you feel confident you understand the material?
At least a week before a major exam, ask yourself these questions: What has the instructor said about what is included on the exam? Has the instructor said anything about what types of questions will be included? If you were the instructor, what questions would you ask on an exam? Challenge yourself to come up with some really tough open-ended questions. Think about how you might answer them. Be sure to go to any review sessions the instructor or your section leader holds.
Now go back and review your outlines. Do they cover what the instructor has suggested might be on the exam? After reviewing your outlines, reread the sections of your notes that are most closely associated with expected exam questions. Pay special attention to those items the instructor emphasized during class. Read key points aloud and write them down on index cards. Make flash cards to review in downtimes, such as when you’re waiting for a bus or for a class to start.
A study group that is too large is more likely to digress into casual conversation.
Study groups are a great idea—as long as they are thoughtfully managed. A study group can give you new perspectives on course material and help you fill in gaps in your notes. Discussing course content will sharpen your critical thinking related to the subject, and being part of a group to which you are accountable will help you study consistently. In a study group, you will end up “teaching” each other the material, which is the strongest way to retain new material. But remember, being in a group working together doesn’t mean there will be less work for you as an individual; your work will just be much more effective.
Here are some tips for creating and managing effective study groups:
Include some of the following items on your agenda:
The following are three steps to follow in each study session:
What do we mean by “gathering your knowledge”?
What study habits recommended in this section do you want to develop or improve? What specific steps will you take to start working on them?
Think of your toughest course. Which students in that class would you want to include in a study group? Why?